Over the last few years, India’s rankings in the Ease of Doing Business have witnessed an upward trend, particularly in the ‘trading across borders’ parameter. This has been the result of multiple initiatives undertaken in the trade facilitation realm, especially post India’s ratification of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in April 2016. India’s rank in ‘trading across borders’, improved by 75 positions moving from 143 in 2017 to 68 at present. Throughout the reform process, digitization has been a critical element in simplifying trade procedures across Indian ports. While some digital platforms have eased the compliance and regulatory burden on the traders, the ground evidence suggests that there still exists some scope to move towards full digitization. Terms of functionalities, technical glitches, lack of message exchange between different systems and low levels of awareness/training among the users have delayed the transition to a paperless trade ecosystem for exports and imports.
The port ecosystem in India consists of multiple stakeholders, including customs brokers, shipping lines, freight forwarders, transport operators, port custodians, container freight stations (CFS) and border management authorities. The present COVID 19 crisis further highlighted the need to boost the digital infrastructure in India’s trading environment and integrate all the stakeholders. During the COVID 19, the government has continuously focussed towards addressing the disruptions caused by the pandemic through various initiatives.
Steps like the faceless assessment, system driven submission of documents by importers/exporters, development of Port Community System (PCS) 1x are the initiatives in the right direction and will surely help in easing the trade ecosystem. While these reform measures are significant, there is a need for further improvement in leveraging information technology to create a paperless trade ecosystem. Some of the initiatives that could be initiated include complete integration of Port Community System (PCS) with all the stakeholders in the trade ecosystem including the Indian Customs Electronic Gateway (ICEGATE), completely digitizing and integrating partner government agencies (testing agencies), real time container tracking systems at all the ports, capacity building of stakeholders towards effective implementation of digital platforms, etc. Continuous focus on the development of various digital platforms, enhancing the use of online transactions, connecting multiple stakeholders digitally, etc will be important in India’s journey to move into the top 50 rank of the ease of doing business.
(The writer is Co-Founder & Director of Bureau of Research on Industry & Economic Fundamentals. Views expressed are personal.)