Agha Saeed Ahmed
Institutional reforms a pre-requisite for enahncing exports
Pakistan government is planning to minimize the physical examination of export consignments at ports through installing scanners, which would be a effective provided all loopholes in the system are properly addressed.
Customs department has been paying the price for reformation and modernization it has undergone over a decade. This transition phase has seen many scams and issues for two reasons. Either the stakeholders took advantage of the loopholes during this transitional phase or the bureaucracy, at status quo all around, failed to comprehend and digest this change. This is what is needed to be understood while moving forward towards scanning era at the cost of skipping physical examination at port stage.
The best course is to introduce enhanced checks during pre-shipment stages so as to make the scanning process meaningful and effective. This would also minimize the role of the Anti Narcotics Force (ANF) at ports of shipment, who may better focus on entry points – either on authorized or unauthorized routes bordering Afghanistan and Iran, where such contraband items and drugs are sourcing from.
It’s time to mandate the trade professionals to look after the end-to-end function for an exporting consignment which covers their direct or indirect involvement right from manufacturing of the goods, labeling, packing, certifications, quality controls, loading, transportation, entering the ports and finally shipping out of the goods.
At present, it has not been possible because trade policies and related SROs are formulated by the Ministry of Commerce and, whereas, the implementation thereof is ensured by Customs department.
There is a dire need to bridge the information gaps by establishing close coordination between these departments. It would be rather logical to merge commerce & trade group with Customs Service of Pakistan to make it one Service Group.
The newly formed service under one ministry, with wide range of mandate would at least resolve the key issue of coordination aimed at pre-shipment checks for export bound commodities at all stages.
Rather, it would provide the incumbents with an opportunity to be better professionals if responsibility is coupled with the strict accountability mechanism. This is because of policy & implementation gaps that we have not been able to meet export targets for Strategic Trade Policy Framework (STPF) 2009-12 and 2012-15 envisaged by the Ministry of Commerce.
The government has recently announced Rs180 billion incentive package to exporters to boost the country’s exports by around $3.0 billion dollars by end June 2018. Indeed, this would benefit our exports but the solution happens to be short-lived and temporary. Institutional and structural reforms are, in fact, key to sustained & long-term remedy to our dwindling exports.
(The writer is Additional Collector of Customs and, at present, working as Commercial Counselor in the Embassy of Pakistan to the State of Kuwait)