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Discover the Role of ICEGATE Digital Signature in Securing International Trade Processes

vijay

Vijay Kumar

Senior Specialist - Marketing @ Shiprocket

December 21, 2023

9 min read

We live in a highly globalized world where all the International Economies assume increasingly interdependent roles. Global trade, today, holds critical importance in defining the growth potential of nations. Therefore, the Customs joined forces to propel the economic growth and development of the country.

During the early 1990s, India’s comprehensive economic liberalization program came into existence. The introduction of many trade facilitation (TF) measures, such as efforts to improve cargo clearance through automation-related initiatives, supplemented the program. The Information Technology Act of 2000 further emphasized institutional support for e-governance, which provided solid momentum for the TF policy. As part of these advancements, a Certificate Authority (CA) for accepting electronic signatures was also formed.

ICEGATE Digital Signature

Additionally, the Information Technology Act 2000 enabled the CBEC (Central Board of Excise and Customs), currently known as the CBIC (Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs), to issue digital signature certificates that make it possible to provide legal validity to the electronic declarations. To manage the electronic custom filings and related data, the body launched the Indian Customs Electronic Data Interchange Gateway (ICEGATE). This serves as the national portal of Indian Customs, under the CBIC, for providing e-filing services to cargo carriers and other trading partners.

What is a Digital Signature Certificate for ICEGATE?

The Indian Customs Electronic Commerce/Electronic Data Interchange Gateway (ICEGATE) is an interface between the Customs Department and traders. It acts as a center for information exchange with external trading partners involved in international trading. The CBIC has launched the public critical infrastructure (PKI) technology, popularly known as digital signature, to ensure privacy, authenticity, reliability, and integrity in online transactions. The concerned party is issued a Digital Signature Certificate (DSC) for ICEGATE, by the Certifying Authority (CA) in India. This is a digital equivalent of a physical signature. It provides a secure way to authenticate the identity of individuals or entities involved in online transactions related to customs and international trade.

Advantages of Having a Digital Signature Certificate for ICEGATE

ICEGATE intricately connects with partner agencies such as RBI, Banks, DGFT, DGCIS, Ministry of Steel, Directorate of Valuation, and many other partner government agencies involved in export-import trade. This integration facilitates expedited customs clearance. The Indian Customs EDI System (ICES), operational at over 250 customs locations, processes all electronic documents and messages managed by ICEGATE at the customs’ end.

A Digital Signature Certificate for ICEGATE serves many advantages to individuals and businesses that do e-filings. Some of these include:

Identity Authentication: An Icegate Digital Signature Certificate authenticates the identity of the person or entity submitting the electronic documents on the portal. Authentication ensures that the information is coming from a legitimate source.

Data Integrity: The ice gate digital signature also ensures the integrity of the data transmitted from one source to another. The digital signature verification process can easily detect unauthorized changes or alterations in the filed document.

Legally Valid Signature: Digital signatures for ICEGATE are considered equivalent to physical signatures under the Information Technology Act of 2000 and have legal validity. Hence, documents signed electronically using these certificates make them legally acceptable.

Highly Secure Transactions: ICEGATE digital signatures enhance the cyber security of online transactions by providing a secure and encrypted means of communication between users and the ICEGATE portal.

Compliance with Regulatory Standards: Using an ICEGATE Digital Signature Certificate ensures compliance with the regulatory standards set by the CBIC in India. This is crucial for individuals and businesses involved in international trade and customs clearance activities.

Paperless and Time-saving Transactions: ICEGATE’s digital signature eliminates the need for physical paperwork, effectively streamlining customs clearance. This improvisation leads to more efficient and speedy transactions, reducing the time, errors and utilization of resources generally associated with manual documentation.

Facilitation of Remote Operations: The Ice Gate Digital Signature Certificate manages remote operations by allowing individuals and businesses to sign and submit documents from anywhere electronically. This flexibility proves beneficial in today’s globalized and interconnected business environment.

Cost Savings: By eliminating the need for physical signatures, paperwork, and manual processing, ICEGATE’s digital signature encourages saving costs. It reduces printing, courier services, and manual document handling expenses.

Audit Trail and Accountability: Using a Digital Signature Certificate creates a digital audit trail, providing a record of when and who signed the document. This accountability feature enhances transparency and traceability in the customs clearance process.

User Convenience: ICEGATE’s digital signature offers user-friendly and convenient online filing options. It simplifies the overall process for individuals and businesses by making it more accessible and user-centric.

Who Should Obtain a Digital Signature Certificate for ICEGATE?

