7 MIN READ
This is a guest contribution by Barbadian supply chain professional Wanda Downes. It is an independent piece and is not reflective of the views, thoughts or opinions of the author’s employer.
Barbados is finally moving ahead with the implementation of ASYCUDA World—the computerized customs management system and upgrade from ASYCUDA++. It has been a long time in coming (years) and we are actually one of the last countries in the Caribbean to implement and join the numerous other regions around the world using this shared system.
Of course, in Barbados its implementation is being pushed as a good thing. A 2014 NationNews article quoted the then Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler touting the increased ease to do business once the system is implemented, with him standing by those words again in 2017. Current Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Ryan Straughn follows the same vein in a 2019 Barbados Today article, adding that ASYCUDA World will reduce clearance times and “eliminate cumbersome documents”. Be that as it may, current discussions with some key players who will be directly using the system revealed a general feeling of unpreparedness. Let’s take a closer look as we get ready for the big reveal on September 1st, 2019.
ASYCUDA, acronym for Automated SYstem for CUstoms DAta, has been a buzzword for quite some time in the logistics industry here in Barbados and the wider Caribbean region at large. Although it is not the only portal of its type on the global market, it appears however to be by far the most popular. In fact, other providers such as Crown Agents have attempted to compete with UNCTAD (the designers and providers of ASYCUDA) in the past but have been largely unsuccessful.
Among the other customs portals in current use is ACE (Automated Commercial Environment), which is used in the USA, while Canada appears to use another eManifest portal, among others. One feature that these competitor portals have in common however, is that they all typically interface with ASYCUDA and are touted to “modernize and streamline” the facilitation of trade while complying with international standards.
The latest version of ASYCUDA centers around its web-based functionality. In a nutshell, it means that once a registered user has internet access, he or she can enter the portal and upload or access relevant data anytime, anywhere. Other benefits highlighted include:
Improved revenue collection and accountability; for example, through more consistent and accurate tax calculations.
Reduction of transaction times due to 24/7 access and online processing.
Increased transaction transparency aiding in the fight against corruption.
Environmental sustainability through paper reduction as customs entries are electronically submitted.
More efficient interaction between government departments and customs.
ASYCUDA World also allows for statistical analyses through the generation of trade data. As a supply chain professional, I am looking forward to seeing how the analysis options work and if I can use it to help mitigate risk and make faster and or better decisions when managing my supply chains. I’m sure the Government Information Service (GIS) and the Barbados Statistical Services Department will also benefit from this portal and the speed at which information is expected to become available.
UNCTAD touts its portal’s success with a number of articles and studies focused on various countries that have implemented ASYCUDA World. One such success story featured is the Freeport of Monrovia located in the West African state of Liberia, where customs clearance times drastically decreased from an average of 49.7 days to 3.8 days ten months after ASYCUDA World was implemented. Quite the improvement, if I may add.
Closer to home, Jamaica reported “significant reduction in clearance times by more than 50 percent for low risk commercial consignments. The average time from payment and selectivity to processing of documents and release of cargo has been reduced from 54 hours to 26 hours” after their 2016 launch of ASYCUDA World. If this is a true indication of ASYCUDA World’s abilities, then we in Barbados welcome it as typical clearance times for imported goods is estimated to be 104 hours.
Jamaica reported “significant reduction in clearance times by more than 50 percent for low risk commercial consignments.”
With all of this potential, one might think that there were a number of stipulations and manipulations necessary in order to be able to use the system. The requirements for registered users are however straightforward. Here’s what is needed on your end to get started (as listed by a current ASYCUDA World user the Ugandan Revenue Authority):
Java already installed on your computer (and if it isn’t it can easily be downloaded online)
At least 1 GB of memory available
At least 50 GB of hard disk free space
Processors that are at least 1.6 GHz
A document scanner
Adobe Reader for reading documents in PDF format
I believe most of us already meet these criteria from our day-to-day business activities hence there isn’t too much reason for concern on that side of things. However, let’s dissect the other side—the steep learning curve and culture change that must inevitably occur.
Having spoken to a number of colleagues in other Caribbean islands where ASYCUDA World has already been implemented—years ago for most—the consensus is that while it is true that the portal is faster with regards to data entry thereby reducing clerical time and there is indeed environmental benefits as far as paper reduction is concerned, they however warned that teething problems and much frustration is to be expected initially. These came from:
Inadequate infrastructure (which I don’t anticipate being a major issue here in Barbados).
Lack of adequate training of both internal and external users.
Many declarations being placed on query hold.
Some software problems, which had to be handled by the providers UNCTAD.
Resistance to change.
General conversation with persons involved in the clearance process in Barbados—both governmental and private—indicate that a lack of training is the major concern currently. Many anticipate that it is this lack of training that will result in customs declarations being placed in the query que thereby causing many clearance delays during the initial transition period. It is anticipated that this will in turn form a foundation for much frustration and resistance. Although training sessions were held previously, the updated portal was not launched at the time, and I’m now hearing of trainings to recommence for key parties a week before launch. Is a week before launch, weeks too late?
General conversation with persons involved in the clearance process in Barbados—both governmental and private—indicate that a lack of training is the major concern currently.
Change is inevitable and we should welcome it, especially when it is tips things towards the productive and efficient end of the scale. However, we as a country and a Caribbean Community on the whole, should not be eyes closed to other technological possibilities simply because one is most well-known and most commonly used. There are key questions that should be asked when choosing tech for your operations, no matter the size of the project. I’m not aware of what agreements were signed by the Barbados government but we must always remember that technology is constantly changing and improving; no one company has the hold on all ideas for customs.
As Chris Thibedeau, CEO of the enterprise risk management solution provider TTEK, notes in his ‘ASYCUDA Myth’ series, there is concern that business and technical requirements are not drafted by the developing nations taking on ASYCUDA “because most don't know what the standards should be, nor are they clear on what functions need to be automated to realize their goals (trade facilitation, reduced release times, generate more revenue, recoup lost revenue, enhance border security, etc.).” Is this true for us? How about our cost-benefit analysis? What does it look like? As reported in Deloitte’s 2019 Analysis of the Barbados National Budget, the cost of implementation of ASYCUDA World is estimated at $700,000 BDS.
Here’s the overall picture—there is the possibility that the benefits of ASYCUDA World may have been oversold and we could become very frustrated with unmet expectations. On the other hand, there is also the possibility that some, if not all, of these same benefits may be realized, albeit after a tough transition period. One thing however is certain, on the 1st of September 2019, ASYCUDA World is coming to Barbados, so let’s be as prepared as possible.
ASYCUDA World is coming! After September 1, get ready to find out if our fears and concerns will manifest and if the proposed benefits will be realized. Share with us the tips you learn after roll out in the comments section below.
UPDATE: Subsequent to the publication of this article, the launch date for ASYCUDA World has been postponed until September 9th, 2019. Read more>
WRITTEN BY WANDA DOWNES
Wanda Downes is a believer that companies and individuals that do not have an understanding of supply chain management are missing out on great potential for growth. It’s not just purchasing or logistics!
Ella también está tratando muy duro de aprender español.
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