Archives For customs clearance

botswanaMap showing border posts between Botswana and South Africa, with No.7 being the Tolkweng and No.4 the Martins Drift posts.

The temporary closure of the Martin’s Drift border post due to recent floods in the Tswapong area has resulted in the congestion of cargo trucks at Tlokweng border post.

Approaching the border from the Botswana side, there is a queue of these trucks awaiting declaration. The situation is made worse by shortage of parking space for the trucks, which at times lead to some trucks blocking way for others, hence the delay.

In an interview, the principal customs officer, Ms Monkgogi Makwati said they started receiving a large number of trucks on transit on Saturday (22 March 2014).

She said most of the trucks were from Kazungula on their way to South Africa. Ms Makwati also said trucks from South Africa were a challenge as the customs office was faced with a lot of work as goods were cleared in large quantities from that side.

She noted that Tlokweng border had always been the busiest in the country, but the current situation had made it more busy than usual. She also said the delay at the border was due to the electronic clearance system used by South Africa compared to the manual one used by Botswana, thus when the system is down, services from that side halt.

Ms Makwati, however, noted that trucks carrying perishables and goods such as medicines, gas and petrol among others were given special clearance and they do not take long at the border.

The traffic jam has not only affected services at the border, but also facilities such as toilets have started to experience some blockage while others are running out of water due to high number of people who are frequenting them.

Some truck drivers expressed dissatisfaction on the South African service of clearing noting that they had been at the border for four days without bathing. Source: Daily News Botswana

Port of Savannah (Picture: Customsnow.cm)

Port of Savannah (Picture: Customsnow.cm)

While US shippers dependent on some federal agencies to clear cargo are seeing delays at U.S. ports of entry, Savannah’s port has so far dodged that bullet.

Shipments requiring paperwork from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture — all of which face severe staff reductions because of the shutdown — have been delayed up to several hours, according to Marianne Rowden, president and CEO of the American Association of Exporters and Importers.

But U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the primary organization working the Port of Savannah, is among the federal agencies whose mission is considered “essential” and will largely remain intact.

CBP says the shutdown will only furlough about 6,000 out of the 58,000 agency employees. Many offices and port operations will continue functioning as usual.

But the shutdown has resulted in far fewer resources at the EPA, FDA and USDA to process certifications and other documents needed to clear some cargo, Rowden said, adding that shippers of food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, radiological products and environmentally sensitive items should be ready for slower Customs clearance.

The partial shutdown affects the information technology-intensive shipping industry more than just on the Customs clearance side. Filings and data releases from agencies, including the Federal Maritime Commission and the International Trade Commission, have stopped.

The FMC, for example, isn’t accepting a variety of filings, nor is it accepting or acting on complaints and requests for dispute resolution. Source: Savannahnow.com

Interfront logo2

Its been some time since I’ve penned an article on the South African Customs Modernisation Programme. Aside from it being the SA Revenue Service’s prerogative to communicate and publish notice of its internal developments and plans, some caution always needs to be exercised observing bureaucratic protocol, ensuring that the official message is forthcoming from SARS. Given the widespread interest in the programme as well as the development of the Interfront [formerly Tatis] integrated customs border management solution (iCBMs) as a wholly owned development of South Africa, I think it not out of place to inform the public interest on this matter. Readership of this blog has an extensive global following and a specific interest in Interfront developments.

Unlike ASYCUDA, Sofix, e-Biscus, and a host of other integrated Customs-tailored business solution offerings, Interfront’s solution for SARS will not include a client user frontend. In other words, the Interfront system (iCBMs) will essentially drive declaration backend processing. This comprises a fully integrated declaration validation and processing engine, supported by a sophisticated tariff engine and duty calculator; the latter offering future web-based services for customs users. In order to compliment the SARS corporate and standardised user interface approach, the iCBMs interfaces with SARS’s revenue accounting, trader registration, risk management, and case management workflow systems. Not only does this leverage cost savings and efficiencies, but ensures a unified ‘workspace’ for all of SARS employees.

Much of the Interfront technology is therefore hidden to the customs user, with traders experiencing an identical interface with SARS Customs, as it does today. From the outset of the Customs Modernisation Programme (July 2010), the approach has followed pragmatic migration of customs electronic clearance processing – across its 30 odd legacy systems – towards an integrated clearance process that could mimic the functionality featured on the new iCBMs. The modern technology and scalability of Interfront offers the ability and agility to enhance service levels and efficiencies to another level. At the same time, operational policies and procedures have been modernised with the aim and intent of meeting the requirements contained in Customs new Control and Duty Bills.

