Simple and efficient cross border trade - the digital way
When ships enter and leave port, detailed and specific administrative information needs to be exchanged with the authorities ashore. This used to mean paperwork. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) - quicker and more efficient for everyone - has been a mandatory requirement under the International Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention) since April 2019.
From 1 January 2024, the use of a "single window" for data exchange in ports is mandatory. This stems from amendments adopted in 2022 to the FAL Convention. This is a significant step in the acceleration of digitalization in shipping (see more below).
Public authorities such as port and maritime administrations, customs, police, immigration, and health and agricultural authorities, must be part of the port EDI system to ensure standard regulatory requirements – for example, cargo declaration, dangerous goods declaration, crew manifests, and vessel details – are fulfilled. Ships’ agents, terminal operators, tug and pilot services and others can also be included.
IMO can provide technical assistance to governments that need help to fulfil their mandatory obligations under the FAL Convention and it has issued guidelines for setting up a maritime single window.
IMO has also developed the IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business, a technical reference manual for software developers within the relevant public authorities. The IMO Compendium harmonizes the data elements requested by the various public authorities and standardizes the electronic messages.
Collaboration with the World Customs Organization, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the International Standards Organization and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) ensures full alignment across the supply chain.
All this will help make cross-border trade simpler and the logistics chain more efficient, for the more than 11 billion tons of goods which are traded by sea annually across the globe.
View this leaflet to find out what the obligations under FAL are and how IMO can help to implement them.
Simple and efficient cross border trade - the digital way (PDF download)
Simple and efficient cross border trade - the digital way (online digital issue)
Maritime single window
The so-called “maritime single window” concept means that all the many agencies and authorities exchange and receive data via a single point of contact.
The maritime single window is mandatory under the FAL Convention from 1 January 2024.
The MSW system allows for the electronic streamlining of procedures for provision of information related to the arrival, stay and departure of the ship itself, and data on its crew, passengers and cargo. Read more here.
IMO has been supporting Member States to prepare for electronic data exchange, with national and regional seminars and workshops.
IMO is working with IAPH and BIMCO to help governments, ports, ship owners and operators, and other public and private stakeholders to explain the idea of a maritime single window and its benefits, and how to approach and implement it. Read more on the outcome of the symposium, jointly organized with IAPH and BIMCO, with the support of the International Port Community Systems Association (IPCSA) to help ports find solutions to their forthcoming new obligations.
A successful International Maritime Organization (IMO) project promoted by Norway to establish a maritime single window in Antigua and Barbuda has been completed – and the source code for the system is being made available to other countries who need it. Read more about that work here.
The IMO-Singapore "Single Window for Facilitation of Trade (SWiFT) Project" worked with Angola to develop an MSW system to allow electronic submission, through a single online portal, of all information required by various Government agencies when a ship calls at the port of Lobito. Read more here.
Please see the Guidelines for setting up a maritime single window.
What is FAL?
When a ship comes in to port it may be the end of a voyage but it’s just the beginning of a whole range of administrative tasks that need to be done.
Customs declarations for cargo and ships’ stores; immigration clearance for crew and passengers and their baggage; import and export permits: these are just the tip of the iceberg. And when the ship leaves, it’s the same process all over again.
This is what we call Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic – or FAL for convenience.
Why does it matter?
FAL matters because, if it goes smoothly, shipments move more quickly, more easily and more efficiently. But if it goes badly, delays, inefficiencies and extra costs are inevitable.
Statistics show that countries with more efficient FAL infrastructure have better import and export figures. There’s a clear link between reducing red tape and competitiveness.
Efficient trade facilitation can help reduce transport costs and thereby contribute to sustainable development.
The FAL Convention
For international shipping, a unified, global approach to FAL is vital. These activities are regulated and streamlined by an international treaty called the FAL Convention.
It’s been in force since 1967 but is kept continually amended and updated by Governments at the FAL Committee of IMO – which meets once a year at IMO’s London Headquarters.
The FAL Convention contains standards and recommended practices and rules for simplifying formalities, documentary requirements and procedures on ships’ arrival, stay and departure.
Under the FAL Committee, IMO has developed standardised FAL documentation for authorities and Governments to use, and the FAL Convention urges all stakeholders to do this.
The FAL Convention makes it mandatory for ships and ports to exchange FAL data electronically. The Convention was amended in 2022 so that the introduction by ports of a maritime single window through which all the agencies and authorities involved exchange data via a single point of contact is to become mandatory from 1 January 2024.
Action for Governments
FAL is not just about ships and it’s not just about port authorities. There’s a wide range of stakeholders in the FAL process and everyone needs to be involved.
Governments are often represented at the FAL Committee by maritime or port authorities. But customs, health, police, immigration, agriculture, and defence authorities are all involved in the FAL process.
The FAL Convention recommends that Member Governments establish a national facilitation committee, involving all stakeholders, to develop a national facilitation programme, adopt practical measures and make recommendations.
Communication is vital. For the FAL process to work effectively, all stakeholders must get involved and talk to each other, at both the national and the international level. At the international level, the IMO FAL Committee is where this happens.