Cablegate: Asycuda Customs Software: Aid Catalyst

Published: Mon 19 Oct 2009 04:42 PM
DE RUEHGV #0888/01 2921642
R 191642Z OCT 09
PASS to USTR for DShackleford, USAID/EGAT, USAID/Asia Bureau, USAID
Middle East Bureau
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: ASYCUDA customs software: aid catalyst
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The UN Conference on Trade and Development
(UNCTAD) is helping countries install the automated customs data
software program (ASYCUDA), which the USG has supported in numerous
countries, most recently Haiti, Jordan, and Sao Tome and Principe.
Mission Officer participated in an UNCTAD evaluation of the ASYCUDA
installation in Jordan in late May 2009. Mission officer also
facilitated meetings with the Government of Iraq for possible
installation of ASYCUDA in Iraq. By all accounts, the program has
had a positive and catalyzing development impact, whatever else a
country may say about good governance initiatives. END SUMMARY.
2. (U) ASYCUDA was founded in the early 1980s to automate the
operations of Customs Administrations, and is now the core component
of integrated customs information systems in more than 80 countries.
Since its introduction, ASYCUDA has pursued five objectives:
-- a) Assist Customs Administrations to modernize and reform by
facilitating legitimate trade, and improving the efficiency,
transparency and accountability of customs clearance controls.
-- b) Implement harmonized codes, international standards and
transparent regulations, leading to increased collection of duties
and taxes, and the availability of timely, accurate and comparable
-- c) Fit the operations of all customs systems worldwide, and allow
country specific tailoring and enhancements (provided those add-ons
do not conflict with the second objective).
-- d) Provide ASYCUDA for free, although installation requires
funding of hardware, support activities and training through
technical assistance.
-- e) Match the highest quality standards of the industry and use
the latest reliable technologies.
3. (U) To date, ASYCUDA has gone through four versions:
a) ASYCUDA version 1 (1981-1984) implemented in three countries;
it allowed the production of trade balances and other statistical
b) ASYCUDA version 2 (1985-1995) implemented in more than 40
countries; it allowed collection of increased customs revenue,
production of statistics, and clear definition of the customs
operations process.
c) ASYCUDA ++ (1992 - present) allowed processing of millions of
customs declarations every year and implemented uniform procedures.
d) ASYCUDA World (2002 - present) expanded usage of ASYCUDA to 85
countries and made the software internet based and easily compatible
with add-on programs tailored for users' specific needs.
ASYCUDA in Jordan
4. (U) The ASYCUDA installation in Jordan was supported by USAID,
the Millennium Challenge Corporation and investments by the Jordan
Customs Administration itself. Mission Officer saw the two data
centers funded by USAID. There, each piece of computer hardware had
a USAID donor label on it and the centers themselves had plaques
commemorating the USAID donations. The training rooms were clean,
well lit and spacious and similarly bore USAID donor labels.
5. (U) Mission Officer visited the renovated and expanded Customs
facility at Amman Airport to see an example of improved
infrastructure the GOJ was building to support the ASYCUDA system.
The old Customs offices were decrepit, dark and dirty with old
furniture and exposed wires. The renovated offices were bright,
clean, and built for computer users, so had drop down ceilings,
hidden wires and necessary air conditioning to keep the equipment
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running well and staff comfortable. The new offices demonstrated a
commitment by the GOJ to create a work environment that was
comfortable enough to attract and keep professional technical staff
and customs officials.
6. (U) At Jaber, Mission officer visited a "single window" customer
service installation. The single window allows shippers to present
their import documents to a clerk who compares the hard documents
with the electronic versions input to the ASYCUDA system at sources
or origin. Clerks from offices responsible for Food and Drugs,
Standards, and Agriculture reviewed health and safety issues. If an
imported cargo needed inspection, the ASYCUDA system randomly
assigned a customs officer to conduct the inspection; ASYCUDA
tracked the amount of time taken by the inspection and its results.
Digitizing documents, randomly assigning inspectors, tracking
inspection results and limiting shippers face contact with customs
officials dramatically reduced the potential for bribery.
7. (U) UNCTAD ASYCUDA staff made a presentation to the Jordan's
Custom's Administration in which UNCTAD analyzed time release data
from seven Jordan Customs locations, asked questions of customs
staff to understand why the times were better and worse in various
locations and brainstormed how to improve clearance times. For
example, the time release study findings for Aquaba identified that
there were too few inspectors in Aquaba, inspectors were
unnecessarily checking shipments listed as green meaning that their
declarations were all in order and came from known and reliable
traders, and shippers were leaving their cargo at Aquaba Customs for
too long a period after inspections were completed thereby
cluttering the shipping areas. As a result of this analysis, UNCTAD
and Jordan Customs agreed upon the following improved procedures:
elimination of inspections of cargo designated at green, hiring of
six more customs inspectors, and increasing Aquaba Container
Terminal storage fees. The ASYCUDA team benchmarked Jordan's
performance against comparable countries using World Bank statistics
and together set targets for improvement.
