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HIGHLIGHTING SPECIFIC lapses in the implementation of trade facilitation measures for imports and exports, a Parliamentary panel has slammed the “lackadaisical approach” of the Commerce and Textile ministries in addressing the issue. In a report, the panel also noted that the lack of last-mile connectivity has adversely affected India’s trade facilitation efforts.
“The Committee (is) dismayed to note the lackadaisical approach of Department of Commerce and Ministry of Textiles in initiating/implementing trade facilitation measures. The committee desire(s) the Cabinet Secretary to convene meetings of the various ministries/departments regularly besides the meetings of the NCTF (National Committee on Trade Facilitation) to monitor their progress and contribution,” the report said.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, which was finalised by a sub-committee headed by BJP member Nishikant Dubey, has also advocated “stringent steps” against those who have not adhered to timelines.
The report, on the performance of import and export trade facilitation through Customs ports, was submitted to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan on April 29 by the then PAC chairman K V Thomas of the Congress. Thomas was replaced as PAC chief by Mallikarjun Kharge, also of the Congress, on May 1.
“The Committee (is) dismayed to note that lack of infrastructure facilities like port to road connectivity, rail infrastructure to move containers to inland containers depots (ICD) and non-coordination among all the stakeholders for improving the infrastructure are adversely affecting the trade facilitation measures initiated by the government,” the report said.
The panel recorded its remarks after examining a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the implementation of trade policy, circulars, instructions and data gathered from 2010-11 to 2013-14 from various stakeholders.
In the report, the panel stated that it was imperative to ensure smooth movement and clearance of goods across borders within the shortest time and with minimum costs. It expressed concern over the CAG audit having revealed “complex and arduous documentations process leading to inordinate delays in the various stages of export and import clearances, delays in allotment of berths by port authorities and bottlenecks in reduction of transaction costs”.
It recommended that a regulator be appointed to control operations of all shipping lines, and observed that railway freight charges should not be increased to subsidise other segments as this made Indian products non-competitive in the world market.
Before finalising the report, the panel had accepted submissions from senior officials of Ministry of Textiles, Department of Commerce, Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), Ministry of Shipping, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Railway Board, FIEO and FICCI.
In the report, the panel recommended that Department of Commerce or DGFT should also analyse the impact of measures taken for trade facilitation and prepare a plan for the next five years to reduce transaction costs further.
Referring to two key infrastructure projects in Chennai, the panel said, “In view of the delays in executing Chennai-Ennore Port Connectivity Project and Four Lane Elevated Link Road from Chennai to Maduravoyal due to differences with the state government of Tamil Nadu, the Committee (is) of the considered opinion that an agreement with state governments for such projects be signed first before taking up projects to avoid such cases of backtracking by the state governments at the later stages.”
In March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reviewed the progress of several infrastructure projects in south India, including the Chennai-Ennore port road connectivity project, which was conceived nearly 20 years ago.