Much of the ‘change’ experienced by both customs officers and the trade over the last 2 years has prepared the country for the eventual migration to the new system. These have been significant, and at times painful changes, not without anxiety and apprehension. Over the last 6 months an even more painstaking and taxing effort has been expended by the Customs Modernisation Team, Interfront and other service providers in addressing a seamless harmonisation and switchover of customs business from disparate legacy systems to a new customs technology platform. The “Parallel Run” has witnessed the daily comparison of customs clearance data between the old and new systems, identification and logging of disparities (bugs), modification of the two environments to ensure the same result is achieved. This has not been an easy and simple process, as any country having undergone a system switchover can attest to.

This month, February 2013, service providers to the customs industry are readying their resources to commence user testing. This implies that service providers (computer bureaus) will engage their clients to prepare test cases for submission to customs to test the new Interfront process. Given that Customs legacy systems and Interfront have been synchronised to a high level of compatibility, the process for traders should not reveal much difference to what they have experienced over the period of modernisation over the last 2 years. One area of note will be the structure and content of Customs Response messages. Traders will have to familiarise themselves and test their interpretation of these messages to ensure they perform or respond appropriately to the instructions.

Satya Prasad Sahu - Technical Officer at the WCO provided members of SACU, SADC and the EAC comprehensive guidelines for the development of the GNC Utility Block concept in Africa (February 2012)

Satya Prasad Sahu - Senior Technical Officer at the WCO provided members of SACU, SADC and the EAC comprehensive guidelines for the development of the GNC Utility Block concept in Africa (February 2012)

In terms of compliance and compatibility with international developments, the new iCBMs is engineered on the WCO Data Model. All relevant simplification processes as exemplified in the Revise Kyoto Convention are likewise factored into its design, although not all of these will be immediately available with the initial rollout. Introduction of the new Customs Control and Duty Acts will require these principles to be fully functional and operational, however.

The WCO Data Model is the pivotal design component around which most of the new system’s business and validation rules are centred. This in itself is a major achievement as it bodes well for all future ‘cross border’, customs-2-customs connectivity initiatives. In this regard SARS is well advanced in bilateral and multilateral projects with key trading partners, for example IBSA (cross-global trilateral initiative), and in Africa, we are working with SACU, SADC, COMESA and the EAC to bring about regional customs connectivity. On a bilateral basis, initiatives with Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are developing nicely. A significant contributor to cross border/cross global customs connectivity is undoubtedly the excellent work brought about by the dedicated members of the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs adhoc workgroup. In June last year, the WCOs policy Commission unanimously endorsed the GNC architecture and Utility Block approach. African customs connectivity efforts have likewise adopted this model which ensures harmonisation and uniformity in approach, legal dispensation, data exchange, risk management and procedure. The WCO moreover plays a overseeing role in many of these GNC and capacity building initiatives across the globe – this assists greatly in sharing and learning of experiences.

I would think that the above should be sufficient to wet the appetites of customs practitioners, traders, ICT technocrats, and perhaps even legislators and bureaucrats on developments in South Africa. Subsequent to the launch of Interfront SARS will make its ideas and strategy relating to forthcoming initiatives known to trade and the business community. A Year of Innovation? Yes, and hopefully a happy tale that will bode well for the South African trade and supply chain logistics community, and some good fortune for Interfront in its business development in the region and beyond!

The following article comes from the 22 June 2011 issue of the American Shipper. It was written by the president of The National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America (NCBFAA). I do believe that it is poignant for African’s to better understand what makes trade tick. It is particularly relevant in the South African context where certain service providers and consultants believe it is they that ‘turn the wheels of trade’ and that the ‘real’ end users are merely a consequence to push the ‘enter button’. While the ‘brokering industry’ has been tainted by criminal activities (in many cases ex-customs officials) there is a legitimacy to the continued existence for the trusted customs broker. The importance is even more pronounced today  where South African importers and exporters will soon face the brunt of the new Customs’ law – the need for skilled and experienced brokers should be an imperative within our local industry. So lets put ignorance aside and consider the article, below.

As a third generation customs broker, I know what it takes to enter goods into the commerce of the United States. As president of the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America, I know that the customs brokerage industry consists of thousands of individuals who work for small and large, old and new, struggling and successful companies for fees that do not reflect the true value of the service they provide.

It is unfortunate that some would say we “stubbornly stand in the way of progress.” The fact is that without the leadership of the brokerage industry and the NCBFAA, importers would still be taking their commercial invoices and bills of lading to the Customs House only to wait weeks for release and it would be impractical to conduct international business.

