PUBLISHED ON October 13th, 2023

Single Window Interoperability: where innovation meets economic diplomacy

For the uninitiated, a national single window (NSW) system allows traders and other economic operators to submit information to multiple government agencies through a single-entry point to fulfill all import, export, and transit requirements.

The concept has been driven by the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, which came into force in February 2017.

Article 10 (4) of the agreement advocates the establishment of NSWs to enable traders to submit data requirements through a single-entry point to regulating authorities.

Achieving meaningful results in establishing single-window systems depends principally on building genuine stakeholder collaboration.

Enabled through an Act of Parliament passed in 2021, the Pakistan Single Window (PSW) has made significant progress in improving the efficiency of Pakistan’s cross-border trade, having successfully integrated nine other government agencies, including Pakistan Customs, the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority, the Department of Plant Protection, and the Ministry of Narcotics Control, among others.

However, it is the NSWs’ ability to transcend borders that makes it genuinely remarkable, serving as a vital bridge between nations and their global trading partners. The single-window environment is a realm where innovation supports economic diplomacy, technology is the catalyst for smoother cross-border transactions, and collaboration among nations redefines the essence of global trade.

NSW systems are evolving into a powerful instrument of international cooperation, enabling exchange of trade data across international boundaries in real time, reducing trade barriers, and promoting transparency on a global scale.

In this article, we look at PSW’s multi-tiered international perspective as it seeks to leverage partnerships and alliances to create a seamless flow of information and data sharing, enabling traders to engage in efficient cross-border transactions.

International cooperation between PSW and other NSWs is vital for several reasons. Primarily, we need to ensure that NSWs are interoperable, meaning that they can communicate with each other. This is essential for facilitating trade between countries, as it allows traders to submit information once and have it automatically shared with all the relevant authorities.

Further, international cooperation can help to reduce the cost of developing and implementing NSWs. By sharing resources and expertise, countries can avoid duplicating efforts and save money while building trust between nations. By working together on NSWs, countries can demonstrate their commitment to trade facilitation and economic cooperation.

In early 2022, China Customs and PSW initiated discussions on the cooperation mechanism and the scope of data exchange between both sides, agreeing to establish a joint working group to devise the coordination mechanism and facilitate technical discussions for the proposed integration that included exchange of export declaration, phytosanitary certificates, animal health certificates, and other trade related documents.

The two systems achieved technical connectivity early this year. Pakistan has signed similar MoUs with the governments of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, following technical consultations for the real-time exchange of customs clearance data and regulatory information. The next step with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan would be systems connectivity testing, to go live by 2024.

Both sides will electronically receive goods declaration data before receiving consignments, allowing importers to start the clearance process before the actual arrival of the consignment.

This also eliminates misdeclaration, allowing for speedy clearance and fewer demurrage charges. A similar project is currently in testing phase with Egypt Single Window.

Pakistan also aims to integrate with the International Plant Protection Convention’s (IPPC) e-Phyto hub – by Q1, 2024. The hub is a system to facilitate the exchange of e-Phyto certificates between National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPOs) and currently has 71 participant countries. By becoming a participant, Phyto certificates and other regulatory documents will be authenticated in real-time, significantly reducing clearance and processing times.

Through PSW, Pakistan recently joined the Pan-Asian E-commerce Alliance (PAA), an international association that brings together customs and trade service providers to promote secure, trusted, and reliable IT infrastructure and facilities for efficient global trade and logistics services.

PSW hopes to leverage the association’s extensive network and tech innovation to develop regional and international partnerships for faster and more efficient exchange of cross border trade data to help reduce the time and cost of doing business and enhance trust, reliability, and export competitiveness of Pakistani businesses.

A direct outcome of PSW’s implementation has been Pakistan’s substantial increase in the trade facilitation score in the UN Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation 2023 from 56.99% to 70.97%.

PSW is increasingly being recognized as an emerging success story in the national and international trade community. Pakistan recently showcased PSW at the Digital Customs Cooperation Meeting held in Tbilisi, Georgia, organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) under the Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program, and in the WCO Sub-Regional Workshop on Customs Interconnectivity and Process Harmonization for Transboundary Movement of E-Waste, held in Mombasa, Kenya.

The meetings allowed Pakistan to share its experience in Business Process Reengineering and document standardization, emphasizing how these initiatives have enhanced the efficiency of cross-border trade while also discussing challenges encountered and lessons learned. Pakistan is also learning from the experiences of other successful NSW programs through knowledge sharing events and country assessment trips.

A team of experts from PSW visited Morocco in June this year to observe best practice adaptation by PortNet, a well-known success story for implementing a Single Window and Port Community System in a developing country.

PSW’s international alliances underscore the country’s commitment to modernizing and facilitating cross-border transactions, as international cooperation is essential for the success of NSWs. Governments can create a more efficient and transparent trading environment to increase economic growth, improve competitiveness, and better integration into the global economy.

As PSW continues to evolve and expand its partnerships, it holds the potential to become a key driver of Pakistan’s economic development on the international stage.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

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