Sri Lanka Customs to go paperless by year end | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka Customs to go paperless by year end

14 October, 2018

Sri Lanka Customs, one of the oldest Customs administrations in the world, is planning to adopt paperless trade by the end of this year and offer the facility to 46 selected green channel companies in the first phase, a senior Customs official said.

Addressing the launch of the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation (GATF) project in Sri Lanka, a unique public-private partnership dedicated to international trade facilitation, Deputy Director – ICT Directorate of Sri Lanka Customs, Sudaththa Silva said the Customs Ordinance, the existing archaic law governing Customs, is undergoing necessary revisions by the Legal Draftsman’s Department and will thereafter be sent for Parliamentary approval.

“Sri Lanka Customs has already developed the system to facilitate paperless processing.

We have introduced digital signature to all the documents to be transacted with Sri Lanka Customs and are in the process of drafting regulations to enable the Department to accept documents,” Silva said.

He noted that although under a trial phase, only selected companies will be allowed to use the paperless facility, if proved successful, the process will be extended to fast-track companies and all stakeholders transacting with Customs including traders, freight -forwarding companies, banks and other relevant institutions.

According to a March 2018 report by ESCAP (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific), customs and tax procedures cost more than 20% of the value of traded goods in Sri Lanka. Such savings could provide them with funds to boost development and poverty alleviation programmes.

The report also points out that around US $673 billion can be saved annually in the Asia Pacific region if the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and digital and paperless trade measures are fully implemented. It is learnt that Thailand and India are among the Asian countries that have adopted paperless trade, which demands common standards, synced legal systems and coordination.

Meanwhile, elaborating on another initiative under the EU-funded trade facilitation project, Silva said Sri Lanka Customs has plans to introduce ‘pre-arrival processing’, a facility that will allow importers to process documents before the arrival of the goods. It is learnt that the two above initiatives would need amendments to Sections 47 and 57 of the Customs Ordinance.

“Under the existing law, there is a major legal barrier in allowing this process. Once the legal amendments are done to the Customs Law, we will be launching pre-arrival processing as well,” he pointed out.

In May this year, the Cabinet of Ministers had approved a proposal made by Minister of Finance and Mass Media, Mangala Samaraweera to advice the Legal Draftsman to draft the proposed amendments to the Customs Ordinance. Sri Lanka Customs will mark 210 years in 2019.

The trade facilitation initiatives are implemented under the EU-Sri Lanka Trade Related Assistance Project by the International Trade Centre and UNIDO.

In April 2016, a Cabinet nod was given to establish the National Trade Facilitation Committee which is chaired by the Director General of Sri Lanka Customs and the Director General of the Department of Commerce as the Co-Chair. The Committee is represented by officials from both the Government and private sector to ensure a well bonded Public Private Partnership, in achieving the ultimate goal of implementing TFA in Sri Lanka.