The American Chamber of Industry and Commerce (AMCHAM T&T) is calling for urgent leadership from the Government and Customs to reduce backlogs and ensure trade can take place in an efficient manner.
AMCHAM T&T made the demand in a statement issued on Wednesday.
The body said while it applauds the Customs and Excise Division for beginning to implement the electronic clearance application, ASYCUDA 4.2.2, its inefficiency is choking an already “sputtering” economy.
According to the release, if managed effectively and implemented fully, the transition can result in greater revenue collection, better detection of contraband and improved efficiency of the clearance system at the ports. However, AMCHAM T&T said a lack of consultation has made things difficult.
“In addition to having to deal with a lack of Standard Operating Procedures, resulting in frequent, seemingly arbitrary changes to clearance processes and operations over the past several years, no items could have been cleared at the ports from December 31st to 4th January to facilitate the migration to ASYCUDA.”
AMCHAM T&T said the new system has been down more than it has been functional since going live on Monday.
“We understand that a major software upgrade sometimes results in ‘teething problems’. However, these new stresses compound a situation in which clearance times and costs in T&T continue to escalate.”
Furthermore, the group said the business community has been in frequent communication with Customs and the Ministry of Finance. It stated that for more than a year, AMCHAM T&T’s Express Logistics Committee has been meeting with the Customs’ leadership to streamline and standardise procedures to provide clarity and stability in the market.
“We have had several meetings with the Honourable Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert, on these matters as well. These have resulted in some small but meaningful gains. However, our small gains will be eroded if we do not seek to quickly rectify the ongoing problems at the ports. We are once again experiencing not only delays but also several hours of overtime to clear seemingly simple shipments.”
The trade organisation also lamented that multiple companies are charged overtime for the same timeframe.
“It is obscene that in the absence of a proper, centralised, risk-based management system this creates the conditions for which the need for overtime is determined by the officers who will benefit from this overtime.”
“These delays and the addition of bureaucracy not only add to the overall cost of operations to the Express Courier and Freight Forwarder Industries but also result in additional costs to small and medium enterprises, in particular, at a time when they can ill-afford increased costs.”
AMCHAM T&T said while Customs has justified these delays with increases in tax revenue collection, a rise in tax revenue should not be at the detriment of the industry.
“We believe an efficient Customs Division will not only lead to greater tax revenues, but it will redound to greater efficiencies for the entire economy – the more shipments are cleared the more revenue (duties and VAT) can be collected by Government, and the faster businesses can get the products to continue to operate. Increased taxation of a smaller number of businesses will not grow the economy. In fact, such continued action will further shrink the economy.”
Going forward, the group called for to the production of Standard Operating Procedures to be publicly available and adhered to at all ports. It added that a centralised, integrated and robust risk management system must also be put into place if the Government intends to protect the borders at the official ports of entry and simultaneously improve the ease of doing business.
AMCHAM T&T also demanded open dialogue, adequate consultation, adjustment and testing before new measures are implemented.