The current climate for trade facilitation seems to be a worrying factor for stakeholders in the trade and maritime industry. One of their biggest concerns is the trade opportunities that can be gained from expansion of the Panama Canal, which is targeted for 2014. Several trade stakeholders identified the challenges and associated complexities they have been facing at the trade facilitation forum last Wednesday hosted by Manufacturing Association (TTMA) and Shipping Association of T&T (SATT). The four-hour long conference was held at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad hotel, Port-of-Spain. Trevor Townsend, a director at the TTMA, said a good place to start in creating a better environment for trade facilitation is self-assessment. He said T&T must look at its management systems before focusing on other elements, like infrastructure. “We need to measure where we are in terms of trade facilitation and right now, that is not happening.” He said the TTMA is advocating this measure should be implemented to allow T&T to benchmark where it is at, what targets to set and the ability to judge its performance.
Townsend explained that the World Bank has a concept logistics performance index, which measures a country’s ability to trade.
The index measures the efficiency of the import and export processes.
He said there are six elements to this measurement:
1. Efficiency of the clearance process: speed, simplicity, predictability of border control agencies, including Customs and Excise
2. The quality of trade- and transport-related infrastructure: ports, roads and information technology systems
3. The ease of arranging competitively-priced shipments
4. The competence and quality of logistics services: customer brokers, clerks and transport operators
5.The ability to track and trace consignments
6. Whether a shipment reaches the consignee at the scheduled time
Townsend said the World Bank tracked the progress of 155 countries, and Singapore topped the list, Panama ranked 42 and Jamaica stood at 124. “T&T did not make the list. “We do not have any systems or agency with an interest in measuring our logistics performance. “TTMA suggests this is the best place to start. The same way there is a Global Competitiveness Index, similarly, an index could be done for trade facilitation.”
Increased terminal handling charges
Townsend said the manufacturing sector continues to experience many challenges with institutions that regulate and facilitate trade. Regarding equipment maintenance upgrade at the ports, he said plans must be implemented now as this could impact on T&T in the next five years. “If we do not alleviate these problems now, we would not survive to take advantage of the Panama Canal expansion.” He said there must be contingency planning and disaster preparedness in the event of breakdown of electronic systems. Another bugbear, he said, is the increased terminal handling charges that are imposed on manufacturers due to port congestion. He said this causes a ripple effect along the entire chain and customers feel the brunt of the increase. “Terminal handling charge have increased 28 per cent year to date and are imposed on us without proper reason.” Harmonisation of policies is another important factor in making trade more efficient, Townsend said. “Chemistry, Food and Drug needs to get it acts together. They need to be more functional, join the TTBiz link system and have the required resources to deal with customers’ demands.” “I am concerned that the expansion of Panama Canal might make us more of a back water. I am hearing what Jamaica is doing, Costa Rica is doing and I am yet to hear what T&T is doing.”