- A single window system allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardized information and documents with a single entry point to fulfill their needs.
- It centralizes all information and procedures related to the import, export, and transit of goods in a country.
- The single windows concept is transferable to various typologies, from Maritime Single to Port Community systems, Trade Single Window, and National Single Window applications.
Trade in Africa has become a widely discussed topic, plagued by infrastructural, innovation, and technical challenges. These issues have hindered the process, affecting economic growth, impeding intra-country business, and slowing the development of regional economic corridors.
It is evident that a sustainable trade environment is essential to enhance trade, which currently lags behind international standards.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) came into effect in May 2019, holding the promise of transformation for the continent. It aims to foster and support intra-continental trade by promoting broader and deeper economic integration across Africa. The AfCFTA is expected to attract investment, boost trade, create better jobs, reduce poverty, and enhance shared prosperity on the continent.
It is crucial to implement measures that facilitate trade harmoniously and efficiently, fostering long-term economic growth and positive social welfare.
Demystifying single windows – a game changer that will speed up the trade
While intra-Africa trade has been in the spotlight in recent years, much attention has also been given to Single Window Solutions as a method of simplifying the trading process. But what exactly does this mean?
The United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) Recommendation Number 33 addresses it by “recommending to Governments and Traders the establishment of a ‘Single Window,’ whereby trade-related information and/or documents need only be submitted once at a single-entry point to fulfill all import, export, and transit-related regulatory requirements.”
Additionally, it is defined as “a facility that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardized information and documents with a single-entry point to fulfill all import, export, and transit-related regulatory requirements.”
This digital platform is a paperless framework that will enhance business processes, facilitating trade in a sustainable manner. Called a “Single Window” because it centralizes all information and procedures related to the import, export, and transit of goods in a country, it has been proven to reduce customs clearance times and improve trade transparency.
It is thus much more than a technical product; rather, it is a process that will revolutionize the facilitation, tracking, tracing, and securing of all trade operations through a declarative framework.
Seamless integration for the business community “on the go”
The Single Window will create a new trade community around a unique Pay Slip concept, mobilizing and securing public revenues. It facilitates trade with the full integration of trade processes and logistics, supporting the creation of economic corridors and regional trade integration.
With its global footprint and nearly 200-year legacy in testing, inspection, and certification, the French giant Bureau Veritas, an expert in Single Window concessions, has become well-versed in the framework, working with governments to increase efficiency.
As a business-to-business-to-society company, Bureau Veritas supports customers across the continent to comply with international standards and best practice business processes, regulatory compliance measures, Verification of Conformities (VoC), risk assessments, and providing trust between government authorities and partners while operating as a trusted, independent third party.
A recent project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has made a major impact on the trade community, with the World Bank declaring the company’s National Single Window a state-of-the-art illustration of a successful project.
Read also: Decarbonising Africa’s maritime transport
Centralises information and procedures
Stéphane Gaudechon, Vice-President Market Leader Government Services for Bureau Veritas, commented: “We assist companies in complying with regulatory standards in support of import and export trade within and outside of Africa. Our solid technical infrastructure and professional expertise provide a secure foundation for the Single Window digital platform, which centralizes all information and procedures related to the import, export, and transit of goods in a country, thus facilitating intra-Africa trade.”
The Single Windows concept is transferable to various typologies, from Maritime Single to Port Community systems, Trade Single Window, and National Single Window applications. The framework is adaptable to suit the needs of clients and is a groundbreaking process, totally changing the way of facilitating trade for the business community.
According to Stéphane Gaudechon, Single Window is rolled out through an interconnected process, “The system is deployed in a country at the border post depending on the specific area that is covered. Our business processes are relevant for all types of Single Windows – from pre-customs to cargo, dealing with interoperability customs, customs’ post-operations all the way to the final customer.
“We have robust expertise and experience in all domains – from operations to governance and change management – areas of excellence required to roll out the framework effectively and efficiently. Single Windows require a regional approach as the framework is geared towards facilitating trade amongst various areas. Since it is a concept, no certification as such is required and does not belong to any TIC body per se.”
Turning challenges into opportunities for growth and development
While countries vary in interconnectivity, infrastructural, and technology maturation levels both within and with each other, the lack of interconnectivity between regions, sectors, people, teams, and skills can present challenges. However, this situation also offers the opportunity for the growth and development of a new business community with diverse stakeholders working together, who may not traditionally be accustomed to discussing and aligning on business and trade solutions to create a common good.
It is anticipated that the Single Window Solution will ultimately become a “must-have” trade vehicle for countries. Recently, the International Maritime Organization FAL 44th Session of the Facilitation Committee declared it a mandatory requirement for countries with coastlines partnering with the IMO and competing in the international trade arena to implement a Maritime Single Window solution.
“The system, with its Unique Payment digital platform, provides harmonized information integration in a single point of entry to plug and play, simplifying and automating trade processes and thereby creating a New Trade Community within the Maritime sector. It can reduce a 40-day document clearance process to one day maximum,” notes Stéphane Gaudechon.
The benefits speak for themselves: for Governments, more effective and efficient deployment of resources, improved trader compliance, correct revenue yield, enhanced security, increased integrity, and transparency.
Reducing delays, faster clearance and release
For traders: cutting costs through reducing delays and faster clearance and release, a predictable application and explanation of rules, more effective and efficient deployment of resources, and increased security and transparency. As a “green process,” it is paperless and accelerates operations, yielding improved results and more sustainable parameters in the long term.
Stemming from digitalization, it has become known as a “One-stop-shop” as it secures the entire trade process on a centralized digital platform in a secure manner. Providing clearing permits, being interconnected with customs before and after the transaction, transparent yet providing all the requisite information for trade and Government. This cutting-edge innovation is where Bureau Veritas is a leader in the field.
For public authorities and government agencies, Single Window Solutions are becoming crucial to foster intra-African trade and improve transparency and ethical corporate governance. Collaborating with the appropriate professional experts to roll out the frameworks will encourage trust, derisking, upholding of ethics, facilitation of supply chain values, and sustainable practices.
This, in turn, will spark much-needed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) on the Continent. Various authoritative bodies, including the United Nations, have declared Single Windows an imperative solution to boost and secure intra-African trade. It has become an increasing practice on the continent and is successfully making a difference to more government bodies, authoritative bodies, and companies.
Sustainable green practices
The World Bank has recently endorsed Single Window Solutions managed by Bureau Veritas. The company is in the unique position to deploy all the elements required for the successful implementation of Single Windows Solutions in Africa – professional expertise, innovative technology, sustainable green practices, change management, and business process skills, a trusting and ethical framework that will help shape the future of trade on the Continent.
Adopting the Single Window Solution is a journey involving change management and an appetite for “on-the-go” speedy business processes that save time and money. It needs to be viewed from a long-term perspective with stakeholders committed to working together synergistically in a mutually beneficial manner.
It promises to improve regional integration, infrastructural development, and open economic corridors, necessitating smooth coordination between countries. Single Window lies at the heart of trade facilitation as it drives traders to new channels with simplified procedures. On a continent that is ripe for trade and excited to enhance economic prosperity, Single Window provides a new paradigm, reaching beyond processes by streamlining new rules and parameters.
Opinion by Stéphane Gaudechon, who is Vice-President Market Leader Government Services & International Trade (GSIT), in charge of developing the Bureau Veritas GSIT strategy and activities in Africa. Email: Seseselelo.email@example.com