If you have never cleared goods entering the United States, I encourage you to try. It is naive to believe that all a broker does is push a couple of buttons and magically goods are released and delivered to your door.

To start, let’s look at the new Importer Security Filing (ISF). Pre-arrival shipment information that was considered unavailable three years ago is now given to U.S. Customs and Border Protection prior to loading for more than 90 percent of the goods heading by vessel to the United States. Customs brokers or freight forwarders receive and process practically all that information before transmitting it to CBP. What if you didn’t have access to the broker’s Automated Broker Interface system or the forwarder’s Automated Manifest System connection to transmit this data? How would you send the ISF? How would CBP receive it? Would every importer have to establish and maintain a CBP-compatible computer system? At what cost?

CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin has said that other agencies generate two of three import exams. In addition to myriad CBP regulations, there are numerous other regulations you must know to import successfully. Do you know the Food and Drug Administration rules? What about the Bio-Terrorism Act — did you research it yourself or hire another industry expert to figure out how this was going to impact your company? Then there are FDA product registrations and Prior Notice requirements and now the new Food Safety Act. Of course your broker can help with that. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Transportation Department — more than 20 agencies with requirements that must be met every time a shipment is presented for entry. Anti-dumping, free trade agreements, quota, denied parties, State Department, International Traffic in Arms Regulations, Office of Foreign Assets Control, etc. Can you imagine what would happen if your broker didn’t know about those things? How would your goods get cleared? Would your goods be detained or seized? What if multiple shipments were en route when the problem was identified? It is a good thing that you have somebody in your corner paying attention to this stuff.

I hear over and over how CBP wants to reduce the cost of importing. Let’s review the costs associated with importing: Freight ocean/air, duty and customs fees, broker fee and delivery fee. Freight we can’t control, duty is a given, Merchandise Processing Fees and other government fees we cannot control. There are exam fees, Vehicle and Cargo Inspection Systems exam fees, storage fees caused by exams, VACIS handling charges by some carriers and port facilities, trucking fees to get containers positioned for exams, and so on. A great number of these costs are a result of government security efforts. The broker fee averages about 0.1 percent of the cost of the imported goods, and then there is the truck fee plus a clean truck fee to pickup and deliver the goods. Hmm … what should be reduced?

“It is a good thing that you have somebody in your corner paying attention to this stuff.”

During the CBP Trade Symposium, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) described a tip about two containers that might contain non-compliant goods so they worked with CBP to perform an intensive exam. Luckily the tip did not pan out and the goods were found to be compliant. “Disaster avoided!” What CPSC didn’t say or didn’t know was that the storage and handling costs associated with having two containers held for two weeks exceeded $4,000. There was also no mention about whether the goods were time sensitive. At most ports in the nation, if a government agency puts a hold on a shipment, the expenses do not go on hold. Demurrage and per diem costs accumulate daily. Who creates those extra costs? I suggest that those who want to reduce the cost of importing consider where the real costs are being accrued — it is not in the brokerage industry, which works very hard to help reduce the cost of importing. 

That leads to the discussion of using brokers as a “multiplier” to reach small and medium-size importers. That is, in fact, what brokers do for the thousands of importers who know their product but have limited knowledge of the importing process. We get the importer’s goods cleared through the maze of government regulation and delivered to them within days of arrival into the United States. Talk about a multiplier. The fact is that we do that for businesses of all sizes, from the biggest multinational corporations with multiple import divisions and thousands of different products to the start-up business with a single product. Moreover, we do it every day … routinely.

Let’s talk about the Automated Commercial Environment. Do you know why few brokers use ACE? The system doesn’t always work and you can’t use it to release a shipment into the commerce of the United States. While you can use ACE for certain entry related functions, to the extent that brokers do utilize ACE, they must maintain two operating systems and train their personnel to perform limited tasks in both systems. What a nightmare! Talk about inefficiency and the bloated cost of importing!

We would love to have ACE working as promised. For more than 10 years the brokerage industry has gone to Congress and asked for money for ACE development. Three billion dollars later, the system is a fraction of what was promised and we have been told it will have reduced functionality in many of the areas that are crucial to our businesses. Would you change to a new system if it was worse than the one you currently use? The answer is “no” and neither will we.

Two years ago, the NCBFAA gave CBP a white paper that outlined the minimum system requirements needed before we would encourage our members to make the switch. Once ACE development has met those minimum requirements, we will encourage our membership to transition to the new system. CBP understands exactly where we are on this and we continue to vigorously support ACE development. We are excited about the progress that Cindy Allen has made in her limited time as the ACE project leader. That gives us hope that this endless project will have value and will be completed before we all retire.

