Do collaboration and harmonisation among different technical assistance programs in trade facilitation reforms matter?

NCTF Cambodian Port

Both the Trade Facilitation Roadmap of Cambodia’s National Committee for Trade Facilitation (NCTF) and the latest notification to the WTO in February highlight the need for technical assistance for further progressing the trade facilitation reforms. The good news is the interest of various development partners (DPs) in trade facilitation support in Cambodia is high. Ensuring good collaboration and harmonization among the crowd number of existing and emerging technical assistance programs in this sector is thus important to further amplify the gains from their support in trade facilitation reforms in the country.

Cambodia has made remarkable improvements in making cross-border trade easier, quicker, and more cost-effective. This is particularly true in terms of using modern information and communication technologies (ICT) to simplify and automate cross-border trade procedures, i.e., the use of an automated customs processing system called ASYCUDA and Cambodia’s National Single Window (CNSW).

These improvements are good signs showing the government’s commitments to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The country ratified the TFA in 2016. Today, Cambodia has notified the following measures as C items: (1) notification, (2) pre-arrival processing (3) authorized operators, (4) border agency cooperation, (5) national single window, and (6) transit. The so-called categories A, B and C designated by developing and least developed countries (LDCs) under the TFA have different implementation timings. While category A items imply the implementation at the time the Agreement enters into force (LDCs have an additional year), categories B and C allow these countries to have more time and capacity-building support to implement the Agreement.

Cambodian Customs, or the General Department of Customs and Excise (GDCE), is the leading government agency undertaking various trade facilitation reforms while exercising its missions of revenue collection and prevention of customs offenses. Indeed, the technical provisions of the WTO TFA are substantially Customs-related, with 98% of the provisions to be implemented fully or partially by the GDCE. GDCE also runs the Secretariat of the NCTF – an inter-agency mechanism newly established in 2020, to facilitate smooth and effective implementation of the WTO TFA’s provisions. The establishment of NCTF is a progress in itself regarding the TFA implementation. This mechanism enables non-customs authorities and related private sector stakeholders to take part in a structured dialogue on trade facilitation in Cambodia.

One recent achievement of the NCTF is the development of the Roadmap on Trade Facilitation 2022-2025, laying out the progress of the WTO-TFA implementation and future work plan as well as taking note of the ongoing and planned development partner contributions to specific trade facilitating measures in Cambodia. This roadmap was presented and adopted at the kick-off meeting of NCTF on 11 October 2021, where at least 8 DPs were invited to present their related technical and financial assistance. While resource mobilization is critical, ensuring the most effective support by using potential synergies and avoiding the duplication of efforts is even more crucial for the NCTF in implementing the Roadmap. This is particularly true amid the sizeable crowd of development cooperation programs whose mandates are frequently spotted overlapping.

The ARISE Plus Cambodia project, for example, is currently considered the largest among all in terms of scope and scale. The project is funded by the European Union and German Government. It the GDCE through its technical assistance and advisory support program on CNSW, Risk Management, Pre-arrival Processing, and Authorised Economic Operator (AEO). The project granted the ASYCUDA upgrade to its latest version of 4.3.3 for improvements in efficiency and opportunities for GDCE and traders to reduce operational and business costs. ARISE Plus Cambodia also coordinates the implementation of its two sister projects – Digitising Global Maritime Trade (DGMT) and Digitising Global Trade (DGT), which are implemented globally by the German Alliance for Trade Facilitation. In Cambodia, DGMT and DGT support on the development and deployment of a new data integration solution to allow the exchange of cargo data between the ASYCUDA and trade data providers for the implementation of pre-arrival processing as well as risk management of sea and express consignments.

Swisscontact, on behalf of the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation, is working alongside GDCE and Cambodia Post on the project Improving Small Package e-Trade for SMEs (SeT4SME), to make it easier, quicker, and more cost-effective to send parcels internationally. This is possible through enabling Electronic Advance Data (EAD), a system that sends customs and security information electronically before the arrival of a package to the destination country, to end the burdensome paper processes and thus facilitates more rapid customs clearance of small packages sent through the Post. The project contributes to progressing the pre-arrival processing, risk management, and border agency cooperation around the postal consignments.

Through its long-term expert at Cambodia’s customs, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is assisting GDCE in implementing of diagnostic and plan for the improvement of the risk management system; developing of action plan and diagnosis to implementing AEO program; conducting of time release studies; strengthening of customs enforcement and control; improving of cross-border management between Cambodia with Vietnam and Thailand; among others. Other related development programs include UNCTAD’s supports for strengthening of the capacity NCTF in implementing various trade facilitation measures; IMF’s work on reviewing of Customs Law, business process engineering, and improving of the Strategy for Customs Reform and Modernization; and WCO’s capacity development supports to customs on HS classification and various customs matters.

The virtual coordination meeting organized by the GDCE in January 2021 that brought together the ARISE Plus Cambodia, Swisscontact, and JICA to present and discuss the synergies of their ongoing and potential future cooperation activities already showcased one welcome effort. As part of the process in building and promoting a full-functioning NCTF going forward, such coordination forum shall form one of the formal work plans of the NCTF, bring in more related players, and be arranged more regularly and consistently; to jointly develop cooperation plans around NCTF’s priority needs. This will level up the coordination effort of contributions and a more structured arrangement of cooperation among different programs. From the perspective of the DPs, in addition to building a trustful partnership with GDCE, such coordination forum can make an efficient contribution to avoiding duplication in their effort, strengthening of their project planning, and using synergies with other support programmes to support a broader trade facilitation context and ensure sustainability.

This article first appeared in the Asian Vision Institute (AVI)’s Commentary Issue: 2022, No. 01. AVI is an independent think tank based in Cambodia.

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