Despite the progress made with the implementation of TradeNet, or the Philippine National Single Window (NSW), there is still much to do to fully realize the platform’s benefits, which include trade facilitation and cost reduction for exporters and importers, according to a new study.
The report, called Institutionalizing the Philippines’ National Single Window: TradeNet, said a fully functioning NSW can lead to a more efficient and effective public service delivery; increased transparency in cargo processing; more timely, accurate, and cost-efficient exchange of information; reduced customs operational costs; and improved revenue collection.
The paper further said importers and exporters in particular stand to benefit from a high-performing NSW because at present they “are subjected to tedious and repetitive documentary requirements and processes, which are conventionally secured and conducted in the different physical offices or individual electronic systems of trade regulatory government agencies (TRGAs).”
However, since the country first began to establish its NSW in 2005, the endeavor continues, 18 years later, to encounter many issues and challenges to TradeNet’s efficient and effective implementation, according to the report released by the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD) of the House of Representatives.
Among these issues and difficulties include technical challenges that limit TradeNet’s connection to the ASEAN Single Window (ASW), low Philippine utilization of the ASW as compared to other ASEAN member states, and lack of integration of digital payments into the NSW.
The paper observed that TradeNet continues to be hampered by technical challenges and glitches. It is good that the NSW has successfully connected to the ASW, joining the live operations of the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement or ATIGA e-Form D in 2019 and the live test operations of the ASEAN Customs Declaration Document (ACDD) in 2021.
However, the platform continues to have unresolved technical and financial challenges that prevent the live operations for the electronic exchange of the ACDD. With this, the Bureau of Customs is currently using a separate internally developed system, according to the study, whose findings were bared by the CPBRD in a virtual conference on March 15, 2023.
The document also found that Philippine utilization of the ASW is low compared to that by the other ASEAN member states, as shown by the volume of ATIGA e-Form D and ACDD the country has received against the volume it has sent out.
On the lack of integration of digital payments, the report noted: “Much as the platform is capable of integrating payments into the system, these are currently being done outside of the platform with users having to upload the proof of payment.”
Complex onboarding process
Also mentioned as challenges are the high number of TRGAs, which makes the trade process for users and the onboarding process for the TRGAs complicated, and the unclear delineation of the responsibilities of the involved agencies.
The report said only four out of the 73 identified TRGAs have completed the onboarding process. These four currently on live operations are the BOC, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, National Tobacco Administration, and Biodiversity Management Bureau.
Meantime, 18 other TRGAs are in the systems implementation stage, while the remaining 51 are in the more preliminary stages of onboarding, according to the publication.
“The progress of the onboarding process at four (4) TRGAs is way below the target of complete onboarding of all TRGAs as provided for in EODB-ARTA Resolution No. 12, s. 2020 and ARTA MC No. 01-2021,” the policy brief pointed out.
Furthermore, it said only three out of the 73 TRGAs have actively utilized TradeNet. “The three agencies on live operations have total enrolled users of 152.”
At the same time, the delineation of responsibilities of involved agencies is unclear, the report observed. “There are differing viewpoints with regards to the responsibility of managing, operating, and maintaining the TradeNet platform. Reviewing the relevant issuances shows that there are no clear provisions assigning this mandate to a specific agency.”
Another challenge highlighted is that assistance and support to users, who potentially face infrastructure and capability concerns, seem inadequate, varied, and inconsistent.
“An additional consideration that was raised by TRGAs is the possibility of some clients, mainly smaller sized enterprises, having no access or adequate capabilities in handling devices and internet connectivity needed to utilize the TradeNet,” the report explained.
The CPBRD recommends the following actions, among others, to address these challenges: Align the functions of TradeNet services to the detailed functions enumerated by the Department of Finance, adopt digital payments in government transactions, provide an encompassing and updated list of the 86 involved TRGAs, appropriate an adequate project budget, designate a permanent project management body, clearly define the roles and responsibilities of involved agencies, and rationalize the coordinating mechanisms.
Moreover, providing targeted support to smaller enterprises was called for.
“Given that there may be considerable costs for some enterprises to move from manual to electronic submissions, their transition must be supported through the provision of public facilities or assistance desks. Further, delivering an interactive interface that is compatible with different devices (i.e., computers, mobile phones, tablets) would enhance its accessibility,” said the paper.
Finally, the report added that it is important to view the establishment of TradeNet as a blueprint for the other digital transformation and interoperability projects of the government.
“The experience with the TradeNet flags potential issues and challenges and informs future approaches in converging a considerable number of government entities, enabling digital processes, and providing a seamless and interoperable system.”