Bangladesh has, during the past two decades, undertaken various customs modernization projects, including the introduction of Automated Software for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) and direct traders input (DTI). However, the expected outcomes from such initiatives could not be realized as these projects failed to ensure a paperless customs clearance process. It was in this context that the Government of Bangladesh recently undertook a project to automate the Chittagong Customs House (CCH) with technical support from a local IT firm known as Datasoft Systems Bangladesh Limited. The underlying objective of such an endeavour is to create an environment that is conducive to business for the private sector and to ensure greater revenue earnings by expediting customs clearance procedures.
There appears to be significant agreement among the traders and customs agents with regard to the expected positive impact of the automation process. It is believed that the initiative will result, for example, in the reduction in lodgement, clearance time and costs and corruption, an increase in number of clients for the customs agents and freedom for agents and traders to work outside customs’ normal working hours. It is also interesting to note that the majority of the customs agents and traders are ready to set up new offices or install new equipment (such as computers, fax machines and Internet connection) to gain access to the service automation process. The automated system at CCH is currently being used by more than 3,000 registered users, including 20-25 large-scale industries. However, until now, no export-oriented SME users have registered as they find it more convenient to use customs agents rather than handling the clearance procedures by themselves.
The paper identifies a number of policy options to the Government of Bangladesh in order to facilitate the adoption of ICT for facilitating the trade of SME.