Transforming WeBOC into Pakistan’s National Single Window
Since the early 1990s Customs administrations have been developing automated systems to improve trade facilitation and to achieve effectiveness in revenue collection. Advancements in information technology have enabled governments to make dramatic improvements in the service delivery. Each new development in IT brought with it a new set of possibilities bringing transformational changes to the regulatory environment for international trade. The emergence of the ”Single Window” (SW) concept is one such development and Customs being strategically well placed on the borders has assumed the lead role in implementation of single window in many countries.
“Single Window” is a new method of governance and service delivery in which traditional structures of government are revamped enabling citizens and businesses to receive government services through a single interface to government. The new structure is transparent to the consumers of the services, leading to increased efficiencies and reduction in the transaction costs of regulation.
In recent times, the term ‘Single Window’ has also become a slogan of Trade Facilitation and is now an obligation under the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation (TFA). The Trade is strongly in favour of a Single Window approach because it creates a simplified interface to Cross-border Regulatory Agencies in which, the entire government apparatus that deals with the movement of goods across borders is re-engineered to meet the specific service needs of business.
The definition of SW, as provided in the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) Recommendation 33, is “a facility that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardized information and documents with a single entry point to fulfill all import, export, and transit related requirements. If information is electronic, then individual data elements should only be submitted once.” According to World Customs Organization (WCO) Guidelines on How to Build a Single Window Environment, the term ”Single Window Environment” is defined as a cross border intelligent facility that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardized information, mainly electronic, with a single entry point to fulfill all import, export and transit related regulatory requirements. The term intelligent is significant because the Single Window is not merely a data switch or a gateway to a set of facilities nor is it just a unified access point through a web portal. It is a facility providing shared services to the users. Computation of duties/ taxes, coordinated risk management, shared operational controls and orchestration of inter-agency business processes are some of the examples of shared services.
Relative to high income OECD countries, Pakistan performs better in terms of cost to export/import (USD per container) however, major improvements are required to reduce the number of mandatory documents and time taken to export/import consignments. Many countries have developed National Single Window system to overcome such obstacles in trade flow. These include USA, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and many other developed and developing countries. Realizing the importance of national single window in trade facilitation, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has embarked upon a plan to implement Single Window in Pakistan in coordination with Pakistan Regional Economic Integration Activity (PREIA). Pakistan Customs WeBOC system being a fully automated computerized clearance facility operating successfully for more than 5 years having processed over 5 million import and export transactions to-date provides an excellent platform for building National Single Window in the country.
It is important to observe that achieving a national single window environment for Pakistan would be a long haul effort, requiring serious, devoted and sustained efforts. Since every country has its own trade regulatory structure, there is no ‘universal’ model to be replicated. Instead an ‘evolutionary process’ may be adopted using the existing WeBOC as the core around which would be layered the future National Single Window of Pakistan. The evolutionary concept of SW was confirmed and further detailed in the background paper of the Global UN Trade Facilitation Conference, “Ten Years of Single Window Implementation: Lessons Learned for the Future,” held in 2011 in Geneva, taking into account the global experiences made in the last 10 years. The evolution of the UNESCAP model SW implementation can be described in five incremental development levels which are: i) Development of a paperless customs declaration system ii) Integration of paperless customs with other regulatory bodies issuing trade/import/export/transit-related permits and certificates, and other related documents iii) Extension of the SW to serve entire trade and logistics communities within the airports, seaports, and/or dry ports iv) Creation of an integrated national logistics platform interlinking the administrations, companies, and the service sectors to better manage the entire chain of import-export operations v) Interconnection and integration of NSWs into a bi-lateral or regional cross-border e-information exchange platform.
For the development of Pakistan’s National Single Window Environment in a more systematic and structured manner, the following broad based recommendations have been framed to serve as milestones in a collective effort to achieve the goal. Foremost is to achieve political support and commitment at the highest level of the Government with effective monitoring, timelines and resource allocation. It would be important to declare Pakistan Customs as the lead agency for implementation of National Single Window. The alignment of legislation and risk management criteria of all regulatory agencies is also an important prerequisite. Pakistan Customs needs to adopt a proactive approach for up-gradation of WeBOC system and to engage all stakeholders for the requisite business process re-engineering to build an efficient, fully-automated, transparent and predictable facility for handling the country’s international trade.