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Jamaica Customs cited as barrier to efficient trade

Published:Wednesday | March 13, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Customs officials supervise the loading of a vessel at the Kingston port. - File

Avia Collinder, Business Writer

The Customs Department is being encouraged to make use of electronic and other time-saving systems to expedite collection and examination procedures, as opposed to paper-based audit procedures which are a source of delays at Jamaica's ports.

This from Patricia Francis, executive director of the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva Switzerland, which recently issued a report on non-tariff measures (NTMs) including those that operate as barriers to trade in Trinidad and Jamaica.

The study forms a part of a 30-country review on NTMs. The Jamaican surveys were conducted August 2011 to February 2012 by a local consultancy company, A-Z Information Jamaica Limited.

The ITC report shows that domestically, Jamaican firms encountered NTMs across a number of agencies, the most common of which were export inspections.

"Export inspections were mainly problematic due to large number of procedural obstacles, in particular delays, associated costs and the arbitrary behaviour of officials regarding inspections. These procedural obstacles were also commonly reported by importers especially at Jamaica Customs," the ITC report states.

Procedural ROADBLOCKS

Francis, who is Jamaican and a former head of Jampro, told Wednesday Business on Monday that "32 per cent of complaints from exporters relate to the procedural issues related to Customs".Efforts to get a comment from Customs Commissioner Major Richard Reese were not immediately successful.

The ITC details several complaints, including the following Jamaican traders:

• Jamaica Customs often requires a random inspection of the goods before they are shipped to ensure that what is being shipped is as stated on the exporting documents. This inspection is time consuming and delays the export process. Because of the nature of the goods, during inspection the quality of the goods may be compromised and possibly contaminated - Agricultural Exporter

• There is an inconsistency in the application of duty as the law applies it to the invoice value but Customs uses an assessed value, which is usually higher than the invoice - Importer

• The company often encounters valuation issues at Customs when clearing goods. This results in delays in the clearance of its items. The company also noted that a shipment last June was damaged by customs forklift while the goods were being unloaded. To date, no compensation has been given, though customs officials have acknowledged that the damage was caused by their officials - Importer

"Nobody will question the role of Customs in terms of its mandate, but again its mandate must be seen in a context of Jamaica's development. Right now, Customs is both gatekeeper and collector," said Francis.

US$8 billion investment

"In Panama, Singapore and Dubai, the role of customs is seen as trade facilitation. When you think about what a logistics hub demands, you have to take a scientific approach to collection and gatekeeping rather than using the unsophisticated process of physical control and audit. It should be a process which allows a more streamlined way of ensuring the flow of goods," the trade executive said.

The Government is currently promoting its US$8 billion initiative to develop Jamaica as a global logistics and transhipment centre; a project that spans different ministries in various stages of executing port, highway, and other developments. The project is expected to create some 10,000 jobs.

Francis notes that in Dubai and the other logistics centres, their customs operations act as gatekeepers and collectors, but still manage to facilitate trade.

"It can be done. The Customs modernisation programme under way now should include joining up databases and training staff on risk management," Francis said of Jamaica.

It requires attitudinal change and a commitment of resources.

"If we are going to facilitate a multiplier in the amount of trade - logistics will improve trade flow by several hundred per cent - in no way can we use the paper-based systems which are being used now."

Dubai and Singapore also have to deal with contraband and terrorism actions and "so we are not unique. We just have to improve the level of operations and there is no reason why we can't take a quantum leap in the way we do things".

The findings of the NTM study were presented by Francis last week at a workshop in Kingston.

business@gleanerjm.com