The brokerage industry is comprised of highly regulated, dedicated professionals who must pass a rigorous examination to become a licensed customs broker. Did you know the annual pass rate for this examination is less than 10 percent? That is a lower pass rate than the CPA exam, the attorney’s bar exam, doctor medical boards, or the insurance broker exam. Talk about tough. Five years ago, the NCBFAA developed a six-month certification program called the Certified Customs Specialist (CCS). At the outset of the program, licensed brokers who wanted to participate were grandfathered into the CCS program, but had to earn 20 units of continuing education annually. Interested parties who were not licensed customs brokers, brokers who missed the grandfathering, and anyone who simply wanted to learn more about the import process, could enroll in the CCS program. We encourage anyone with a desire to learn more about the importing process to take the CCS course. In our role as professionals we know that we must keep current with the regulatory changes and in an industry where change occurs daily, annual continuing education is important.

We appreciate the recognition that the brokers are the most knowledgeable and trade savvy individuals to effect positive change on their industry. We are the biggest supporters of ACE, ISF, Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and other government programs that are reasonable and improve trade facilitation. We make the highly complex, tightly regulated and difficult process of importing into the United States so easy that not only the biggest corporations can do it but also the smallest ones can do it just as well.

We welcome positive change but, yes, we are stubborn when promises made to us are not kept and the costs associated with short-sighted, ill-conceived programs are dumped on our industry and the trade.

There’s a lot more to customs brokerage than pushing a button. Licensed customs brokers handle more than 95 percent of the entries filed with CBP with the single goal of getting our customer’s goods entered into the commerce of the United States legally, quickly and as efficiently as possible. And we do it proudly, professionally and humbly.

Is this situation any different elsewhere worldwide?

SAD story – Part 1

February 16, 2012 — 4 Comments

Die-hard SAD fan! (Tammy Joubert)We all suffer a little nostalgia at one or other point in our lives. Those die-hard legacy officials – the kind who have more than 20 years service – will most definitely have suffered, recoiled, and even repelled mass change which has occurred in the last 10-15 years in South Africa.  In the mid-2000′s the advent and replacement of the tried and tested DA500/600 series customs declaration forms by the Single Administrative Document – better known as the SAD – was unpopular to most customs officers although it was possibly welcomed by SACU cross-border traders.

A political coup had been won by some BLNS states compelling South Africa to harmonise its declaration requirements with those of fellow members, especially those operating ASYCUDA. At the time, SARS saw this compromise necessary to bring about alignment with Namibia and Botswana to facilitate the implementation of a new customs clearance dispensation for the Trans Kalahari Corridor (TKC).

The SAD is almost universally accepted by virtue of its design according to the UN Layout Key. However, why the fuss. A form is a form. Allied industry in RSA were used to the three decade old DA500/600 declaration forms which were designed infinitely better and more logical than the SAD.

None-the-less, South Africans are adaptable and accommodating to change. Following on from my recent post “SACU now a liability” it is now the SAD’s turn to stare death in the face. As it turns out, through wave upon wave of technological advances, we no longer need the SAD. At least in its paper form. In SARS case it no longer needs the SAD – period. A newer derivative (strangely not too dissimilar to the DA500/600) has now gained favour. It is known as the Customs Declaration 1 (Form CD1). However, unlike the DA and SAD forms, the CD1 will most likely never be required in printed format owing to SARS Customs preference for digitized information. Needless to say, if nothing else, the CD1 will provide a graphic representation of the EDI CUSDEC data for the customs officer. Next time, I’ll discuss the rationale behind ‘customs harmonisation’ and its non-dependency on document format. I feel for the die-hard SAD fan!

Saturday 11 February 2012 sees the implementation of new modernised customs procedures and formalities at South Africa’s first SACU land frontier office – Kopfontein – border between South Africa and Botswana.  While enhancements are slanted more in terms of internal SARS customs procedure, SACU traders will no doubt experience some anxiety with the transition. For the first time SARS Customs Modernisation impacts directly on traders and neighbouring Botswana Customs operational procedures in a significant way, which will fashion operations at all remaining inland border posts of the Customs Union. Over the last few months SARS has worked with trade, the Botswana customs authority as well as the business chamber in Botswana concerning the intended changes and their impact on stakeholders. The implementation ushers in cross-cutting changes for customs staff operationally, new technology as well as legal and policy changes. In the case of the latter, a further element of the draft Customs Control Bill is introduced whereby foreign business operators (importers, exporters and road carriers) must be registered with SARS to perform customs transactions in South Africa. This is perhaps the single issue which has had ramifications for parties who regularly cross the border between Botswana and South Africa. Hopefully recent iterations of notices and explanations have helped clarify the SARS requirements. (See the SARS Customs Modernisation webpage).

