deputy commissioner, BOC

The Philippines has been chosen as the pilot site for a regional initiative that will integrate the import/export clearance systems of member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Aimed at establishing common documentation standards for permits and clearances issued by the customs department of each member country, the pilot site for this Asean “single window” initiative will be undertaken by the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

BOC deputy commissioner Alexander Arevalo said this initiative is designed to enhance inter-Asean trade by standardizing requirements and procedures for exporters and importers.

“Asean countries agree that customs is always the point of entry and the department that checks data from other agencies,” he explained in an interview. “If you’re going to export to any of the other nine countries, you don’t have to come up with nine different systems.”If you’re going to export to any of the other nine countries, you don’t have to come up with nine different systems.Alexander Arevalo>Text In a meeting held in the country last August, Asean customs officials agreed to set up a regional system, choosing the Philippines as the pilot site for the implementation of the system.

“Initially, the system will cover permits and clearances,” Arevalo said. “During our meeting, we found out that the typical information being submitted in a country numbers between 20 and 200. We want to establish a common Asean data set.”

To fund this initiative, the Philippine government expects to get a grant from the Asean members next month during another round of meetings in Laos.

The BOC is being given three months, or until September, to come up with a “proof of concept” that will be submitted to an Asean body composed of senior economic and customs officials.

Arevalo declined to mention the exact amount of the grant, saying that “since we are a pilot project, the Philippine government is not going to spend entirely its own money in building this system.”

The BOC is currently implementing a large-scale upgrade of its import/export system anchored on a United Nations-developed software called Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) that links with systems of other government agencies providing pertinent clearances and other data.

The ASYCUDA project is one of the largest e-government projects in terms of funding, getting some 500 million pesos (US$9.2 million) from the 4-billion pesos e-government fund issued last year.

The BOC is currently preparing the draft of an executive order that will require other government agencies to link up their systems with a “national single window” that the bureau is creating.

“The EO will cover the national single window, its composition, mandates and expectations, integration into a single system, and submission of data from other agencies,” Arevalo said.

The EO will include national agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Agriculture and ancillary agencies like the Bureau of Product Standards and Dangerous Drugs Board, which issue permits and clearances for products entering the country.

The BOC will not encroach on the mandate or powers of these agencies, Arevalo stressed. “If you are an importer, you go to the different agencies to get the necessary permits. Our job is to confirm whether you have fulfilled your requirements,” he explained.

The ASYCUDA project will serve as the model for the Asean single window concept. “In effect, what the Asean aims for is to be a single economic entity in the near future. The single window is not just customs, but all the other agencies it is connected with,” Arevalo said.