Pakistan has introduced a system for pre-arrival clearance of imported cargo coming through the air route to slash clearance time, facilitate trade and improve supply chain management with the objective of steering ease of doing business in the country.

Initially, the Customs department receives details of goods on board through electronic means immediately after the flight takes off from an international destination and the cargo receives clearance for delivery to importers by the time the flight lands in Pakistan. The new project launched by the Customs department is called “Clearance in Sky”.

The system delivers a message to the importers or recipients of the cargo which can be shown to the authorities for receiving the delivery of cargo and it can also be used to track the status of goods.

The system can tell the exact position of goods and the period of time after which they will be ready for physical delivery at airports.

During the trial and test run of the project in December 2020, goods such as lifesaving drugs, documents like passports, human organ consignments and perishable items including vegetables and fruits were cleared successfully.

“At present, we are clearing import cargo of 12 commercial importers, manufacturers and exporters in the textile and pharmaceutical sectors of Pakistan,” Additional Collector of Customs Farah Farooq, who is heading the pilot project, told The Express Tribune.

Prior to implementation of the project, which is still in its preliminary phase, Customs clearance of the imported industrial cargo was initiated a few hours after the airplane landed in Pakistan.

On the other hand, the physical clearance system consumed two to five days. “Currently, we are clearing around 48% of the cargo in one to two days,” she said.

“We are aiming to clear 60-70% of all the bulk and industrial cargo within one to two days after their arrival in Pakistan.”

There are some goods which are held for examination for a longer time to clear doubts and this type of cargo can consume more than two days.

“The new system, however, will at least inform importers or recipients of the cargo in Pakistan that their goods are held for examination as well as the estimated time for their clearance.”

She added that the project was being implemented at Karachi airport only and the scheme covered Qatar Airways at present.

Over the next two to three weeks, the facility will be extended to 16 more international airlines that come to Pakistan and importers from other sectors will also be welcomed into the system.

The system would be implemented at all international airports of Pakistan over the next three to four months, she said.

The system complies with the revised international requirements. “Pakistan has become compliant since December 2020,” she said.

There are, however, a few limitations hindering the success of the system and complete automation of all relevant departments is one of them. Departments such as Pakistan Post are not automated.

Customs requires a no-objection certificate for the clearance of goods from the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) which are yet to be automated.

However, a majority of businesses, Customs department and airlines are fully automated. She elaborated that the system was introduced to facilitate trade but its success depended on the importers.

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), under the performance agreements signed with the Prime Minister’s Office in September 2017, has reformed procedures and workflows in compliance with the international commitments to trade facilitation.

The pre-arrival Customs processing is a requirement under the revised Kyoto Convention and it is obligatory for Pakistan Customs to follow the international best practices on trade facilitation.

“It is anticipated that the clearance time for perishable goods, lifesaving medicines and duty-free imports and parcels will be reduced from 10 hours at present to one hour in future,” she said.

“While industrial raw material and intermediary products can be cleared in less than a day, the pre-arrival clearance will be affected by increasing trade volumes through the air route and it will help in Pakistan’s seamless integration with the international supply chains.”