Building partnerships with other border regulatory agencies through ICTBy Andre Williams, Chief Information Officer, Jamaica Customs Agency
The Jamaica Customs Agency is cognizant of the benefits to be derived from the introduction and use of information and communication technology (ICT) in partnership with other partnering regulatory agencies (PRAs). Such an endeavour is considered strategic and necessary for improved service delivery to private companies involved in international trade and for individuals travelling in and out of the country.
Moving to a paperless environment
Jamaica Customs’ strategic shift towards a modern Customs administration took a significant step in 2015, starting with the phased implementation of the Automated System for Customs Data, ASYCUDA World. The move towards a fully automated and integrated environment was exploited to re-engineer Customs business processes in order to provide, not only online services to its clients, but also to reduce existing complexities and overlaps in import, export, transit, transhipment, and suspensive regimes.
The reform initiative entailed a partnership with 12 PRAs to operate on the new framework enabled by centralized risk assessment for concurrent electronic processing and coordinated inspections. The previous paradigm made it mandatory for clients to obtain physical signatures and stamps based on the commodity from other border regulatory agencies (BRAs) prior to clearance to indicate no interest or otherwise. This was deemed time consuming, inefficient and costly to clients. The transition to a more efficient way of service delivery was achieved through a joint review of products within the purview of multiple BRAs, in order to identify mutual interests and the lead regulatory agency where possible.
As part of the reform, an electronic Single Administrative Document (eSAD) covering all declaration regimes was introduced, which resulted in an immediate reduction in the cost of documentary compliance for clients, and in the standardization of all procedures across all Customs Offices. Supporting documents such as licences and certificates are now to be uploaded during the declaration process. A new requirement for the submission of advance cargo information also enhanced operational efficiencies by automating risk assessment, selectivity and routing of declarations with real-time notifications to the assigned Customs Officer and the BRAs.
The new way of doing business was accomplished through greater partnership between Customs and other BRAs to include extensive training and capacity building for the use of ASYCUDA World within the respective agencies, and the deployment of ICT infrastructure to enable electronic processing as deemed necessary. Additional capacity building was provided by the World Bank as it concerns the use of risk management and rationalization for reduced inspections by the BRAs. Today, Jamaica is now seeing the release of 70% of commercial cargo within six hours after payment, and 85% within 24 hours.
Paperless examination and release procedures at the various clearance points is now being piloted through officers from Customs and the BRAs who have been provided with tablets for the electronic retrieval, review, inspection and approval of declarations. The anticipated outcome is a reduction in the cost to traders and the average time taken to complete inspections and reporting formalities.
Electronic passenger processing
Within the last three years, Jamaica has experienced positive growth in the number of visitors to the country, with a record number of 4.3 million visitors in 2018, a number which is expected to increase to approximately 5 million in 2019. This has presented the immediate need for increased efficiencies in the processing of passengers, which led to the adoption of a coordinated approach to passenger processing. The Jamaica Customs Agency and the Passport Immigration and Citizen Agency have been working jointly towards the full integration of their border management systems for the paperless processing of arriving passengers.
The electronic processing of passengers by Immigration officers currently includes the use of advance passenger information (API) as will now be the formality for Customs officers to increase the throughput of passengers while applying risk analysis for intervention where necessary. The coordinated approach between both Agencies has resulted in a holistic review of the existing operational framework and service delivery standards. This has been done to determine the scope for the increased use of automation, so as to not only improve operational efficiencies, but to also enhance the passengers’ experience.
The new framework will see the introduction of the “Green Traveller Initiative” for paperless passenger declarations via the Online C5 Portal for the simultaneous submission of a declaration by the passenger to both Customs and Immigration. The Customs Agency is also taking steps to facilitate the declaration process with the introduction of a mobile application that may be used on any mobile device, while at Jamaica’s international airports and cruise ship piers or prior to arrival. The portal and mobile app will be multilingual to offset the language barriers encountered when using the physical form. A key feature of this innovation is the ability to update the declaration or submission based on any changes to the passengers’ itinerary and accompanying luggage. This will ensure consistency and accuracy in the declaration process.
Roving Customs officers armed with mobile devices will verify travel documents of arriving passengers in the Customs Hall. Being customer-centric and fully cognizant of the impact of the passengers’ first experience on entering Jamaica, the Agency has applied itself to leveraging technology, in order to enhance its responsiveness to final processing and management of the throughput in order to reduce or ultimately avoid congestion. The Passengers’ use of e-services will thus be rewarded with a simple and efficient means of processing.
In addition to providing the technology for the increased throughput of passengers, the Customs Agency will be augmenting its border protection and management capabilities through the inclusion of a smart surveillance system with facial recognition capabilities amongst other features, to identify risks to society or national security.
Electronic Single Window
Customs is the lead agency for the implementation and operation of the Jamaica Single Window for Trade (JSWIFT) project, which commenced in August 2018, and will be completed on a phased basis over a three year period. Importantly, the success of this project hinges on further partnership and successful business and service delivery reforms for other BRAs, with the first phase to include eight agencies. The second phase will, thereafter, include an additional 12 agencies for the full automation of all services related to international trade. The project will include the re-engineering of business processes to eliminate duplications and redundancies in Jamaica’s trade mechanism, and in so doing, provide a single, integrated access point for trade.
The project’s key benefits will include data harmonization and standardization using the WCO Data Model for consistency across the BRAs, while reducing documentary requirements with a single point for the submission and payment of all licences, permits, certificates, and other approvals. The adoption and use of this international standard will eliminate several forms and data elements, while ensuring compatibility and data exchange across all participating agencies including Customs. Indeed, the implementation of JSWIFT will be significant to the further improvement of service delivery for cross-agency interoperability and increased trade facilitation.
It is acknowledged that international trade is a vital driver of economic well-being, job creation and the generation of wealth, with Customs administrations widely recognized as major contributors to trade efficiency. This is achieved by ensuring compliance with national and regulatory requirements and multilateral trading rules. Being able to fulfil Customs’ core mandates of trade facilitation, revenue collection, border protection, and supply chain security is essential to enable a country to participate fully in the global marketplace.
The increased use of technology by Customs authorities will afford new opportunities for cross-border integration and Customs-to-Customs cooperation to facilitate and enhance trade. Such economies will see reduced time and complexity while improving their competitiveness in the global market through increased efficiency and predictability. The introduction and expanded use of disruptive technologies such as blockchain can provide secure access to digital transaction records for improved compliance and increased trade facilitation while reducing transaction cost and time for verification to the trading community.
While ICT is not the panacea for all international trade, economic growth and border management ills, it provides extensive opportunities improving same. The Jamaica Customs Agency began the journey towards fulfilling its vision of full automation; today, it fully embraces its journey.