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The Jamaica Single Window for Trade (JSWIFT) Project is at various stages of implementation by the Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA), which is spearheading the initiative’s rollout on behalf of the Government.
The JCA’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) and JWIFT Project Manager, André Williams, tells JIS News that activities for the first on-board agency – the Trade Board Limited (TBL) – have been finalised for paperless services for all commodities requiring import and export permits.
This also includes dealership certification for new and used imported motor vehicles and scrap metal exports.
“These e-services related to the issuance of import and export permits, as required, from TBL with precursory approvals from other regulatory agencies came into effect on July 20,” he notes.
The services cover regulatory approvals for the importation of motor vehicles, refined sugar, milk powder, heavy machinery and self-propelled equipment, and scrap metal exports, among other commodities.
JSWIFT is a one-stop-shop facility designed to provide fully automated services to enable traders and their representatives to transact all attendant business engagements online through a single portal, for access to the services provided by all cross-border regulatory agencies.
This provision is intended to enhance trade facilitation and the delivery of services.
The activities facilitated under JSWIFT include securing requisite approvals from the relevant regulatory agencies or authorities for goods being imported and exported.
The operations of 20 State entities that facilitate these engagements are earmarked for digitisation under the initiative, of which nine are programmed for conclusion by the end of the 2020/21 fiscal year next March.
Mr. Williams says all of the attendant processes, including application, payment, verification and approval by the TBL, are now fully automated.
He advises that work is ongoing regarding services to obtain a Certificate of Origin (CO), adding that “we will be including this additional service shortly, providing our exporters with a full suite of services for their convenience and ease of doing business”.
A certificate of origin is document details about a commodity/product, the country of origin, and its destination.
Mr. Williams says the JCA has also commenced engagements with another four entities, noting that their activities are at various stages of execution.
He points out that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Plant Quarantine Produce Inspection (PQPI) Division is the next entity scheduled to have its services piloted under JSWIFT.
Mr. Williams says the activities “are now being finalised by our project team, comprising local developers and business analysts, as well as functional and technical experts from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)”.
“We have been working closely with PQPI management team and officers while making the necessary preparations to engage the traders within this sector who will access and use the services that are to be introduced for the Plant Quarantine Division,” he tells JIS News.
The Project Manager advises that while a number of sensitisation sessions were initially convened, several will be embarked on that are specific to the PQPI’s services.
These relate to registration, application for import and export permits, and payment and association with contracted customs brokers that the system facilitates electronically, as also the benefits to be derived from using the PQPI’s services within the single window.
Mr. Williams says the project team will, thereafter, be looking to expeditiously engage the remaining entities, which include the Veterinary Services Division (VSD), Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA), and the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ agencies – the Pesticides Control Authority (PCA), and the Pharmaceutical and Regulatory Affairs Department.
He notes that, thus far, there has been positive stakeholder feedback and support for JSWIFT’s implementation.
Mr. Williams points out that while it took a little while for some local stakeholders to become familiar with and competent in using the portal, “we are seeing a significant increase in terms of persons’ mastery of the system and efficient use of its services”.
“We have also had Returning Residents and Foreign Service Officers who have created their accounts on the system, completed their applications, and made their payments for items such as motor cars being imported on their return. They have been able to do that by utilising video guides on the portal and tooltips within the system,” he adds.
Mr. Williams advises that several enhancements have been made to the JSWIFT service provisions, partly based on stakeholder feedback, noting that these have served to simplify the platform while mandating the submission of specific details for increased accuracy.
“Those adjustments have proven to be beneficial to both the traders as well as the processing officers of TBL. This is reflected in the frequency and increased daily submissions with reduced processing times and throughput of approvals,” the Project Manager points out.
He says data collated show that more than 50 per cent of the applications are now being approved on the day submissions are made.
“We will continue to do the necessary improvements to ensure that the system is as efficient as it can be,” he further indicates.
Mr. Williams remains optimistic that the work to be carried out under phase one will be completed by the end of the 2020/21 fiscal year, despite challenges with the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“There’s quite a bit of work that remains to be done, but our project team and partners at UNCTAD remain committed to completing our engagements with the initial nine agencies, which account for approximately 80 per cent of the total permits and other approvals required for cross-border trade within the mentioned time frame. Our work will also continue with the remaining 11 agencies,” he adds.
Regarding COVID-19, Mr. Williams says “it has been both an advantage and a disadvantage”.
“It has been an advantage in the sense that we are able to have more frequent and timely online meetings, and training and sensitisation sessions with larger groups of respective stakeholders… without experiencing any logistical challenges,” he explains, adding that it has also negated financial overheads for hosting such engagements.
Mr. Williams points out, however, that activities requiring interaction to guide internal stakeholders within border regulatory agencies and facilitate timely onboarding of those entities have been affected, consequent to the need to observe COVID-19 health protocols and safeguards.
“We have endeavoured to execute our activities for the implementation of JSWIFT as safely as is possible without compromising anyone, while achieving the objectives of all our engagements,” he adds.
Mr. Williams assures that members of the team will continue to avail themselves to assist stakeholders with the features under JSWIFT.
This, he adds, “to ensure these individuals have access and can obtain the necessary support to make use of the services, as required, for an efficient environment in the facilitation and improvement off cross-border trade”.