LAHORE: It is very difficult for the Customs Department to clear import or export consignments worth Rs 65 billion without the active help of clearing agents. Their task is not only significant and important but they, in fact, are playing pivotal role after becoming a bridge between Customs officials and traders. Their role is like a lawyer who becomes mediator between a judge and a complainant. Customs clearing agents also hold licences which are issued by the competent authority.
These views were expressed by Lahore Customs Clearing Agents Association President Agha Iftikhar while giving an exclusive interview to Customs Today at his Mughalpura Dry Port office.
Agha Iftikhar further said that in the current fiscal year, Pakistan’s exports are estimated to be around $25 billion while its imports have been surpassed the mark of $41 billion. The total volume of imports and exports has reached $66 billion and Customs clearing agents are playing the role of catalyst in generating revenue in the shape of Customs duties. With over 1,200 licences, Customs clearing agents across the country are not only meeting the Customs Department’s revenue collection targets every year but they are also satisfying importers and exporters in preparing documents of their consignments and properly handling their cargos.
Replying to a question, Agha Iftikhar dispelled the perception that Customs clearing agents are allegedly involved in wrong-doings. He clarified that only Customs clearing agents have made it possible for Customs Department to collect targeted revenue, otherwise it is impossible that Customs Department could raise such a hefty amount of over Rs220 million in the current fiscal year. He further said that Customs clearing agents are not working against the interest of the state rather they are helping all agencies concerned including Customs Department and other stakeholders like importers and exporters. Without the active help of Customs clearing agents, Agha Iftikhar claimed, neither the government can collect tax on imports nor can traders import items worth above $40 billion annually. He admitted that there are some black sheep among clearing agents also. This negligible ratio of black sheep is found in every department, he added.
Agha Iftikhar further elaborated that imports and exports are a very sensitive issue. Sometimes people with vested interests try to export banned items like drugs. So Customs clearing agents collect complete information about their respective clients. If a clearing agent does not know the office, house and godowns of his importer client, how is it possible for him to locate his client at the time of investigation of exporting contraband items? Besides this, a clearing agent has to satisfy government officials so that a handsome amount in the shape of Customs duty on imports could be collected and deposited in national kitty.
Replying to another question, Agha Iftikhar said that though all clearing agents are not highly literate persons but still they feel good when they are offered refresher courses or asked to participate in a seminar or conference for their capacity building. He further said that he has also attended a number of conferences not only within Pakistan but also abroad. For example, he said that he has just visited Sweden to attend a seminar which helped him to improve his knowledge regarding Customs issues, he added.
Agha Iftikhar blatantly revealed that bureaucracy is the main hurdle to clearance of import consignments. He claimed that under a plan, Railways’ goods trains have been suspended to help the road transportation. Railways charge only Rs 50,000 per container from Karachi to Lahore while road transporters charge over Rs 150,000 for carrying same bonded container from Karachi to Lahore. Now, importers’ first priority is to clear their cargo containers at Karachi ports rather than from Lahore dry ports just to save their precious time as well as money. He said that government should help Railways management to run goods trains between Lahore and Karachi. In this way, not only the undue burden on Customs officials at Karachi ports would be reduced but the cost for importers would also be cut.