The director generals of the customs of the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) countries signed a memorandum of intent on the training of customs officials with the National Academy of Customs, Excise and Narcotics of India yesterday.

The signing was a part of the sixth SASEC Customs Sub-group (SCS) meeting held in the capital.

Addressing the delegation from the seven-member countries, finance minister Namgay Dorji said the signing was a timely and appropriate step to improve the customs practices at the borders.

“No other region needs harmonious and cooperative relations among its states more than the SASEC countries as we have been rated very low in terms of customs and cross-border trade,” the finance minister said. “Therefore, this meeting provides the best opportunity to discuss the common challenges and solutions, and each country can agree to address on mutual understanding and interest.”

He said that Bhutan’s most significant recent achievement for customs in the country was the enactment of the Customs Bills in this session of the Parliament.

The minister said Bhutan has been a strong supporter of SASEC and considers it as a platform to further strengthen the collaboration and cooperation in the areas of mutual interest with neighbouring countries that is critical for socio-economic development and poverty elevation.

Asian Development Bank’s country director, Kanokpan Lao-Araya, said such regular interactions between the customs officials help clear obstacles for trade in the region.

“The customs officials discuss ways to help companies and individuals do cross-border business faster and at lower cost, access to more markets throughout the region provides opportunities for business to grow, create jobs, and help create international economic ties,” the country director said.

In the last one year, SASEC endorsed its 10-year SASEC operational plan, launched its vision document in New Delhi by the finance ministers, and finalised Myanmar’s membership in SASEC.

The meeting discussed sub-regional and national projects to ensure smooth implementation and achievement of modernised and harmonised customs operations in the SASEC sub-region.

Representatives from World Trade Organisation and WCO attended the event.

The SASEC SCS was established in 2013 by the trade facilitation-working group to promote sub-regional trade facilitation initiatives through concerted customs reforms and modernisation, strengthened inter-agency cooperation, and enhanced partnerships with the private sector in order to eliminate non-tariff barriers to trade development.

Tshering Palden