Essentially, entities or individuals involved in import/export activities in India may need to obtain a Digital Signature Certificate (DSC) for using ICEGATE. Here are some of the leading entities that must possess a Digital Signature Certificate for ICEGATE:

Importers and Exporters: Individuals or businesses that import or export goods and are involved in international trade will likely require a Digital Signature Certificate for online transactions on ICEGATE. 

Customs Brokers/Agents: The agents or Customs brokers who act as intermediaries between importers/exporters and customs authorities also often require a Digital Signature Certificate for submitting electronic documents and declarations on ICEGATE.

Authorized Representatives: Importers or exporters often authorize individuals to represent them in customs-related matters. These representatives also need a Digital Signature Certificate for electronic filing on ICEGATE.

Freight Forwarders: The companies or individuals providing freight forwarding services must also obtain a Digital Signature Certificate for online transactions on the ICEGATE portal.

Logistics and Shipping Companies: Firms that deal in logistics, shipping, and transportation require a Digital Signature Certificate to submit documents and information on ICEGATE electronically.

Applying for a Digital Signature Certificate

Businesses or individuals are required to follow a series of steps to apply for a Digital Signature Certificate (DSC):

Choosing a Certifying Authority (CA):

A certifying authority is an entity designed to issue digital signature certificates. There are several licensed CAs in India. Some popular CAs include eMudhra, Sify, and (n)Code Solutions.

Selecting the Type of Digital Signature Certificate:

The type of DSC required by the individual or entity depends on the purpose of use. There are different types of DSCs, namely Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. Class 1 is ineligible for company use, and it solely validates the name and email of individuals. Class 2 is essential for companies, as it allows tax return filings. However, as of January 2021, Class 2 Certificates are no longer in use, and Class 3 Certificates are issued instead. Class 3 is crucial for individuals/entities signing online government forms or participating in auctions. This class represents the most secure form of a digital signature certificate. 

Gathering Required Documents:

The documents required for DSC application may vary but usually include 

  • proof of identity
  • proof of address
  • a passport-sized photograph 

The commonly accepted proof of identity includes a PAN card, Aadhaar card, passport, and utility bills.

Filling the Digital Signature Certificate Application Form:

The next step is to obtain the DSC application form available on the chosen Certifying Authority’s website or office. Fill in the required details accurately and complete the form.

Payment of Fees:

Once the form is complete, pay the required fees for the DSC. The price will likely vary based on the type of DSC and the Certifying Authority selected.

Identity Verification:

There are some Certifying Authorities that may require physical verification of documents. Consequently, this process could demand a visit to their office or validation by a registered authority.

Generating Key Pair:

After submitting the application and completing the verification process, the CA will generate a key pair, a confidential private key and a public key to be included in the Digital Signature Certificate.

Digital Signature Certificate Issuance:

Once the Certifying Authority is satisfied with the documentation and verification, they will issue the DSC. A USB token or a hardware security module usually stores it.

Downloading the Digital Signature Certificate:

After the Digital Signature Certificate is issued, download it from the CA’s website or per their instructions.

Installing the Digital Signature Certificate:

After downloading the certificate, install it on the device you intend to use for digital signatures. The process may require installing relevant drivers and software provided by the CA.

Testing the Digital Signature Certificate:

Before using the Digital Signature Certificate for official transactions, it’s advisable to test it on a test platform or by signing a sample document.

Conclusion

As India’s economic growth gains momentum, the surge in international trade is inevitable and will play a crucial role in influencing the country’s overall growth rate. ICEGATE Digital Signature proves to be a pivotal element in fortifying the security of international trade processes. By providing a secure, trustworthy, and authenticated way for electronic transactions, the ICEGATE digital signature ensures the integrity and legality of documents. It streamlines and enhances the efficiency of customs clearance. As a result, it creates an efficient and safe environment for global trade interactions.

Q. How much does a Digital Signature Certificate cost?

A. The costs for obtaining a digital signature certificate vary. As many certifying authorities issue these certificates, their charges can differ. It’s best to check with the Certifying Authority directly for prices.

Q. How much time does a certifying authority take to issue a Digital Signature Certificate?

A. Mostly, the time varies, as some Certifying Authorities take a few hours to several days to issue a Digital Signature Certificate. The duration depends on the time taken for document verification, authentication processes, and the CA’s workload. However, applicants can expedite the process by submitting accurate documents and responding to any queries from the CA.

Q. What is the validity of a Digital Signature Certificate?

A. In India, a Digital Signature Certificate is usually valid for one to two years, depending on the type and class of the certificate. The users are supposed to renew the certificate before expiration to continue using it for electronic transactions.

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