Renovation on the frontier: the region's customs operators are renovating their platforms in an effort to reduce wait times, eliminate corruption, and simplify processes.

Author:Gonzalez, Alejandro

Once known for their red tape and long waits, customs offices across Latin America are modernizing and simplifying their operations, experts said, following recommendations by the Kyoto Protocol to boost efficiency and global integration. The overhaul, undertaken by almost all the countries of the region to a greater or lesser degree, is expected to speed up the export and import of products across the board.

At the center of the renovation are 'one-stop counters' for customs processes. But modernized software platforms that correlate information on merchandise, and new systems that promote integration between borders, are finding their way onto the priority lists of most governments.

According to Hugo Nino, professor of customs affairs and logistics at the University of Sabana in Colombia, Latin American countries have started taking corrective action to modernize and improve service. "For example, in countries like Colombia and Ecuador, customs work has improved, starting with the implementation of new information systems and platforms that integrate the entire logistics process," he said.

By using (only one) software program, countries have already accelerated internal processes. Ten years ago, logistics companies, exporters, and importers had so much documentation to manage, they would designate a person to carry out each individual step in the chain, often requesting face-to-face authorization from every agency involved along the way, from tax agencies to ministries.

According to experts, the customs process had become so cumbersome that it was costing companies countless hours in work time. But this has been changing with the creation of one-stop counters--a centralized repository where all of the necessary documents can be found, and where a single official validates them, then enters the validation directly into a system that passes them along to other relevant agencies.

The one-stop counter is already in place in several countries, including Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile.

Francisco Saneiro, director of government affairs for Latin America and the Caribbean at Federal Express, points to Mexico as a good example of the benefits of using the one-stop counter system. "One of the program's goals is to move toward a paperless customs process," he said. "Although no customs service has everything that we'd like to see, the Mexican customs service is making an effort to facilitate the flow of legitimate trade without abandoning the...

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