Ramallah (Ma’an) -- In a workshop organize by the Palestinian Shippers Council in cooperation with the Palestinian Information Technology Association (PITA) to discuss “the import rules and procedures concerning the information and communication technology sector”, there was a general agreement among experts and importers of communication and information technologies on March 17th 2014, that the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology should do more to help them solve their problems with the Israeli side, and demanded that the Ministry should double its efforts in order to solve all outstanding problems with the Israeli Ministry of Communication and other authorities in regard to the Israeli Civil Administration and Israeli ports.
The workshop was held in Ramallah as part of the “Capacity Development for Facilitating Palestinian Trade”project, that is executed in collaboration with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Ministry of National Economy. Importers from the ICT sector participated in the workshop together with public sector organizations covering international trade as well as directors and representatives of ICT companies.
Mr. Tawfiq Nassar, member of the board of directors of the Palestinian Shippers Council emphasized the importance of providing importers from the sector with the correct information regarding prevailing rules and regulations, to maintain a smooth and effective import process.
Nassar explained that the workshop aims to clarify the concept of “dual-use” and the legal rules and restrictions that govern the import of these goods and how to deal with them. He said that the ICT sector suffers from slow clearance and approval processes on the Israeli side due to excessive security measures. He also mentioned that many importers had confirmed that the time needed by Israeli importers to obtain clearance for their goods does not exceed 24 hours while it takes a Palestinian importer between five weeks and several months to obtain clearance for the same kind of goods and products.
Nassar added that after examining a lot of issues, the PSC found out that Palestinian importers from thi
s sector lack knowledge about Israeli laws and custom clearance procedures in practice. Hence, Israeli clearing agents and customs officials delay procedures regarding imported goods to make Palestinian importers pay huge amounts of money in clearance anddemurrage charges thus pushing them out of competition with the Israeli traders.
Nassar promised that the Council, in cooperation with PITA, will follow up on all outstanding issues in customs clearance centersconcerning those importers, by providing practical and legal advice and by facilitating and speeding up clearance procedures. Mr. Mohammed Toubassi, a PITA board member, emphasized the necessity to establish an official channel that aims to facilitate custom clearance processes for Palestinian importers without adding any obstacles. Toubassi expressed regret that importers are victims of their lack of knowledge of their own rights and he reiterated that technology imports suffer from long and complicated Israeli measures imposed under the guise of security, thus increasing the cost of these products rendering them non-competitive to their Israeli counterparts in the local market. He said:” We at PITA thinkthat members are victims of Israeli clearing agents on one side and the lack of knowledge of correct procedures on the other side and it seems to us that the best solution is to inform all members about laws, permits and best solutions to their problems as well as the role of each of the bodies concerned.
Director General of the Palestinian Shippers Council (PSC), Dr. Said Khalidi confirmed that the Council had agreed with PITA Board to combine their efforts to serve the sector, hence setting an example of solidarity and cooperation among private sector organizations in supporting the development of industrial and service sectors within the limits of their respective competence.He added: “ Accordingly and within a short period we will sign a joint agreement of cooperation between the Shippers Council and PITA, whereby the Council offers logistic, legal, awareness and training services regarding the facilitation of trade in the ICT sector.
Muhannad Hamed, project manager of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said: “The workshop is held as part of the “Capacity Development for Facilitating Palestinian Trade” project which has contributed to the establishment of three major units within the Council; the legal, technical and training units, thus enabling the Council of providing specialized services to different sectors and their related companies.
Head of the Technical Support Unit in the Council, Yazeed Zakarneh, spoke about the services offered by the unit. These include providing pre and post studies for the product supply chain, reviewing invoices and organizing awareness training workshops tailored to the needs of the targeted companies and organizations as well as raising their awareness about the requirements and procedures for shipping and customs clearance in terms of the tariffs and relevant authorities. The services offered by the unit also include collective negotiations with shipping companies as well asproviding advice regarding import procedures, field visits and field trips to ports, airports and border crossings and all other bodies relevant to supply chains.
Head of the Legal Unit in the Council, Lawyer Anan Odeh called on traders to pay more attention to the legal aspect as this can spare them time and money. He added that it is essential to promote a culture of legal work and tear down the wall of fear. He expressed the readiness of the Shippers Council to carry out due process procedures, basically because there are a lot of problems and obstacles facing the importers which could be solved by putting an end to the abuses committed by the Israeli Authorities and their employees and other customs clearance institutions.
The workshop participants discussed the legal rules that regulatethe licensing proceduresrelated to the import process as well as the legal mechanisms for dealing with obstacles related to that process. They identifiedthe harmonized system code for the different products in the ICT sector and the certificates and samples needed for the import process as well as the procedures for obtaining import licenses and other permits required by the ICT sector. They also discussed the role of the Ministry of Communications and the testing and certification accredited by the Standards Institute of Israel as well as other issues such as avoiding delay and storage costs, exemption requests and all import procedures for ICT products and accessories.