Ms. Tania Polonnowita Wettimuny
(Speech from the 35th SLFFA AGM held on 5th July 2016)
Chief Guest this evening The Director General of Customs Mr.Chulananda Perera, Mr. A. W Senaviratne Director Merchant Shipping, Mr. Ranjith De Silva – VC AASL. Mr. Chamara Ranasighe – Head of Cargo Sri Lankan Airlines, Special invitees, Past Chairmen, Members of the head table & colleagues.
2015 can be viewed as a year in transition for our Industry. The rapid changes in policy by the new government, coupled with challenging external factors such as decelerating demand in our key export markets compelled the SLFFA membership to revisit their own business models and operating mechanisms.
To support this transition, the newly appointed executive committee worked on a specific agenda during the year under review. This included;
To collaborate more effectively with other trade bodies and associations, to address key challenges and issues which impact not only our own business environment, but our customers as well.
To engage more actively with all SLFFA members by maintaining an on going dialogue on the associations activities and key projects.
To widen the knowledge of SLFFA members and their employees by organizing regular gatherings where they were exposed to presentations by Experts and opinion leaders from different Industries.
To position Logistics and Freight Forwarding Industry as a prospective career option for young professionals
And to continue our focus on Corporate Social Responsibility by supporting a common cause.
In this regard, I must thank and appreciate the efforts of the office bearers for 2015/16.
As our journey unravels in 2016, there are many unknowns we are confronted with and many hurdles to climb – and this will not be possible without the continued cooperation of the regulatory bodies such as S.L Customs , Director General of Merchant Shipping , Sri Lanka Ports Authority , AASL who are integral stakeholders of our industry & other trade related associations such as Shippers’ Council, CASA , JAAF, Exporters Association & Imports section of Ceylon Chamber.
While we acknowledge their initiatives to comply with International Trade Practices, Amendments to archaic processes through automation and to also focus on improving efficiencies, we urge these stakeholders to actively engage us to obtain our views, prior to implementing these initiatives. In this regard, while we acknowledge the continued support of the Director General of Customs and also the Director General of Merchant shipping, we must bear in mind that our collective vision should be to achieve the efficiencies and seamless trade facilitation practices which have been adopted by major commercial hubs such as Singapore and Dubai. In this regard, I would like to site a recent example which has a direct impact on our entire economy, if not managed effectively; the recent implementation of the Verified Gross Mass or VGM. While we have to comply with the IMO regulations, we as an association is of the strong opinion that Sri Lanka as a country is still not fully geared for this implementation. First and foremost, the lack of approved weigh bridges is causing a bottle neck in terms of obtaining the VGM certificate by the shippers and more importantly the adopted process could be further simplified through a collective agreement by all stakeholders as in the case of other locations such as Singapore. On the same subject, we fully support the position taken by the shippers Council, objecting to the fee based VGM submission process adopted by the Ocean Freight Carriers.
I would like to elaborate further on the requirement to simplify the processes related to the Import and Export activity. As an association, we appreciate the support extended by the Hon. Minister of Finance and the Director General of Customs to facilitate the customs clearance activity on an uninterrupted basis through a single window concept. This is indeed a step in the right direction, but we find that not all stakeholders such as Commercial banks, SLSI and several other regulatory bodies are integrated electronically to offer a comprehensive single window solution for clearance. If our aspiration is to position ourselves as a progressive logistics hub, these are minimum standards we should enforce. Investing in the required IT and communication infrastructure with sufficient capacity to support the requirements of the entire shipping community is also vital in this regard.
Since we are elaborating on simplify processors and since the Director General Customs is present I would like to high-light a outcome of our recent representation at the UNESCAP regional Conference for Logistics Service Providers in Jakarta.
It was a highlight at the conference Indonesia’s initiative to simplify the bonded storage operations with Island wide Bonded Logistics centers. This presentation was done by the DG customs and Excise Under the topic “Bonded Logistics Centers” highlights were :
Countries flexibility in ownership,
Origin and destination flexibility – allowing to mix with import, export domestic goods.
Activity flexibility such as -blending, cutting, kitting, VAS.
Customs valuation at the time of release
If the goods need to be re-exported it is made possible without levying any fiscal duties
Operates on 24/7, paperless, issues certificates of origin
Further they are also considering toremove the Customs officers from the BLC s as long as monitoring is remotely possible with WMS inventory controls, CCTV and IT technology.
