At the Turning the Corner business forum held on Wednesday, November 23, 2011, keynote speaker Prime Minister Dean Barrow highlighted Customs reform in Belize, which, he said, would mean that “the business playing field will naturally be more level, as we succeed in eliminating the disadvantage to those that virtue now holds hostage.”

The playing field has not been level, because there are those who benefit from the evasion of duties. Authorities say that the new ASYCUDA World system would help to alleviate the problem.

ASYCUDA, led by UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), is described as “a computerized customs management system which covers most foreign trade procedures.” UNCTAD explains that “The system handles manifests and customs declarations, accounting procedures, transit and suspense procedures.”

Comptroller of Customs, Gregory Gibson, told the business gathering that the system would reward compliant importers, while putting the others under increased scrutiny.

Gibson said that those importers who refuse to be compliant in the payment of customs duties will have to face the full brunt of the Customs examination process.

The reform will entail a sort of green light-red light system, and importers who get the green light, he explained, would be able to get their containers speedily.

Customs reports that “ASYCUDA World has now been implemented at Punta Gorda and Big Creek since June and August 2010, respectively; Philip Goldson International Airport since May 2011, and Belize City in September 2011.”

It said that the Belize City rollout facilitates vehicle clearances, customs simplified declarations, and most other types of importations which include transits, transshipments, FCL importations, LCL importations, and most duty-exempted cargo.

According to Barrow, the ASYCUDA World system is being installed with financial support from the Caribbean Development Bank.

“We will need to establish how well that system works before embarking on any major new operation, although we are aware of the need to install container-scanning capability in the near future, if we are able to continue to export to the US,” Barrow added.

Barrow noted that the implementation of the ASYCUDA project has been experiencing substantial delays.

He added that a detailed investigation has been launched to determine the reasons for the delay and to accelerate implementation.

“Both the container-scanning operation and ASYCUDA will obviously change the structure and functioning of the Customs Department,” said Barrow. “The hope and the expectation is that these developments will reduce the vicissitudes of the human factor and lead to better control of graft and corruption.”

He also added that operations in the Free Zone, the Export Processing Zones and general contraband control, must also receive scrutiny in order to complement ASYCUDA.

Gibson reported that Belize would be the first country to commence online payment of customs duties, for which arrangements are being made with the Atlantic Bank.

Once duties are paid online, those importers that will have gotten the “green light” would be able to easily clear their containers from Customs.