COVID-19 & IMPORTS: The Electronic Single Window for faster clearance of imports

By Joselyn Biira Mwine

In an unprecedented global health crisis, trade is essential to save lives and livelihoods; and international co-operation is needed to keep trade flowing. In the midst of significant uncertainty, we have to keep supply chains flowing, especially for essentials such as health supplies and food; and avoid making things worse, through unnecessary export restrictions and other trade barriers. But keeping trade flowing requires co-operation and trust – for example, that the market will supply essentials, that countries will not impose export restrictions, and that imports do not pose health risks.

Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) is working with other government agencies to support importers through timely clearance of imported goods. There is a clear need to keep trade flowing, both to ensure the supply of essential products and to send a signal of confidence for the economy. An important priority is keeping the key supply chains for essential goods for the crisis – including medical supplies, food products and ICT goods and services – open and functioning.

The Electronic Single Window is an electronic tool that leverages on ICT to help importers submit all the necessary documentation through one access point. Below is a description of how importers, clearing agents and customs use the portal.

  1. The importer or clearing agent makes a declaration of the imported commodities via the ASYCUDA WORLD /Uganda Electronic Single Window at the link .
  2. When making the declaration, the importer or clearing agent has to ensure that all the relevant documents are uploaded on to the ASYCUDA WORLD (AW) system.
  3. The documents of UNBS interest include; the packing list, commercial invoice, bill of lading, road custom transit document, customs verification account, certificate of conformity (CoC) for general goods or certificate of road worthiness (CRW) for used motor vehicles or valid EAC permit for goods imported from EAC partner states/a diplomatic note for the case of diplomatic cargo or a UNBS exemption letter where applicable.
  4. If the declared commodities are covered by compulsory Uganda standards or/are targeted for UNBS intervention, they automatically trigger an application for inspection in the UNBS E-portal.
  5. The UNBS inspector will review the application and the attached documents. If the commodities are accompanied with a valid COC or CRW or permit from EAC partner state or diplomatic note or UNBS full exemption letter that is traceable to them, they will be immediately verified and released.
  6. Commodities not accompanied by any of the above documents, undergo Destination inspection following payment of all the relevant fees. Where there is no testing capacity, release of the commodities is effected on the UNBS e-portal.
  7. Where testing capacity exists, the commodities constitute a reasonable sample space, sampling, and testing of the commodities for compliance to the applicable standards is done. Commodities that are found to be compliant to the applicable standards are immediately released on the UNBS e-portal while commodities found not be compliant are seized and the importers or clearing agents and customs are immediately notified.

Note: Release of commodities on the e-portal system automatically signals finalisation of UNBS intervention in the AW/UESW.

The advantages of the portal are that the clearing agent does not have to capture data twice, the turnaround time in the clearance process is hence reduced. In addition, electronic COCs/CRWs data provided by the PVOC Service Providers integrated in the UNBS E-portal will aid in the auto release process. This will contribute to reduction in the cost of doing business and save time.

Thirdly, the online system can be accessed by stakeholders anywhere any time, as well the importer/clearing agent can monitor the progress of the clearance process. The importer receives system generated notification about the interventions in the system specifically about the release of goods.

If the Ugandan economy is to avoid prolonged economic distress, a coordinated policy response serves as possibly the most promising path out of a looming economic crisis.