OECS prepares for free circulation of goods

Customs unions discuss intra-regional trade and the Agro-Shipping Initiative.

The second meeting of the OECS Port Management Committee was convened via web-conference on Feb. 17.

The meeting focused on engaging OECS port authorities on the policies and procedures for facilitating the entry of goods into the OECS Customs Union, as well as the free circulation of goods in the OECS Economic Union area.

A key objective of the exercise was to ensure that port managers are apprised of their roles and functions in the process of creating a customs union within the OECS.

The Trade Policy Unit of the OECS Commission made presentations to the port authorities on the guiding principles and draft procedural arrangements for the OECS Customs Union and the free circulation of goods regime, with specific emphasis on the need for the ports to enhance ICT connectivity between customs departments and shipping agents.

Port and customs officials across member states are expected to play an active role in the logistical arrangements for differentiating goods subject to regular import procedures, from goods in free circulation. The port authorities also highlighted the need to revise existing port charges across member states and develop an OECS port tariff or pricing structure that is up-to-date and commensurate with the services and operations being provided.

A regional pricing structure is viewed as a strategic approach to help influence a reduction in the high freight charges currently being levied by international shipping lines that service OECS ports. It is envisioned that this new pricing structure will support the efficiency and expansion of the OECS Agro Shipping Initiative, which is geared towards moving agricultural produce throughout the OECS and the wider CARICOM, using OECS registered vessels.

Coordinator of the Agro Shipping Initiative, Sunita Daniel, made a presentation to the meeting on the progress of this initiative.

Another critical issue discussed at the meeting was the need to build the capacity of port personnel across the OECS to better provide services to importers and exporters in the Economic Union. The OECS Commission informed the meeting of plans for a second round of training for port managers and operators in 2017, under the OECS-Singapore Joint Training Program, sponsored by the Singapore Cooperation Program. Port managers indicated a number of priority areas in which they require support for capacity building in order to service the region more efficiently. These areas include Occupational Health and Safety, ICT Integration, Environmental Efficiency, and Port Marketing.

The Port Management Committee, established in March 2016, is a subcommittee of the Regional Task Force on the Free Circulation of Goods. Its mandate is to address matters relating to the operations and management of air and sea ports in the OECS in facilitating the free circulation of goods within the Economic Union. Membership comprises senior management from both the air and sea ports authorities across the OECS, as well as associate members from the Port Management Association of the Caribbean (PMAC), and the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI).