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NRA’s Implementation of WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) PDF Print E-mail
Business
Written by Ann Marie Dumbuya   
Tuesday, 26 July 2016 17:44

In 1996, some WTO members raised the need for an agreement on trade facilitation as part of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreements. Negotiations on the said agreement however lasted for nearly 10 years. It was only in November 2014, that WTO members agreed to incorporate the trade facilitation agreement (TFA) as part of the WTO Agreements.

The main purpose of the TFA is to foster more efficient customs clearance procedures, promote the use of modern technologies to ensure the speedy movement of goods and people, advance effective cooperation between customs and other relevant authorities involved in trade facilitation, and to improve technical assistance and capacity building support in these areas.

The TFA covers trade in all goods and contains 24 Articles in 3 Sections. Section I refers to trade facilitation standards and obligations, Section II relates to the flexibilities provided for developing countries with regards timelines for the implementation of specific provisions of the Agreement, and Section III pertains to institutional arrangements. The high points of this agreement in relation to the NRA are:

  • Article 1 Publication and Availability of Information
  • Article 2 Opportunity to Comment Information before entry into force and Consultations
  • Article 3 Advance Rulings
  •  Article 4 Procedures for Appeal or Review
  • Article 5 Other Measures to enhance Impartiality, Non-Discrimination and Transparency
  • Article 6 Disciplines on fees and charges imposed on or in connection with Importation and Exportation and Penalties
  • Article 7 Release and Clearance Of Goods
  • Article 8 Border Agency Cooperation
  • Article 9 Movement Of Goods intended for Import under Customs Control
  • Article 10 Formalities connected with Importation, Exportation and Transit
  • Article 11 Freedom of Transit
  • Article 12 Customs Cooperation

From May 9-10 this year, a stakeholders’ workshop was held at the Sierra Lighthouse Hotel in Freetown to assess the country’s alignment with the TFA. The workshop was oragnised by the Ministry of Trade and Industry with support from the World Bank, World Customs Organisation (WCO) and United Nations Conference on Trade Development (UNCTAD).  The workshop which was facilitated by representatives from the World Bank and WCO drew participants from relevant private and public sector organizations like the NRA. At that workshop, discussions were held on how the country is implementing conditions of each of the 24 Articles and necessary actions for implementations were recommended for Articles which were deemed to have been unmet.

NRA’s Assistant Commissioner in charge of Operations in the Customs Services Department, Mr. Abu Bakarr Kamara who was among representatives from the NRA that attended the WTO workshop. In an interview, he stated that the institution has made tremendous strides in meeting the conditions of almost all the Articles that relates to its operation:

  • Article 1 on publication and availability of information

Mr. Kamara said that the NRA has met most of this requirement. He said the Customs Act, 2011 and supplementary Finance Acts in recent years cover customs and trade related legislations/information including valuation, classification, and appeals which are available in text, and freely online on the NRA website, www.nra.gov.sl . He said the NRA also publishes booklets with specific information on import, export and transit procedures such as the Import/Export Process Map.

  • Article 2 on opportunity to comment information before entry into force and consultation

The Assistant Commissioner said that consistent with the TFA, the NRA has been steadfast in its stakeholder engagements, adding that the Authority is constantly collaborating with stakeholders on new regulations on Customs matters. He said currently, the Authority is implementing its Brokers Regulation after having extensively consulted with the Association of Clearing and Forwarding Agencies (ACFA) and  importers.

  • Article 3 & 4 on advance rulings, appeal or review procedures

Mr. Kamara said that based on new Customs regulations, applicants for advance ruling can expect a binding or non-binding decision on the treatment that may be meted on imports with regards to Classification, Valuation, and Ecowas Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS). He said Section 29-35 of the Customs Act, 2011 makes adequate provisions for appeals, re-determination and appeals, appeals from importers, decision of appeals, further appeal.

  • Article 7 on release and clearance of goods

Regarding this provision, Mr. Kamara said the Commissioner-General of the NRA has overseen the modernisation of Customs with the introduction of the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) in 2010. He said the establishment of specialised units such as Valuation, Harmonized System (HS) and Rules of Origin, Risk Management and Post Clearance has improved efficiency in the clearance of goods. He said with ASCUDA, goods considered low risks are released without physical inspection.

  • Article 8 on border agency cooperation

Mr. Kamara noted that transits from Sierra Leone to Guinea is more frequent than Liberia, and that since Sierra Leone and Guinea share a common border post, goods in transit from Sierra Leone or  Guinea are subjected to uniform controls especially from the exporting end. He said the highpoint of this coordination is the use of ASYCUDA++ by both administrations which makes for easy exchange of information.

  • Article 9, 10 & 11 on movement of goods under customs control intended for import, formalities connected with import/export and transits, and freedom on transit respectively

Mr. Kamara explained that temporary importation into Sierra Leone is granted on imports subject to re-exportation in the same state, with conditional relief from duties and taxes as maintained in Section 44 of the Customs Act 2011.

From the above explanations provided by the Assistant Commissioner in charge of Operations at NRA’s Customs Services Department, it is evident that the NRA is indeed effectively meeting established standards in customs operations & trade facilitation. It is also clear that trade facilitation creates a lot of opportunities both to the business community and government. Traders gain through faster delivery and reduced transaction costs, while government profit in terms of enhanced revenue collection and increased economic efficiency.

 

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