æSingle WindowÆ ù who benefits?
On Second Thought'Dietmar Jost
For some time now, governments around the world have considered or already implemented systems and associated business processes that provide a single access point for filing import and export declarations and accomplishing relevant import/export-related regulatory requirements ' a so-called 'Single Window.'
'Single Window' is translated from French, 'guichet unique,' which means a single counter in the long room of a custom house for submitting paper declarations. In today's discussions, however, the focus is entirely on the electronic submission of data. Examples of current Single Window developments include the U.S. International Trade Data System program, the Singapore TradeNet system or the ASEAN Single Window Initiative.
At first glance, the idea of a Single Window sounds compelling and its potential benefits seem self-evident. At a recent World Customs Organization information technology conference in Morocco, the customs community met with the IT industry and trade to discuss the business advantages resulting from a Single Window environment. Many presentations given at this conference were in general agreement that the concept would bring many benefits.
However, it is worth taking a critical look behind the Single Window, since no specific information has been offered on who exactly would benefit and how the benefits could be realized. From observations over the past several years on Single Window developments and from the recent discussions at the WCO conference, I have identified a number of aspects that, if taken into account, could help governments develop a better understanding of how to realize the potential benefits.
The idea of a Single Window environment is built upon the cooperation and collaboration of relevant government agencies for the processing of international cross-border trade. This collaboration involves reviewing the core functionalities, processes and data requirements of each agency and making changes, where required.
Every government agency will fight for its mission, budget, status, recognition, public attention and so forth. To achieve the necessary participation of these agencies and to manage the inevitable change will require high-level political will, support and action. Customs is often a leader in this endeavor due to the vast experience in international trade facilitation and border security, but governments will have to establish a sustainable and funded governance structure that provides a level playing field for all agencies and which can exercise authority, when required.
The desired scope and functionality of a Single Window needs to be exactly defined. A variety of definitions and understandings of it were presented at the WCO conference.
While an electronic single access point functionality was common to all projects and programs presented, only a few governments referred to coordinated border management, one-stop shop, coordinated intervention or single release as central components of a Single Window. Clearly, governments will have to deliver a range of additional and improved services to generate tangible benefits for trade to help justify the significant investments.
The end-state of a Single Window, therefore, has to be a paperless and whole-of-government effort, where the private sector can also expect a single consolidated response from the Single Window about the clearance status of a shipment. For this to happen, governments have to be prepared to coordinate and collaborate on risk assessment, inspection and clearance processes to enable a single response, release and one-stop shop functionality.
Finally, all government agencies operating through a Single Window would have to adhere to a performance management approach with common and transparent key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure clear accountability in the overall process enabling the government and the user to address any performance issues.
To define the scope of a Single Window, it is best to ask and consult the user, and in particular the transport and trading sectors. The user has a different and often wider perspective on international trade, and sees customs and other government agencies in a regional and global rather than simply in a national context. The transport and trading sectors are highly diverse with many different players, interests, expectations and sizes. What is good for a large domestic manufacturer exporting globally may not be good for a small customs house broker.
Governments cannot afford to only provide benefits to some. However, it will also be impossible to provide benefits to all. Implementing a Single Window means managing expectations and ensuring that benefits are realized by the majority of users, in particular by smaller companies who have little bandwidth for investments.