Single window as tool for trade facilitation

Written By Shulammite ‘Foyeku

The implementation of a national single window, which berthed in Ghana barely six months ago, is not a new concept in Nigeria.

It would be recalled that in 2013, the Nigeria Customs Service under its former Comptroller General, Dikko Abdulahi launched the single window platform as part of effort to facilitate the clearance procedures of both import and export goods.

The Single Window concept was developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in 2005 as part of effort to simplify, harmonize and standardise international trade procedures and associated information flows between trade and government and within government itself.

Through its UN Centre for Trade Facilitator and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), UNECE defined Single Window as “a facility that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardised information and documents with a single entry point to fulfill all import, export, and transit-related regulators requirements”.

While the implementation of the single window concept in Nigeria may have recorded some successes in cargo clearance with the introduction of the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) and the Nigeria trade hub portal, cargo clearance at the port is still cumbersome majorly due to several signatories, multiple tables, presence of many government agencies and manual documentation requirements which has led to high human contact and has significantly aided corruption and bribery at the port.

The practical goal of single window is to expedite and simplify the flow of information between traders and government while enabling the relevant authorities and agencies have access to all information for their purposes. Some agencies have however shown themselves unwilling to key into this platform due to their selfish gains.

The situation in Nigeria is not different from Ghana and other African countries and this is one of the reasons why the World Bank has rated these countries among the most expensive places to do business in the world.



In certain ports and terminals in some countries, human contact is so high that it has significantly aided bribery and corruption.

This is one of the reasons why the World Bank has rated these countries among the most expensive places to do business in the world. Over the years, these processes have not only increased but have also become complex as port users are not immune to the profound impact of modernity occasioned by the use of science and technology.

For instance, the use of information communication technology (ICT) has enhanced the clearance of goods. However, this has not led to significant reduction in the number of processes involved. Though these processes differ in different countries, countries in the developing world have more processes to go through because they are yet to be fully automated.

Countries in Sub-Sahara Africa including Nigeria and Ghana in the West Africa sub-region are some of the countries bedeviled with cumbersome processes of cargo clearance. Export and import in these countries are encumbered by high cargo dwell time (CDT), long time in clearing goods, multiplicity of documentations and presence of many government agencies.

These ills that have plagued cargo clearance in Nigeria prompted many stakeholders in the maritime industry to clamour for a one-stop-shop or single window.



The implementation of SW in clearance of goods and trade has many benefits. Speaking at a trade facilitation workshop for the media in Akosombo, Ghana, the Chief Executive Officer of West Blue Consulting, Valentina Mintah said the single trade window can improve the gains of African nations by 50 per cent. She noted that trade processing in many African countries is at the moment limited by excessive bureaucracy.

She said, “That African importers and exporters remain uncompetitive in the global business arena is largely attributable in part to the number of days it takes to complete import and export processing and their attendant costs. The collaboration of sister countries-Ghana and Nigeria on trade facilitation activities will bring about further gains in our quest for increased intra-African trade, with the realisation of efficient processes and movement of goods.

“No matter how much is done as individual institutions and countries in addressing these bottlenecks, it cannot be compared with the positive and timely impact that can be achieved with the joined up efforts of all stakeholders. When we join forces and pursue the goals of the national single window concept, it will be relatively easy to create a solid foundation, which will enable us achieve the 50 percent better, faster and cheaper trade across border indicator and beyond.” Mintah and other facilitators of the workshop discussed trade facilitation instruments and agreements, as well as summaries of findings of case studies carried out in the Ghana trade system.

Specifically, a resource person from the United Nations (UN), Tom Butterly noted that there had been an increased focus by countries on implementing the trade facilitation reforms. He added that the focus of trade facilitation is simplifying trade procedures in order to change economic distances to world markets.

He said working with the key components of people; to ensure a new mind-set open to improvement initiatives; processes; simple and easily managed; platform; working with information communication technology (ICT), and policy; the legal framework backing the operating system could help Ghana(based on case studies) save about $200 million in a year.

In the same vein, Dr. Somnuk Keretho in his presentation on international trade documents said trade facilitation is basically about ‘process reforms’ that would improve documentation and reduce cargo dwell time.

Keretho, who hails from Thailand, noted that such reforms would enhance national trade competitiveness by improving import/export procedures and document handling among government agencies.

Speaking on ICT architecture, Aminu Uthman, said that it is important for nations to establish available infrastructure that would support the effective use of ICT to drive the process.

He pointed out that the cost consideration for electricity generation would definitely make a single window cost in Africa to be higher to create than in places where the electricity infrastructure was readily available.

The concept

The single window concept was developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in 2005. It is defined as an effort to simplify, harmonise, and standardize international trade procedures and associated information flows between trade and government and within government itself.

The UN specialised agency through its UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) defined single window as a “facility that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardise information and documents with a single entry point to fulfill all import, export , and transit related regulatory requirements. This definition is hinged on the fact that if information is electronic, then individual data elements should only be submitted once.

That single window is now embraced by many countries is due to its many its enormous benefits and potential as trade facilitation tool. No fewer than 70 countries have embraced it since it was established over a decade ago. Many key development agencies and financial institutions across the globe, including the World Bank, now see it as veritable tool for trade and economic competiveness as it is the case in many developed world, African countries beyond Nigeria and Ghana need to embrace single window in order to enhance trade and competiveness in their economies. The world is now a global village and those who do not see the need to embrace change in line with international standards and practices may be left behind.

In fact, such countries may be compelled by forces beyond them to hold the short end of the candle in the global trade arena. That is one of the reasons why globalization has made competiveness a key factor in investments across the globe. Countries in the West African Sub-region in particular and African continent in general cannot afford to lag behind.

In order to ensure that single window is embraced by all stakeholders, more enlightenment campaign should be carried out. The sensitization campaign should be taken to the doorsteps of those involved in cargo delivery and clearance chain. This is important because change is often resisted when there is no adequate information on what the new concept involves.

Stakeholders must be carried along in the scheme of things. By so doing, these stakeholders would not only have an in-depth understanding of the key issues involved but also be in a vantage position to tell others about what they stand to gain when they buy into SW in their transaction in the ports, airports and international land borders.

The developed world have started deriving the benefits in single window, therefore those in developing world cannot afford to do otherwise. This is so because the developed and developing world are all competing for almost the same things in the international market. For instance, they are all looking for investors in key areas of their economies that will generate employment opportunities for their citizenry. They are all seeking foreign direct investors (FDI) in areas that they have comparative advantage. Since profit remains the sole aim of any business venture, no serous-minded country will gloss over the need to embrace any concept or measure that will bring economic prosperity to its citizenry.

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