Facilitation is carried out by customs every Wednesdays to promote the concept
In terms of regulatory aspects, SLFFA as an association worked tirelessly to highlight some of the crucial challenges faced by the members with several regulations adopted by the authorities such as the Advance Manifest Requirement for Imports. We lobbied effectively to voice our concerns in areas such as manifest submission deadlines and enforceable penalties – considerable progress has been made in this regard and we thank the DGC and his officers for their willingness to consider the practical issues related to our operations. SLFFA will continue to play a lead role representing the Industry and its members by providing the required input and guidance towards any amendments to the statute which govern the operational aspects of our businesses. In this regard, we encourage members to submit their views and proposals to the SLFFA Ex-co for the new Customs Act which is currently being discussed at National level.
We are closely watching the initiatives being taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to re structure SriLankan Airlines and its associated activities such as ground handling. SLFFA have always advocated the need for a strong and efficient national carrier and level playing field and to this extent we welcome these initiatives so long as there is full transparency in the whole process. Similarly we are also hopeful that the Megapolis development plan will as a top priority address the problem of traffic congestion which is a direct contributory factor to higher costs of export/import operations.
In this back drop the role of The SLFFA Cargo Services Ltd – the Industry commercial arm of the association has also played and continue to play a vital role in lobby with the different Industry groups and the airlines, to offer a superior level of services to the SLFFA members by way of embracing new initiatives such as the E-Air waybill and the 24x7 operating schedule adopted by the Customs. In addition, there are ongoing discussion with SLPA and the Customs to establish a Cargo Handling Terminal at the port of Colombo by SLFFA Cargo Services. We expect to see a positive outcome from these discussions.
We also focused on promoting learning and development initiatives amongst SLFFA members. Employees of SLFFA members who are interested to join the Foundation certificate and the FIATA diploma programs are now offered a 15% discount at AITT – SLFFA’s training Arm. To-date, more than 192 students have successfully completed the foundation, 269 students on Certificate & FIATA 11. Further we too conduct DGR courses in order to enhance the knowledge on Dangerous goods handling so far since 2007 -2015 we have trained 220 students and conducts refresher courses for over 300 students.
In addition, we have encouraged school leavers to select Logistics as a viable profession by promoting the AITT Programs through education fairs and also through targeted presentations at classes involving students who are following CIMA and other qualifications
During the year under review, the Ex-Co also focused on improving the engagement with SLFFA members. In addition to the quarterly breakfast meetings, the General Membership meeting was held in March 2016. We were heartened by the active participation of the SLFFA members at these events and we encourage all members to continue to do so. In addition to these events, the annual SLFFA Cricket Sixes tournament was held in October 2015 – despite the inclement weather, the tournament was completed successfully with the participation of teams from more than 50 member companies
The revamped SLFFA website which was launched at the last year’s AGM is currently being used as a central platform to interact with the members. We urge the senior leaders of SLFFA members to encourage your staff to regularly access the website and its features such as the Debtor Data base, which would do benefit the entire Freight Forwarding community.
Under our ongoing CSR Road map, SLFFA) donated a total of 10 patient trolleys along with the relevant mattresses to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital, Colombo. The total project cost estimated approximately 1.25 million rupees. On a previous occasion SLFFA donated 31 operating theatre doors to the Hospital. In accordance with suggestions by the SLFFA members, we will also be looking for other CSR Projects to fulfill requirements in aspects such as sanitation at rural schools in the coming year.
I also would like to thank the support given by the Immediate past Chairman Mr. Dushmantha Karannagoda, advisory council, specially Mr Diren Hallock, Mr. Tony De Livera, Mr. Mohan Mohanadas and Mr. Niral Kadawatharatchie for their guidance .
Looking ahead, the SLFFA members must realize that we operate in an ever evolving environment – when our margins continue to get diminished and global trade patterns fluctuate rapidly due to developments such as UK’s with drawl from the EU , we should strengthen our resolve to develop future proof businesses by focusing on improved efficiency , investing in technology led Customer solutions and more importantly delivering exceptional value to our customers – this I believe is our role as Freight Forwarders in this country , as Sri Lanka marches on towards a future filled with economic gains and prosperity….