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In the works: Swift clearances at all ports


The government is working on streamlining approvals to ensure that goods for exports and imports are cleared within an hour of their arrival at seaports and airports to help catapult India’s share in global trade to 10% by 2047.

The ‘customs ONE’ plan prepared by the commerce department is part of the India@2047 blueprint, a vision to make the country one of the world’s top three economies and achieve developed nation status by the 100th year of its independence.

Currently, goods take anywhere between 24 and 48 hours for air cargo clearances, and up to 72 hours for sea cargo, according to customs data.

The government is also planning to set up economic zones outside India as an extension of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative, according to a presentation by the department of commerce reviewed by Mint.

As part of the plan, the government has decided to project 100 Indian brands as global champions, aiming to make India among the top three in global services trade by 2047 in tourism, IT services, business services, healthcare, and education. It is also working to achieve leadership positions at the World Trade Organization (WTO) with the help of free trade agreement partner countries, according to the vision plan. India has so far signed trade pacts with the UAE and Australia this year and is likely to sign at least two more—with the UK and Canada—by the end of the year.

“We aim to brand India as a supplier of high-value and high-growth products… besides faster clearances of shipments to act as a facilitator to encourage flow of trade. Therefore, Customs ONE will help provide import and export clearances within an hour of arrival at entry points or customs ports,” a government official said, requesting anonymity. India accounted for 1.6% of global exports and 2.1% of global imports in 2020, according to the World Trade Statistical Review 2021.

Biswajit Dhar, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said shortening the time taken for customs clearance is a long-felt need and is essential for reducing business costs. “Now that the government has decided to address this issue, it must set a time frame within which the time taken for customs clearances is reduced,” he said. Dhar added that trading hubs such as Singapore and Hong Kong promptly undertake customs clearances. “If we are able to reduce customs clearances to a few hours rather than days, as is the case at present, we should consider this as “remarkable” progress,” he added.

According to the customs department, an internal case study of the Jawaharlal Nehru Customs House, Mumbai, showed the average release time of imports has been consistently coming down since 2017.

It has reduced from 181.34 hours in 2017 to 144.18 hours in 2018, 105.4 hours in 2019 to 91.65 hours in 2020. The fastest import documents were cleared in 14 minutes in 2019 and 6 minutes in 2020, the study showed.

Ajay Sahai, director-general and chief executive of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO), said that currently, trade hubs such as Singapore and Dubai provide expeditious clearance based on risk profile and in a few cases, it is an hour, even though the average may be high. “Indian customs is moving towards global benchmark standards in facilitation and thus clearance within an hour should be on its agenda,” Sahai added.

Queries emailed to the ministry of commerce and industry on Wednesday remained unanswered till press time.

Towards faster clearances, the customs department has introduced the single window interface for facilitation of trade (SWIFT); the direct port delivery and the direct port entry facilities, a system that allows a select group of importers to clear cargo directly from the port within 48 hours of arrival.

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