Council: The National Council (NC) yesterday deliberated on the Customs Bill, which aims to modernise customs administration in the country.

The government’s aim is to carve out a separate Customs Act as part of the government’s commitment to reform customs administration. This will mean taking out the Customs part from the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000.

Introducing the Bill in the House, finance minister Namgay Dorji said the Bill is important to facilitate and accelerate cross-border trade.

The finance minister also used the platform to highlight the government’s economic achievements. He said 2016 is an auspicious year and that the economic problems such as the Rupee crunch and the lack of loan facilities have been solved.

“I take this opportunity to say that interest rates have been reduced. People across the country are happy,” he said. Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said the country faced economic problems in the 10th Plan.

NC member from Chukha, Pema Tenzin, asked the minister if the government was looking at the issues arising along with the emergence of e-commerce in the country. “Online business is becoming popular. What is the government going to do with the issues, such as taxes?” he asked.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji replied that the government was looking into it. However he added that the economic affairs ministry was the right agency to deal with the matter and that he was not able to give a detailed reply to the MP’s question.

The bill, if passed, will repeal Part II of the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000 and its amendment in 2012 and aims to facilitate faster release of goods and provide conducive environment for foreign direct investment and economic competitiveness.

The finance minister said the proposed reform would provide focused attention and ensure consistency in legal provisions as well as application of the customs laws.

The Bill was passed by the National Assembly in its last session. The 15-year-old Act, the finance minister said does not meet the requirement of the changing times.

The finance minister said the Bill was drafted as per the standards of the Revised Kyoto Convention that aims to simplify and harmonise customs procedures and introduces modern customs techniques around the world. “It would be convenient for Bhutan to trade with trading partners outside the country,” he said.

The Bill has been aligned with the international standards and practices to enable the country to derive economic and non-economic benefits such as increased revenue through risk management and automation.

The Customs Bill empowers the government to impose restrictions or prohibition on import and export of goods to safeguard national interest. Such restrictions would be in accordance with relevant laws, international conventions, covenants, treaties, protocols and agreements.

MB Subba