India has brought in a machine-based system for the clearance of imported goods through customs at selected ports in the hope of bringing down processing times and streamlining operations for businesses.
The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) said it is now piloting machine-based automated clearance at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and Chennai Port Trust, with plans to roll it out at all ports nationwide should it prove a success.
Under the automated system, customs officers will be able to complete compliance verification such as examination of goods prior to duties being paid.
Once the importer pays the levy, the machine would automatically provide clearance for the goods or declare them 'out of charge'.
At present, imported goods only become available for examination or clearance by customs officers when the importer has paid the applicable duties, which invariably leads to long waiting times.
It is hoped this new scheme will speed up the customs process and help importers to pay their duties more efficiently, which may allow India to break the top 50 in the World Bank's Trading Across Borders ease of doing business rankings.
Commissioner of customs in Bangalore Baswaraj Nalegave told the Hindu Business Line: "We are segregating duty payment from examination/verification and clearance of cargo. These can happen independently and no so sooner [than] the duty is paid, the machine automatically releases the cargo. This is as per the World Trade Organisation standards."
He added that making import clearance automated could reduce the dwell time of cargo by as much as half a day, something that should help to make the nation more attractive to businesses overseas.
This is one of a series of initiatives implemented by the CBIC aimed at using IT-driven reforms to streamline trade processes.
India's top import origins are currently China, the US, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia, but its economy has been threatened lately by escalating trade tensions and a slowing global economy.