8. (U) A senior Jordan Customs official proudly walked Mission
officer and UNCTAD staff through the customs headquarters in Amman.
He said that Customs Administrations from Syria, Yemen, United Arab
Emirates, Palestine, Libya, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Iraq had all
visited the Jordan Customs installation and purchased ASYCUDA or
intended to do so.
9. (U) According to the official, Jordan's key issue for customs is
not revenue collection but preventing terrorism and contraband.
Jordan Customs established a control center where it monitors all
crossing via video camera. For containers that are transiting
Jordan, Jordan Customs X-rays the contents of the container,
installs a lock and a GPS device so that Customs will be immediately
alerted if the truck diverts from its approved route, takes too long
to cross Jordan, or if anyone tampers with the container locking
device. Once the truck has transited Jordan, the contents are again
x-rayed, the initial and final x-rays compared and the locking
device removed. This X-ray function and GPS tracking are add-ons to
the ASYCUDA system. The new border crossing process has allowed
Jordan to eliminate convoys, which had previously taken from three
hours to one day to assemble. Instead the x-ray, locking device and
GPS system takes seven minutes to install and remove on each end of
the transit.
ASYCUDA for Iraq
10. (SBU) Iraq customs planned to visit the Jordan Customs
Administration while the ASYCUDA team was in Amman in May 2009. US
Mission and Embassy Baghdad helped ASYCUDA identify the correct
Iraqi official, Mr. Nawfal Sulaiman Mohammed, Director General,
General Customs Commission, Ministry of Finance, and arrange the
visit, which ultimately did not occur due to changes in the Iraqi
minister's plans. At an October 5 meeting with ASYCUDA in Geneva,
UNCTAD said it is trying to reschedule a meeting with the Head of
Iraqi Customs for November and reiterated its request for USG
assistance in facilitating such a meeting. UNCTAD said that it has
a letter from the GOI requesting assistance with Customs, but to go
forward, UNCTAD must have formal buy-in from the correct top Iraqi
customs officials. Then UNCTAD must assess the situation in Iraq to
determine the number of customs regions, the state of
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telecommunications, the level of capacity building required etc, so
that it can make a formal offer of services to Iraq.
11. (SBU) The ASYCUDA installation in Jordan was an extremely
successful development project. Without the political overtones of
demanding good governance, the ASYCUDA system necessitates it.
ASYCUDA eliminates many opportunities for corruption through
digitizing documents, randomly assigning inspections and tracking
results by inspector. It facilitates nation building since ASYCUDA
requires all customs offices in a country to use a common system and
exchange data. By reducing corruption, it generates funds for
governments to invest in their civil servants, in terms of training,
higher salaries and modern offices, and necessitates that investment
to keep those staff from working elsewhere. AYSCUDA also
accelerates computer literacy and innovation since business users
and brokers must be trained to use the program and digitize their
documents. It spurs innovation since the technical experts required
to maintain the system are problem solvers and come up with
technical and process solutions to improve the customs
12. (SBU) Additionally, supporting ASYCUDA demonstrates US
commitment to the multilateral process and the United Nations. That
ASYCUDA is used by more than 85 countries facilitates collection of
comparable customs data, sharing of best practices and software
add-ons, and greater cooperation among customs administrations
13. (SBU) Developing country appreciation for ASYCUDA is evidenced
by its wide use and the fact that many developing countries, such as
Sri Lanka, self-finance upgrades to ASYCUDA. Financing of ASYCUDA
installations does not appear to be a significant challenge.
However, UNCTAD does no marketing of the ASYCUDA system, so
countries that could benefit from it may not be aware of its
existence or how to request its installation. Mission recommends
USG help build awareness of ASYCUDA in countries that could benefit
from it. USG could also express verbal (and where requested and
consistent with US priorities, financial) support for more
installations of ASYCUDA, and upgrades to existing installations, as
investment in ASYCUDA is cost effective development assistance that
spurs good governance, modernization and innovation.
14. (U) Finally, USG may wish to consider funding development of the
next version of ASYCUDA, which will better integrate the single
window functions and thus bring the ASYCUDA methodology of digitized
documents and random inspections to other developing country
ministries that interact with Customs Administrations. UNCTAD
estimates that it will need USD 3 million per year for three to four
years to develop the next generation of ASYCUDA.
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