Indian Customs - Single Window Interface for Facilitating Trade (SWIFT)

What is SWIFT?

This project was part of the “Ease of Doing Business” initiatives, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs, Government of India had taken up for implementation to facilitate the trading aross borders of India. The 'Indian Customs Single Window' allows importers and exporters, the facility to lodge their import or export clearance documents online at a single point only. Required permissions, if any, from other regulatory agencies, i.e. Other Governmental Organizations, are obtained online without the trader having to approach these agencies. The Single Window Interface for Trade (SWIFT), reduces interface with Governmental agencies, dwell time and the cost of doing business. CBIC had already executed major projects to automate Customs clearance processes and to provide electronic data interchange (EDI) with all agencies. SWIFT was the natural next step. The objectives of SWIFT are in line with key programs of Government namely ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’.

The major import regulatory agencies in India which are involved in issuing clearances or “No Objection Certificates” for live consignments, i.e. post import are brought in under the ambit of a single import declration and the online clearnce facility with effect from 01st April 2016. These 6 agencies namely Food Safety (FSSAI), Drug Controller, Plant Quarantine, Animal Quarantine, Textile Committee and Wild Life Crime Control Bureau are concerned with the vast majority of cases where their NoC is required for Customs clearance.

With the implemnetaion of the single import declaration or the Integrtaed Declaration for all import regulatory information requirements with effect from 01st April 2016, information required for import clearance by government agencies concerned are integrated at a single entry point, i.e. the Customs Gateway (ICEGATE). Separate application forms required by different agencies are dispensed with. The information required by Customs and other Participating Government agencies are automatically routed to concerned agencies for NOC/ clearances without any human intervention.

This also enables the Customs IT system to automatically identify import goods on the basis of risk criteria required for clearance by the Participating Government Agency (PGAs). The system also automatically directs the taking of samples, inspection, delegation to Customs, etc. whenever required thereby dispensing with manual directions.

The Single Window system is a crucial implementation of trade facilitation measure for goods clearance at the country’s points of entry and exit. Efficiency in the import and export procedures saves large sums of money for the importers and exporters and reduce trade-related costs and delays. By requiring all participating government agencies to publish standard operating procedures and timelines, the Committee of Secretaries headed by the Cabinet Secretary has set benchmarks and goals for all related regulatory agencies. In order to work collaboratively with agencies and industry stakeholders, port and central level Customs Clearance Facilitation Committees (CCFCs) have been established to simplify and streamline their interagency procedures and documentary requirements for import and export of cargo.

Instead of inspecting and testing every consignment, agencies like the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the Drug Controller General of India follows a system of risk-based selectivity of consignments. Starting April 1, 2016, the Single Window, implemented the policies of risk-based selective examination and testing. For this purpose, the software for the Customs Risk Management System (RMS) had been updated to include additional features.

The Single Window project reduces time taken in obtaining clearances with other government agencies, by reducing human interface, and by increasing transparency. By introducing a system of risk-based selectivity of import and export consignments, all participating agencies would able to focus on high-risk consignments while facilitating the clearance of low-risk cargo. Further measures are underway to eliminate hardcopy documentation by allowing trade to submit digitally signed electronic versions of the supporting documents and print outs.

Stakeholders from trade and industry have actively contributed to the success of SWIFT by providing valuable guidance in the initial stages of the project. Since SWIFT required changes to be introduced into the IT solutions operated by the cargo industry, the industry began associating their respective IT service providers at a very early stage. This helped in ensuring a high degree of preparedness on the part of the cargo industry participants by the time of SWIFT’s launch. After SWIFT was launched, the industry participants used social media very effectively by connecting with all participants on a real-time basis to report problems and relay solutions almost instantly. The concept of Single Window being a single interface to regulatory authorities is a very attractive one for industry. SWIFT provides a tangible path to that goal. Therefore, the industry has welcomed the move. In implementing SWIFT, there was close Customs-business partnership. There was frequent and open communication between the project team and trade. In the project, social media was deployed effectively to maintain instant communication, feedback and positivity. To a large extent, problems were solved in a collaborative environment and with a spirit of co-operation. Perhaps, all of this is also a new experience.

Single Window is by far one of the most complex systems integration efforts that had been taken-up by department of Systems. To introduce the Single Window and the ‘Integrated Declaration’, a number of IT Systems from various government departments and private sector agencies had to be changed. Single Window will also be extended to exports.

In 2016, amendments also were carried out in the Customs Act, 1962, to enable deferred payment of Customs duties to certain categories of importers to further speed-up clearances. Work is underway to introduce ‘direct port delivery’ whereby containers can be transported straight from the container terminals to the warehouses, without the containers having to be transhipped to nearby Container Freight Stations. To move to this regime, all agencies including the ports, the shipping lines and the importers and exporters are working together. While the individual agencies have been addressing issues to help overcome bottlenecks in cargo clearance, the Single Window initiative would have a greater positive impact as it represents the joined-up efforts of all stakeholders.

How will SWIFT help Trade?

It provides a single point interface for clearance of import goods.

Replaces 9 separate documents with one Integrated Customs Electronic Declaration.

Facilitates trade by reducing Dwell Time & improving Ease of Doing Business.

Reduces Documentation & Cost of Clearance.

Brings 6 participating Government agencies on a single platform.

Eliminates need for tax-payers to interact separately with these agencies.

SWIFT takes the new trade facilitation initiatives of the Government to new heights.

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