On July 20 the Government of India has publicly announced the Action Plan on WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The National Trade Facilitation Action Plan (NTFAP) aims to align border procedures with international best practices and improve Ease of Doing Business. The release was followed by the Finance Minister’s meeting with Dr Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary General, World Customs Organization (WCO). Dr Mikuriya praised the massive reforms undertaken by the present Government in the Indian Taxation System including implementation of GST. Dr Mikuriya appreciated various initiatives taken by the Indian Customs to facilitate trade particularly the release of the National Trade Facilitation Action Plan (NTFAP). He also said that the efforts made with regard to outreach and capacity building before implementation of GST in India can be emulated by many other countries. Dr Kunio Mikuriya further mentioned about WCO working with G-20 on illicit financial flows. He sought Indian support for the study on illicit financial flows and plugging of trade based money laundering.
Commenting on NTFAP Finance Minister, Mr Arun Jaitley said that it would not only ensure compliance with the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) but would also give impetus to trade facilitation. He further said that this Action Plan gives a time bound map, not only for implementing TFA, but also for India’s initiatives for trade facilitation and Ease of doing Business which goes beyond TFA. Both the leaders discussed various other issues relating to Customs and Trade Facilitation.
The Action Plan not only covers the activities coming under the TFA but they go beyond the ambit of TFA per se, which have been defined as ‘TFA Plus’ category. The Action Plan covers many activities in the areas of infrastructure augmentation, particularly the road and rail infrastructures leading to ports and the infrastructure within ports, airports, ICDs, Land Customs stations that cuts across all stakeholders for which various ministries like Shipping, Civil Aviation, Railways, Road transport and Highways, Home Affairs, Finance, Commerce etc have been assigned specified targets.
Also, Dr Mikuriya along with the Chairman, CBEC, Ms Vanaja N Sarna, Chairman, CBEC addressed a workshop on “Trade Facilitation Agreement – Learning from Implementation Experience” on July 21 at FICCI’s Federation House in New Delhi. This Workshop was jointly organised by the CBEC, FICCI and World Bank, in partnership with Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India, Delhi Custom Clearing Agents Association and Express Industry Council of India, to share Global experience and Indian perspective on best practices in Trade Facilitation. International experts from WTO, World Bank and other countries participated in the said workshop.
In his keynote speech Dr Mikuriya highlighted about how WCO is helping many countries in implementation of TFA through their Mercator Programme. He specifically appreciated ‘TFA Plus’ category in India’s Action Plan.
Dr Mikuriya pointed out that the NTFAP comprises concrete steps for moving the agenda ahead and fixes accountability and time frame for accomplishing the plan. The key lies in implementation of the action plan. Commenting on connectivity, he said that customs was known for connecting the borders and India has a strategic position as a transit point and should connect with its neighboring countries.
Dr Mikuriya further maintained that TFA would simplify procedures and enhance competitiveness making economies more vibrant leading to increase in revenue. Also, WCO was looking at leveraging digital technology to support e-commerce in future and disseminating information.
Addressing the industry gathering Ms Sarna said that as the Indian industry starts the journey in the new era of one nation, one tax, one market, the national trade facilitation action plan will prove to be a milestone as well as a barometer of orientation from a regulatory taxation regime to that of one committed to facilitating legitimate trade. The CBEC Chairman informed that the National Committee on Trade Facilitation (NCTF) has adopted 76 point NTFAP, which is a reflection of the Government’s commitment to implement the TFA. The NCTF comprises stakeholders from the Government and private sectors including the trade community. She added that TFA would change the global trade scenario and streamline the processes while supplementing India’s reform agenda.
The meet was also addressed by Dr Junaid Kamal Ahmad, Country Director, The World Bank; Ms. Ananya Ray, Member (Customs), CBEC, Ministry of Finance; Dr A Didar Singh, Secretary General, FICCI; Mr Samir J Shah, National Chairman, FFFAI and other dignitaries.
Ms. Ray, underscored that the objectives to be achieved by National Action Plan were improvement in ease of doing business by reduction in cargo release time and cost, move towards paperless regulatory environment, transparent and predictable legal regime and improved investment climate through better infrastructure. “Trade facilitation has become synonyms with ease of doing business”, she viewed.
In Dr Singh’s opinion, the TFA is a major milestone for the global trading system. It would benefit industry, trade, investment and people. The new agreement entails that new standards and processes have to be adopted and would lead to reduction in logistics cost and enable smooth movement of goods across borders.
Mr Shah lauded the present government’s bold and successive initiatives for trade facilitation and ease of doing business. “This is what we were looking for. Fort the first time industry and government is working together effectively and with equal status. Political will, pro-active bureaucracy and full participation from private sector is remarkable,” said Mr Shah. Commending India’s progress ‘TFA Plus’ category , he also appealed that both government officials and industry stakeholders at the execution level should be well-trained to enhance domain knowledge to make the objective of NCTF a great success. He informed that FFFAI along with other trade association has organised a series of awareness programmes (seminars, workshops, etc) across the country to analyse the positive effects of TFA on the forwarding and logistics industry. He also emphasized on serious initiatives from the industry on compliances for the larger interest of the industry as well as the country’s economy.