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Sri Lanka’s importers last week explained the challenges they faced and urged the government to fast track several key issues including amendments to the Customs and Sri Lanka Ports Authority Ordinances.

Chairman, Import Section of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), Dinesh de Silva in his speech at the section’s 80th Annual General Meeting listed out concerns of the country’s importers and urged the Minister of Finance, Ravi Karunanayake, who was also present at the event, to take measures to expedite the processes to implement them.

De Silva stated that some of the key areas that needed attention were to formalize the Customs 24 hour operation along with other connected authorities, to establish 24 hours online payments mainly to Customs and SLPA without restricting the facility to a few banks, to have guidelines from DGMS on “Delivery Order Fees” and to have a structured mechanism or to establish a high powered committee to handle trade disputes.

In addition, de Silva also pointed out the need to eliminate grey imports which hamper the genuine importers result in loss of revenue to the country, to establish a transparent/hassle free valuation system, implementation of Single Window concept, submission of electronic/online manifest to customs/SLPA, supporting advance shipment clearance, amendments to the customs ordinance and SPLA ordinance, and acceptance of e-signatures and overall supporting e-commerce.

“Improvements of all these areas are certainly critical as every inefficiency is adding cost to the products and in turn effects – either cost of living or in the case of re-exports, competitiveness in the global markets,” de Silva said.

Meanwhile, Chairman, Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Dr. Lakdas Panagoda in his speech cited the need to prepare the youth to adapt to workplaces. “We must bridge the gap between business and education,” he said. “Many employers are frustrated by the lack of skills and experience that they are looking for. More should be done to better prepare them for the workplace.

The key areas that need addressing have been identified as improving “soft skills” such as communication, team-work and resilience, as well as better careers advice and engagement with business in schools.”

Dr. Panagoda further said that the SLPA had managed to undertake several policy initiatives since January this year.
Accordingly, the initiatives include board approvals and in some cases cabinet approvals to implement important long-term plans such as, the completion of the East Container Terminal by SLPA or as a joint venture with an International Terminal Operator with SLPA holding majority share, tender procedure for supply of equipment for the East Container Terminal, the process of development and implementation of an ISO 9001 Quality Management System at JCT to be completed in August 2015, and engagement with international bunker operators to manage and operate the Hambantota Tank Farm on PPP basis.

Karunanayake in his speech responded to de Silva’s concerns. “You all are talking about gray imports, etc. but I was just telling your Chairman, that at least 10% – 15% on a daily basis seems to be trying to penetrate to the system from a devious manner,” he said.

He added that the Government had taken initiatives to address some of the issues and would continue to do so if given the mandate after August 17 polls.

The Finance minister further pointed out that there was a need for chambers to be united for healthy competition and also to come up with solutions for problems faced by them.

“I don’t see the sense of harmony that exists in the importers as much as what the Chamber would like to do. This exists in all other Chambers. There should be a sense of togetherness,” Karunanayake said.