Lack of electronic customs system could hurt economy

28 Aug 2006

A single electronic system that could help streamline the processing of vast quantities of documentation through the customs, health and transport authorities during the importing and exporting of goods is an opportunity to restore Ireland’s competitiveness, the Irish Exporters Association (IEA) says.

The IEA says the creation of what it terms a ‘single window’ could help reduce the costs of importing and exporting goods into Ireland.

In international trade, a single window system allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardised information and documents to a single entry point to fulfil all import, export and transit related regulatory requirements.

If the information is electronic then individual data elements should only be submitted once.

The IEA estimates that the creation of a single window electronic system would cost the taxpayer €4m.

It says that for every €1 invested in such a system, the public and private sector would save up to €9m in efficiencies.

Tom Butterly, deputy chief of Global Trade Solutions with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, commented: “Trade facilitation is a key element for international competitiveness and investment. Ireland has the capacity to strengthen its position in this area through the establishment of a world class ‘single window’ for trade.

“This would reduce trade transaction costs and would facilitate the movement to paperless trade. A primary step would be the implementation of international standards developed by the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT).”

Butterly noted that Europe lagged behind Asia in the use of the single window concept, and particularly countries like Singapore. He urged Ireland to make an early start in implementing this initiative.

John Whelan, chief executive of the IEA, said Irish companies, particularly in the manufacturing sector, have been wringing every last drop of competitiveness from areas such as labour costs, transport costs, energy, rates and so on.

“While these areas are obviously critical to a company’s overall ability to compete in international markets, we have been ignoring the hugely substantial benefits that a streamlined trade facilitation model could bring to companies trading out of Ireland.”

Whelan continued: “Not alone would this benefit companies already established in Ireland, it has been shown that trade facilitation is a high-ranking criterion for companies considering establishing in Ireland. Goods can only move as quickly as the documentation that accompanies them. Having product stuck in a port or airport awaiting clearance can have huge financial implications for exporters.

“Based on international examples, we would estimate that the cost of introducing a single window in Ireland to be in the region of €4m. According to international experts, for every euro invested in a single window, the public and private sector will save €9 in efficiencies. The case for a single window cannot be made more clearly than this,” Whelan said.

By John Kennedy