Amid increasing pressure from developed nations to ratify the WTO trade facilitation agreement, the central board of excise and customs (CBEC) has asked regulatory agencies handling clearances to upgrade their facilities and increase their manpower at various ports to facilitate round-the-clock clearances.
India is yet to ratify the agreement, a key area of interest for developed nations that would reduce transaction cost and smoothen the movement of cargo across the globe.
All WTO members are simplifying or have already simplified their customs procedures in view of the impending agreement.
In a meeting chaired by revenue secretary Shaktikanta Das last month, agencies including food safety and standards authority of India (FSSAI), plant protection, quarantine and storage department, animal quarantine department and drug controller of India among others, were asked to “benchmark their infrastructure and manpower required for 24X7 operations at ports in order to bring down the dwell time”.
“The customs department clears only after receiving clearance certificates from other regulatory agencies. However, despite the 24×7 port operations announced two years back, other agencies have been found lacking. This leads to congestion at the sea and air ports. The board has asked them to assess their dwell time, the volume handled and manpower required to speed up the customs clearance,” a government source told The Indian Express.
The source said that in a lot of cases, clearances for products are pending since April 2014. For instance, some cases regarding chocolates and olive oil are pending with the FSSAI since April-May this year. “The total clearance time has been on a rise for some of these agencies,” the source added.
The UPA-II had announced round-the-clock customs clearance in August 2012 to remove constraints for international trade. Earlier the import and export cargo, delivered at a time when clearance facilities were unavailable, had to wait till the facilities opened to move on to their destination.
To remove the piling up of cargo, the measure was announced on a pilot basis at Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, and Mumbai airports and Chennai, Kolkata, Kandla and JNPT, Mumbai, sea ports.
At that time, other government agencies such as concerned port authority, drug controller, FSSAI and private players like custodians, customs house agents, banks etc were asked to synchronise with the extended work hours.
Further, for bringing down the compliance cost and time, the department is also considering doing away with physical submission of some documents like bill of entry and shipping bill. This will be done by using digital signatures based on electronic data interchange (EDI), the source said.