Other modifications and changes include –

Elimination of paper clearance documents – this is a significant departure from traditional SACU processing where all member countries have relied on the Single Administrative Document (SAD) to facilitate intra-SACU clearance. With the bulk of clearances expected to be electronic, SARS will now only print a customs notification (CN1) which will specify the status and outcome for each clearance. This the trader will use in support of customs clearance in Botswana. SARS will therefore no longer stamp and authorise hardcopy SAD500 clearance documents. Of course, there is nothing which stops a trader printing the SAD500 for cross border purposes, only SARS will no longer attest these. As concerns SARS VAT requirements, arrangements will be made for traders to submit the CN1 for purposes of VAT returns. Details on this to follow.

Electronic supporting documents – already tried and tested at sea and airports across South Africa, traders no longer need to carry on their person hard copy clearance supporting documentation , i.e. invoices, worksheets and packing lists. These are only required should SARS indicate via electronic message that a consignment requires further scrutiny. Customs brokers and traders using EDI will in most cases have the SARS e@syScan facility available on their computer systems which makes it relatively simple and easy to scan, package and submit to SARS. In the event a trader cannot perform this electronically, he may approach any of the 4 Customs Hubs (Alberton, Cape Town, Durban, and Doringkloof) across the country, to have these scanned and uploaded by SARS. Alternatively, these can of course be delivered to the border post for manual processing and finalisation of a customs intervention. Supporting documents are linked to a unique case number which SARS notifies to the trader in the event of a risk.

Clearance processing – SARS has centralised its backend processing of clearances where goods declarations are now processed off-site at one of the 4 Hubs. No longer are clearances processed at customs branch office. All goods declarations – whether electronically submitted or manually captured – are routed to a central pool for validation, verification and assessment if flagged by the risk engine. In the case of land borders all clearances once successfully processed will receive a ‘Proceed-to-border’ message implying that the road carrier may commence delivery to the border. A key feature of the new clearance process is the availability of Customs Status Codes. These codes are initiated by the customs system at specified points in the process to alert the declarant of the status of his/her transaction. These status’s also indicate the follow-up required of the declarant to bring the transaction to a state of finality.

Automated Cargo Management (ACM) – All road carriers are now required to submit their road manifests electronically, via EDI, to the Customs ACM system. For now, SARS will not electronically match the manifest against the declaration, but will monitor compliance and data quality of electronic manifest  for a period of time before initiating real-time matching and acquittal. This will invoke a significant responsibility on both trader and road remover to ensure that they both provide credible data to customs otherwise delays will occur. Upon arrival of the cargo at the border, the driver presents a printout of his electronic manifest. The manifest number is ‘checked in’ by a customs official which in seconds brings up all associated goods declarations linked to the manifest number on the system. The customs officer is able to determine the overall risk status of the vehicle. Where no risks are present a status notification (CN1) is printed for each goods declaration, and a gate pass (CN2) is handed to the driver permitting him to exit the customs controlled area. The future real-time matching will comprise a combined risk assessment of both manifest and declaration information that will result in a single risk outcome. Such risk assessment will include both fiscal and security compliance features thereby bringing SARS in line with international supply chain security standards. Going forward, risk assessment will accommodate ‘all-of-government’ requirements ensuring that all regulatory measures and associated risks are administered in a single instance obviating the need for successive, time-consuming inspections and costly delays.

Automated Customs Inspection – Following its recent introduction at the Beit Bridge border post, the new hand-held inspection tool, conveniently developed on an iPod, allows the customs border control official to electronically access, capture and upload an inspection outcome to the central customs system. This significantly improves the efficiency for this time-intensive activity where the officer can initiate a status up date electronically at the inspection site, where previously the declarant would have to wait for the outcome of the manual inspection report and release note. What’s more, the customs officer has access to the underlying clearance data and can even activate the camera function and capture visuals of suspect cargo which can be appended to an inspection case for verification by higher authority or historical reference value.

There are additional features and functionality to be introduced at Kopfontein and all remaining border posts over the next few months. These relate to improved revenue accounting, new trader registration and licensing system offering online application and approval, and a new traveller and temporary import/export processing. More about this in a future post.  For traders, the benefits of the new solution at SACU land borders aim to remove random and unwarranted intervention by customs. All activities are risk driven via a secure ‘get next’ selection function ensuring that internal integrity is maintained and only ‘risk-related’ consignments/transactions are dealt with. Please visit the SARS Modernisation webpage for all the latest updates and notices on modernisation releases.