Trade committee moves forward with electronic portal | Daily News


Trade committee moves forward with electronic portal

 Libuse Soukupova, Sonali Wijeratne, Mohamad Saeed, Dhara Wijayatilake and  P.S.M. Charles at the event. Picture by Chaminda Niroshana
Libuse Soukupova, Sonali Wijeratne, Mohamad Saeed, Dhara Wijayatilake and P.S.M. Charles at the event. Picture by Chaminda Niroshana

The International Trade Centre held its first public-private consultation on the new national single trade window on Thursday.

The trade window is an initiative, coordinated between multiple international agencies and domestic ministries, to create a single electronic portal to facilitate trade in Sri Lanka. It is a part of a World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement that the government ratified in hopes of becoming South Asia’s logistics hub.

Currently, many important records of the export process are kept on paper, and often duplicated, according to Libuse Soukupova, the Head of Cooperation for the EU Delegation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

“An efficient single window is a key aspect for all parties involved in the trade process,” she said. She was speaking at a forum of government officials, business leaders, and international partners at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel.

Such reforms “are not being glibly adapted,” said Sonali Wijeratne, Director General of the Department of Commerce and Co-Chairperson of the National Trade Facilitation Committee. “(They’re being) made in a concentrated and comprehensive manner.”

 But she stressed that since the Cabinet paper approving the process was adopted in 2015, three years had passed before they had submitted key documentation to the World Trade Organization.

She said domestic agencies needed to be further empowered to complete the “long and arduous” reform process.

Mohamad Saeed, a senior advisor to the Geneva-based International Trade Center, added that the business community must be actively involved in the reform process.

“The government makes the rules,” he said. “But it is the private sector that benefits or suffers.” “This can only be improved when there is coordination with the private sector,” he added.

Dhara Wijayatilake, the Secretary General and CEO of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, assured the stakeholders that the Chamber would always reach out to their members for cooperation. “(I am) confident that this is going to work,” she said.

Referencing the recently defeated No-Confidence Motion against the Prime Minister in Parliament, she said that “as the political leadership is sorting out their own battles in a separate arena the burden on the public sector is increasing.”

P.S.M. Charles, Director General of Customs and Chairperson of the NTFC, said that already some aspects of the single window were online, like digital payments and 24-hour service.

“We know the needs, and the response,” she said. “We have a mandate to do this trade facilitation.”

She said her committee’s next steps would be to implement an online signature system, and provide paperless documentation. The Customs Department “is one of the organization collecting the most revenue for the Sri Lankan economy,” she said. They need to activate the single window as soon as possible, “so foreign exchange can be earned by our local people,” she added.

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