Symposium on Single Window Looks to Raise Awareness and Enhance Trade Efficiency in ASEAN
Leaders of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to establish an ASEAN Single Window (ASW) to expedite cargo clearance, as one of the most tangible ways to increase regional economic integration and achieve the ASEAN Economic Community. The main goals of the ASEAN Single Window initiative are achieving a simpler and faster processing time and a more transparent way of doing business. These should effectively improve ways of how businesses are conducted and increase the region’s productivity and competitiveness. Considering ASEAN’s importance as a trading partner of the United States, through its ASEAN Connectivity through Trade and Investment (US-ACTI) program, the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) supports the goal of the ASEAN Economic Community to integrate the region’s economies in the era of globalization by utilizing ASW as a key trade facilitation measure.
The ASW is a regional platform that connects and integrates National Single Windows (NSWs) of ASEAN Member States that allows for the electronic exchange of shipment information between governments or between the trading community to expedite cargo clearance, reduce cost and time of doing business, and enhance trade efficiency and competitiveness. The ASW was to be initiated with the exchange of electronic ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) Form D Certificate of Origin amongst ready ASEAN Member States.
The Preferential Certificate of Origin (CO) is one of the key trade documents that ASEAN Member States (AMS) will process and exchange electronically using the ASEAN Single Window. A Preferential CO allows goods from the originating country to benefit from reduced duties under trade agreements such as the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement.
Despite the long-term plan to get the ASW off the ground at the end of 2015, many stakeholders, especially within the business sector, have yet to gain a basic understanding of what the ASW is and how it works, and how it benefits businesses. An ASW Potential Impact Survey conducted by USAID in September 2012 revealed that only 30 percent of the companies surveyed understand the concept of ASW and how it benefits all the stakeholders including government and private sector. Survey respondents that represented mostly manufacturers, especially textiles and apparel and food industry manufacturers, as well as traders (importers and exporters) and logistics companies, still lack the understanding that ASW would benefit businesses by reducing the time and cost associated with trade. Electronic exchange of data would reduce the reliance on paper documents and facilitate customs clearance. Furthermore the existence of a Protocol on the Legal Framework to Implement the ASEAN Single Window includes provisions such as data protection, confidentiality, and acceptance of electronic signatures.
As live implementation of the ASW at the end of 2015 required significant participation by all stakeholders, on November 16, 2015, USAID and ASEAN convened a Symposium in Singapore on the ASEAN Single Window (ASW) and National Single Windows (NSWs) bringing together officials from ASEAN Member States and private sector stakeholders to review the status of the development of the ASW and identify how it can be improved and expanded after it is launched at the end of 2015.
“This ASW Symposium will provide ASEAN Member States officials and private sector participants the opportunity to have a frank discussion about the development and implementation of the ASW,” said the Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for ASEAN Economic Community, H.E. Dr. Lim Hong Hin in his opening remarks. “This will allow Member States to focus on how best to facilitate trade in ways that are most important to the private sector.”
The one-day symposium produced a few key outcomes after thorough discussions among attending stakeholders. At the regional level, the private sector clearly expressed the importance of visibility, transparency and speedy clearance in conducting transactions. Continued efforts in raising awareness about the benefits and procedures of paperless clearance were also deemed very important to introduce voluntary and/or regulatory approaches to ensure gradual adoption of electronic documents, for both the private sector including the small and medium entrepreneurs.
Attended by more than 90 participants from government, the private sector and trading community representatives, the symposium featured a demonstration of the ASW in its current testing phase as well as how it will work when it goes live by the end of the year. Clearly, efforts to raise awareness about the ASW implementation such as this symposium were necessary to form a common perception of the stakeholders, especially the private sector, about ASW’s aforementioned standout benefits as well as its long-term benefits. The Symposium was also an important aspect of the whole program as it presented stakeholders the opportunity to suggest how the system could be improved and expanded in the future.