In December 2013, members of the World Trade Organization, WTO, completed negotiations on the Trade Facilitation Agreement. Four years later, in 2017, the Trade Facilitation Agreement was ratified by members of WTO and Belize embarked on implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement. In this regard, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, is in the country holding a one-week workshop to assist with the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement. The Trade Facilitation Agreement will provide for a smoother and more efficient movement of goods. Love News spoke with Andy Sutherland, the Director General for Foreign Trade, who said that the trade facilitation agreement will be implemented within a time frame of three to six years.
Andy Sutherland – Director General for Foreign Trade: “Trade Facilitation in the context of Belize is based on the implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement which was recently completed in 2013. We ratified that agreement in 2015 and as such are obligated to implement it. Why this is important for Belize is because that agreement focuses on trading across the borders: improving the efficiency, the transparency, access to information by traders, consumers and the general public. Also reducing the documentation requirements of the import clearance release process and also this affects imports as well. The agreement tends to harmonize procedural requirements across government agencies so that the time to clear up products or goods is enhanced, well enhanced meaning shortened and improved and thereby reducing cost. This will directly affect traders for one, they would have an import regime that allows them to import intermediary goods more, readily cheaper.”
The implementation of the trade facilitation agreement will be the responsibility of the border agencies which deals with clearance and release process. These agencies include, Belize Agriculture Health Authority, BAHA, the Belize Bureau of Standards, and Customs and Excise Department. Love news spoke with Estella Leslie, Deputy Comptroller of Customs, when it comes to the facilitation of trade, Customs Department has been a trail blazer.
Estella Leslie – Deputy Comptroller of Customs: “They are here to assist the National Committee on Trade Facilitation to implement the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. There are several articles in the agreement that we have to implement, I think there are twelve. It goes from publication, the release of goods and several articles. UNCTAD Empowerment Program would guide us as to how to best to implement these articles because even though Customs is the lead agency other government departments and even the private sector have to play a role. For example the Port of Belize Limited because they are instrumental in releasing the goods so when we talk about releasing goods and decreasing the cost of doing business for importers/ exporters we have to all have to come together to come up with a very important strategy to coordinate our efforts and release goods in a timely manner. Like the controller rightfully said Customs is ahead of the game. We started with our reform program in 2010 with the implementation of ASYCUDA World. With Asycuda World we also implement management, post-clearance audit, payment at the bank, online payment and we have links to other Government departments.”
The smoothie transition of goods will be made possible by the Automated System for Customs, ASYCUDA, which is already being used by the Customs Department. Terence Leonard, the Programme Management Officer of the ASYCUDA Office at UNCTAD said that using ASYCUDA will also reduce cost.
Terence Leonard – Programme Management Officer of the ASYCUDA Office at UNCTAD: “When we started ASYCUDA World we did not have a trusted trade program to go with the system and so we worked with the Customs Department. We collaborated with not only the Customs Department but also the private sector in putting together what is now a flagship program, not only for the Caribbean but for the rest of the world. We are actually using a Belize Model of the Trusted Trade Program as a model, as I said for other Customs administrations worldwide and so it has been a great success. The features that we have added is evaluation control, risk management, post-clearance audit model and there are a number of very important features within the upgrade of ASYCUDA World that we are currently implementing in Belize to make things move even faster and to engage the broader regulatory agencies in the system a little bit more. Right now for example with the information portal that once we agree with Government to go with the information portal, the private sector and trading public will be able to have more direct access to all the trade related information from each of these agencies on one single portal.
ASYCUDA is being used by ninety-five percent of CARICOM countries.