The Government of Liberia through its Inter-agency Trade Facilitation Committee has with immediate effect relaxed its new detailed custom clearing procedures at the Free Port of Monrovia for importers until after the Christmas season.
According to a Ministry of Finance and Development Planning or MFDP release issued in Monrovia on 17 December, the decision was reached at the Inter-agency Trade Facilitation Committee (TFC) meeting held with importers at the Head offices of the National Port Authority (NPA) recently.
The committee, comprising the Ministry of Finance & Development Planning (MFDP), Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI), the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), and the National Port Authority (NPA) took the decision to find an amicable solution to protesting importers especially members of the Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs).
At the meeting, members of the SMEs through the Liberian Chamber of Commerce and the Liberia Custom Broker Association said the reason for the protest was as a result of the excessive examination of imported commodities which has resulted in extra taxation for their respective businesses and prolonged delays in clearing of their imports.
The LRA recently augmented its port trade inspection procedures by inspecting the quantities contained in boxes, barrels, and bundles in imported containers, especially, containers under Destination Inspection (DI).
This decision by the LRA was due to the constant infusion of fake invoices within the clearing process and intentional gross under-declaration of values by some importers or custom brokers.
The LRA claims this is undermining the government’s ability to raise revenues for approved expenditures under the 2016/2017 fiscal budget, the MFDP release furthered. Having analyzed the explanations from the private sector with the objective of maintaining a stable economic and political environment during the festive Christmas season, the Inter-agency Committee at the close of the meeting, agreed on several actions.
Key among the agreement was that LRA conducts port trade inspection based on the units of measure of the quantity, and not the contents for the next two weeks to ease importers difficulties during the festive season.
That agencies of government responsible for trade facilitation, especially the LRA, MoCI and the NPA, create the necessary awareness on the process of port trade facilitation at the site of Destination Inspection to improve compliance and understanding of clearing procedures and processes.
That the relevant agencies ensure publication of port trade fees, checklists and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to improve understanding and transparency at key trade hubs for the trade community, consistent with the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Stakeholders are to utilize engagements of the Trade Facilitation Committee to introduce new or updated regulations, procedures, actions and processes that impact the trade and business community.
The committee has meanwhile emphasized that the decisions reached at the just ended Inter-agency Trade Facilitation Meeting are only meant to provide temporary relief for the importers during the festive season.
The MFDP release also declared that, the Committee has at the same time expressed its willingness to work with its partners, the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, Liberia Business Association (LIBA), the Custom Brokers Association of Liberia and the International Finance Corporation, to improve the country’s business climate, especially, in preparation for the first quarter survey of the World Bank’s “Doing Business” Report.