Indian imports slowed by tech glitch in new customs clearance platform

Source: The Loadstar
Date: 4th April 2023

Indian importers and supply chain players are facing difficulties securing customs clearance, due to major glitches on the national electronic data interchange platform, known as Icegate.

As a result, import containers are piling up at port locations across the country, according to industry sources.

Stakeholders are concerned over the inability to make customs duty payments through the electronic gateway, an issue Loadstar sources noted first cropped up when the authorities rolled-out the new system on 1 April.

Many industry groups, including the Brihanmumbai Customs Brokers Association (BCBA) of clearing agents in Mumbai, have raised alarm bells, calling on government policymakers for intervention and a swift resolution.

The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) said it was making every effort to put things in order. It explained: “Our technical teams are working overtime to fix some teething issues and the problems being temporarily noticed will be resolved at the earliest.”

The clearing agents were not coming forward to pick up delivery orders for vessels that arrived even last week. Containers overstaying on docks typically run the risk of demurrage fees and other penalties, with disputes often ending up in protracted legal action.

Air freight inbound shipments are also facing similar customs hiccups, a source said.

India’s freight industry has seen a raft of technological change and ease-of-doing-business reforms in recent years as the nation bids to keep pace with evolving global supply chain dynamics.

New Delhi recently laid out a broader digital platform – dubbed the national logistics portal (NLP) – offering a “one-stop shop logistics experience” for users, with visibility and transparency being the key focus.

The government said the platform “aimed at connecting all the stakeholders of the logistics community using IT to improve efficiency and transparency by reducing costs and time delays and achieving easier, faster, and more competitive offerings of services, to promote the growth of the logistics sector and thereby improve trade”.

In addition, efforts are in the works for a new electronic customs programme to tighten export/import cargo manifestations, named the Sea Cargo Manifest and Transhipment [SCMT] Regulations. In broad terms, it is akin to the 24-hour advanced manifest rule for US cargo.

But the current import clearance snags coincide with Indian export flows facing bottlenecks as a consequence of significant berth capacity cutbacks at Nhava Sheva port (JNPT), with perishables movements bearing the brunt of the congestion.

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