Reducing cargo clearing delays urgent, Sri Lanka shippers say

ECONOMYNEXT – A top Sri Lankan exporter and head of the shippers’ association has called for urgent reforms to Customs to speed up and reduce the cost of transactions, saying competing exporters and hub ports were far ahead of the island.

Sean van Dort, chairman of the Sri Lanka Shippers’ Council, said exporters and importers want to reduce the time taken to move cargo into and out of Colombo port and clear Customs in order to stay competitive in global markets.

The proposed new Customs law was important but shippers also do not want to see Customs pruning their powers.

"Customs needs to have the powers which can keep us safe, from border protection to health and safety and environment," he told a forum on the new Customs law.

But shippers also want reforms at Customs to speed up the flow of their cargo, he added.

"From the Shippers’ Council, we are looking for speed of transactions. We want speed to be the most important thing, how many hours it takes for you to pass something. Do you have first hand information?"

Van Dort said that Sri Lanka Customs is the first customs in the region to have a 24/7 export facilitation centre but more improvements were needed.

"It is estimated that Sri Lanka spends more than 4 USD just for export processing whereas Singapore is at 1.28 USD. How do we reduce this?," he said.

"We want electronic documentation. We’ve had bottlenecks in this because the Customs ordinance does not permit electronic signatures; we are now working with the government’s legal draftsman to see how that has progressed."

Van Dort said India was ahead of Sri Lanka in their trading and forwarding process.





"I was amazed that they do pre-clearance one month before vessel arrivals, which means that the documents are submitted to the customs one month before. And we don’t have that facility in this country. We don’t even have pre-clearance for one week. So we need this."

In Dubai, a study on ports found that it took one lorry 45 minutes to turn around in the port – for the container lorry to come in, drop the export cargo, take the import cargo and go out.

"They brought it down to 12 minutes. How? They were conscious of time and transaction cost," Van Dort said.

"In Sri Lanka they can get the container out of the terminal in 10 minutes but the driver, wharf clerks, all on their Shangri La time, and they come out from the terminal at 6pm and we curse the traffic," he said.

Van Dort recalled how his company lost an order for a football World Cup team when a container of fabric was delayed.

"We had a container load of fabrics that came in and we couldn’t clear it on time. Three hours it got delayed, people were waiting in the factory to sew the Mexican jersey, we couldn’t give the cargo on time and we lost the order. That’s the apparel industry. Time is of the essence here.

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