A single window is a one-stop facility that allows exchange of information between traders and government to reduce the complexity, time, and costs involved in international trade (ADIS and ESCAP, 2009). The features of a single window facility may include:
According to UNNNEXT (2012), full-fledged inter-agency national single windows typically evolve from Customs automation system or port community systems. It is important to note that in some countries, the traders have to prepare paper-based document, and ask the custom brokers to submit such information electronically to the customs bureaus. In this case, a customs officer may report that all the documents are submitted electronically but this does not reflect the fact that the traders have to prepare paper-based documents. Also in this case, traders sometime complain that electronic submission through customs brokers has neither reduced costs nor simplified the procedures. In some other cases, the documents have to be handled partly by the electronic system and partly manually, which often leads to confusion (if not frustrations) on the part of the traders.
Ghana engaged in essential trade policy reform in the 1990s. This was heavily supported by bilateral and multilateral donors. This reform-drive benefited from the strong personal approval of the Minister of Trade and Industry at the time, within Government’s vision of making Ghana the gateway to Africa. The vision implied that the economy should be more opened, tariffs should be competitive and institutions should he performing. Non- traditional exports were to be promoted so as to diversify the economy and create the much needed jobs, while there was great hope for large inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI).
By 1998 much of the policy reforms were being implemented but foreign direct investment was still lagging. Significant reviews, most especially those by World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MICA) suggested that for trade, growth and FDI to be affected positively by policy reform, there is the need for efforts to be complemented by lifting of a number of structural investment constraints. These included the required improvement in the operational efficiency of front line institutions such as CEPS, Immigration, Port authorities and the Investment Promotion Council, which facilitates investment flows. The Government of Ghana launched the Ghana Gateway project for which it solicited support from the World Bank. It was envisioned that the measures would not only enhance the competitiveness of domestic business entities, but also make Ghana the most competitive investment destination within West Africa, as against other destinations like La Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal or Nigeria.
Shopping for new ideas and good examples of trade facilitation and promotion packages introduced elsewhere, official delegations visited New Zealand. Singapore, Mauritius and Malaysia. However, the Singapore and Mauritius visits particularly fascinated the delegation that saw in the TradeNet, an approach that provides the dual benefit of speeding up trade transaction without jeopardizing Government revenues, while streamlining the processes of trade transaction by bringing the various members of the trading community onto an integrated network. After they returned to Ghana, under the leadership of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MOTI) they identified the key elements of the approach that Ghana intended to pursue to reach, in a short time, a major breakthrough in trade facilitation.
The design of the scheme was heavily inspired by the Singapore example. The Ministry of Finance, which has ministerial oversight responsibility for the Customs Excise and Preventive Services (CEPS), supported the initiative, and was mainly attracted to the project for the possibilities it offered to strengthen the Customs Services, and raising larger budget revenues. According to Asuliwonno (2011), the introduction of the Ghana Community Network (GCNet) and the Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS) in 2002 under the customs holds a great prospect in improving management of customs, and also ensuring effective and efficient port operations.
TradeNet is an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) platform with Extensible Markup Language (XML) and functionalities for the transmission of c-messages between traders, The GRA (Customs Division), regulatory bodies, and other users. TradeNet and a Customs Management Software called the Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS) constitute the main components of the Ghana Single Window system. In tents of technology deployed, there is an Advanced Interactive executive (AIX) operating system and an Oracle database. The network operates through fibre optic and leased lines, Domain-Specific Language (DSL) and radio.
The Front End System (FES) is a part of the software used by importers and exporters, freight forwarders, earners, and regulatory agencies to communicate with and to undertake relevant processes (such as permits and licenses) electronically. The back-end application is the Ghana Customs Management System that processes input from the FES. The GCMS allows The GRA (Customs Division) to perform all necessary procedures, while TradeNet interfaces GCMS with stakeholders through the exchange of EDI files. All data are saved on GCMS with is hosted at customs headquarters and maintained by customs staff.
The GCNet system is operational in both Takoradi and Tema seaports, Kotoka International Airport and several land border posts. It processes manifests, import/export declarations, release authorizations, delivery order distribution, ship and aircraft movement information over the web portal, and the issuance of licenses, permits, and exemptions from the regulatory agencies. However, UN/CEFACT (2006) noted that. GCNet processes approximately 350,000 customs declarations per annum (1,000 to 1,500 per day representing 98% of total number of declarations –balance being some minor land borders) and 6,000 manifests per annum (representing 100% of manifests).
The most common paper reduction technology is document imaging (digitization); this technology is used to convert existing paper documents to an electronic format (Shifter et al., 2007, p. 39). Digital documents allow users to easily retrieve and share information with other users. (Haug, 2012, p. 349). The capture of information through document scanning may appear to be a simple procedure, but this activity can result in an enormous cost if managers do not stipulate what documents should or should not be digitized (Greenwood, 2012, p. 19). Therefore, department leaders need to proceed with caution by creating guidelines and procedures to which users can refer during the document conversion period.
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