Sat | Jun 19, 2021

Customs deepens digital footprint - Mobile app pending, going after ISO certification

Published:Sunday | November 1, 2020 | 12:06 AMKarena Bennett - Business Reporter
A view of the container port in Kingston, the main gateway for cargo leaving and entering Jamaica.
A view of the container port in Kingston, the main gateway for cargo leaving and entering Jamaica.
Commissioner of Customs Velma Ricketts Walker.
Commissioner of Customs Velma Ricketts Walker.

Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA) is moving to have all its procedures certified by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and has also engaged a consultant for the upgrading of its website as part of its efforts to better serve customers doing cross-border transactions amid the pandemic.

The agency tasked with trade facilitation, protection of Jamaica’s borders, and revenue collection through duties and port taxes, will be launching a mobile app that will allow customers to access Customs information as well as pay duties.

“Everyone loves to operate from their phones, so if you want to interact with us, you will soon be able to download the app to talk to us as well make payments,” Commissioner and CEO of JCA Velma Ricketts Walker said during the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce 19th Customs Seminar on Thursday.

Ricketts Walker did not give a timeline for the rollout of the mobile app or the updated website but noted that the agency was working to have its ISO certification awarded to the agency in 2021.

“This is important because we want consistency and further standardisation in how we process and serve customers. We expect to get our certification by the next financial year,” she said.

“We are also pushing to provide real-time dashboard trade-related data. While Customs is a repository of data, we are not focused on that, but traders are interested in that, so we have committed to get that done.” The fiscal year begins on April 1.

The increased focus on information availability, along with the implementation of quality-management systems, follows more than a year of digital upgrades the Customs Agency embarked on as it sought to create greater efficiencies for users of its services.

Its refreshed electronic services now include online submission for bill of sight, removal of doc receipt, electronic export manifest, returning resident online application, and interview appointment, unaccompanied baggage allowance, online approval portal, and the ASYCUDA trade board.

Customs agency electronic services also extends to online refund application, queens warehouse submission, passenger travel online submission, and express cargo clearance processing.

“Express cargo clearance is another game-changer for us. It allows for the shipping agents to process small shipments before they come to the counter for clearance. This might seem simple, but in the past, it took so much time, especially for persons who were clearing a barrel,” Ricketts Walker said.

The transition from manual services to automation has improved the turnaround time on services throughout the ongoing pandemic.

Over the period January to September, Jamaica saw an 11 per cent dip in the number of containers imported. Accordingly, the value on cost, insurance, and freight, or CIF, declined 27 per cent, from US$4.71 billion for the nine-month period of 2019 to US$3.45 billion in this period. The reduction was largely as a result of disruptions in trade earlier this year from the outbreak of COVID-19.

Net weight for exports was the only positive indicator over the period, at 28 per cent growth in the period. Still, it did not perform well enough to outweigh a 34 per cent decline in the actual value of exports, which fell from US$1.73 billion to US$1.13 billion.