Paulina Abrokwah works hard to keep goods moving. As a freight forwarder in Ghana, she helps businesses get the right documents, comply with regulations and transport their goods across the country’s borders. Her role ensures Ghanaian consumers can buy a wide range of products and that Ghanaian businesses can export their wares across the world. Every day she deals with shipments, from cars to electronics, sending to and receiving from as far away as Mexico, China, Brazil and Europe.
“The difficulties we face now in clearing the border can make the process very stressful and that can discourage people from trading,” says Paulina. “Some prospective clients see the system they have to navigate and it puts them off. If we do not have to go through that stress and the system is simpler, then more companies would want to trade and we, in turn, can grow our business.”
Ghana is working hard to improve trade facilitation and introduced the Pre-Arrival-Assessment Reporting System (PAARS) in 2015, meaning traders can submit documentation electronically in advance of arriving at the border. Customs values the goods and gives that value to traders so they know in advance how much they will have to pay in duties.
“Before the electronic pre-arrival system, we had to drive to the Destination Inspection Company (DIC) at the port with our hard-copy trade documents for it to process. Tema is the biggest port in Ghana and is very busy. The process took time. If there was a mistake in my documents, I had to drive all the way back to my office to make the necessary corrections and then return the documents to the DIC. That took a lot of time, particularly with the bad traffic situation. The pre-arrival system is good and has reduced the time it takes to clear goods and the strain on business.”
However, since the pre-arrival system assigns goods to the red, yellow or green channels (for physical inspection, scanning or passing straight through respectively) based only the information fed into it from documents, most goods are physically examined at the border to compare the values and quantities with what was declared. More often than not, customs directs some yellow and green goods for physical examination.
As a result, most consignments still have to queue for inspections, making it hard to predict when goods will be released and able to move again. Paulina explains: “Most frustrating is that often you are told in advance that your goods will go into the green channel, and physical inspections will not be necessary. But when you arrive at the border customs can reverse the decision and put your goods into the red channel. It is not easy for us to predict when this might happen and it happens too frequently. This results in delays and that adds up to more time and cost for me and my customers.
“Sometimes it will even take until the next day to clear the goods. During that time, I must pay rent to store my goods until they can move again, and if customs undergoes a shift change, the process can take even longer. It can also mean I must wait overnight at the border which can be very uncomfortable. It causes a lot of stress and pressure. I must then go back to my customer and renegotiate the price to cover the additional costs I have encountered. All of this adds up and trade becomes more and more expensive.”
The Alliance project in Ghana will introduce risk management to pre-arrival processing – a model that will ‘learn’ which traders have a history of complying with regulations and systematically allow customs to prioritise high-risk shipments for inspection. As traders build up a track record of compliance, they can expect to see fewer physical inspections.
“I believe these systems have the potential to make clearing the border much smoother and faster. If I can clear goods on time, I can help my customers avoid extra costs. Those cost savings will be passed on to Ghanaian consumers and make Ghanaian businesses more competitive. It will reduce costs for me too, and I will be able to offer my customers a better deal and grow my business.”