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WCO and WTO leaders meet in Geneva (WCO)

WCO and WTO leaders meet in Geneva (WCO)

At the invitation of WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya met with Mr. Azevedo at WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on 20 January 2014. They agreed that close cooperation between the two organizations is vital for successful implementation of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation (ATF).

Secretary General Mikuriya emphasized the consistent and complementary nature between the ATF and the WCO Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC). He also described how the WCO Economic Competitiveness Package, that includes the RKC and all other Customs trade facilitation instruments, guidelines and best practices, will support implementation of ATF. Mr. Mikuriya also confirmed his readiness to involve other international organizations, development banks, donors and other stakeholders at a WCO forum to contribute to cooperation in support of the ATF.

Director General Azevedo was pleased to hear that the WCO was planning to publish an implementation tool to connect each provision of the ATF to WCO tools as well as a briefing document enabling Customs administrations to communicate with trade ministries. He expressed his willingness to leverage WCO expertise and experts for the WTO Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation as well as ATF needs assessment and implementation. Mr. Azevedo also suggested that the ATF provides another opportunity for the two organizations to enhance the good working relations that already exist in many areas beyond trade facilitation.

The two leaders also discussed how multilateral institutions could work on regional integration matters and agreed on the importance of adopting global standards and best practices to ensure connectivity at borders. Source: WCO

Cahir Castle Portcullis by Kevin King

Cahir Castle Portcullis by Kevin King

The traditional symbol of customs and borders services is the portcullis – the fortification through which a ship used to enter a port. But as developing countries are increasingly asked to recognise the benefits of liberalised trade to the detriment of their import duty revenue, how can they be helped to raise the portcullis? And is it really in their interests to do so?

With world trade growth expanding more than twice as rapidly as gross domestic product (GDP) over the past decade, says Steve Brady, director, Customs and Trade Facilitation for development consultancy Crown Agents, the potential rewards from participating in world trade are significant. “According to figures from WTO, in 2011 world merchandise exports and imports in real terms grew by over 5%. As a result, each reached over $1.8tn, the highest level in history.”

The major players working with developing country governments to help them benefit from this increase in trade include the World Bank, ICC, World Customs Organisation (WCO), IMF, UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), development banks and specialist intermediaries such as Crown Agents.

A number of countries have improved their capacity as a result of international and domestic efforts, yet some are still hesitant to do so. The Centre for Customs and Excise Studies (CCES) at the University of Canberra finds that many developing country governments are heavily dependent on the revenue from import duties – in some cases this can be as high as 70% of a country’s total revenue base. The desire to protect this is understandably strong. Yet this same desire can be used to drive forward modernisation efforts, explains Professor David Widdowson, CEO of CCES. “Revenue leakage resulting from commercial fraud, poor customs and border procedures and corruption represents a major impediment to poverty reduction.”

Similarly time-consuming manual processing systems, over-regulation, or outright corruption, will discourage trade and investment and further undermine a country’s development. “In the worst cases up to 20 signatures are required to obtain customs clearance of goods, all of which require ‘informal payments’,” says Widdowson. “I have also seen examples of 15 different government agencies playing some role at the border, all acting independently.”

Guidelines or blueprints to modernise such customs and borders processes are available, for example, via the revised Kyoto convention (extolling the basic principles of automation, simplification, responsiveness to the regulation, consistency and co-ordination); the “Framework of standards to secure and facilitate global trade” developed by the WCO; and its “Columbus programme.”

Turkey is cited by Sandeep Raj Jain, economic affairs officer at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), as a case study for the successful modernisation of customs systems, having consolidated 18 previously autonomous border gates and introduced a single IT clearance system, leading to an increase in tax revenues and a decrease in clearance time to the benefit of incoming and outgoing trade. Angola increased receipts sixteen-fold from $215.45m in 2000 (£148m) to $3,352m in 2011 through an improved National Customs Service and the introduction of an automated entry processing system and customs clearance Single Administrative Document.

The African Development Bank also supported post-conflict Liberia with the extension of an automated system for customs data, helping to reduce the time to clear goods at the port from 60 days to less than 10 days and increase revenue collection at three ports from about $4m a month to $10m-$12m. This, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia has said, given the government additional scarce revenues to invest in the projects to improve the livelihoods of people.

Horror stories also abound of revenue loss, acting as a cautionary tale for leaving outdated customs processes untouched. A World Bank report, for example, finds that in Algeria smuggling caused a loss to the public exchequer rising from DA18bn in 2006 ($237m) to over DA61bn in 2011.

The message from the international community is that improved, automated and transparent customs services not only help eradicate theft and corruption, but also increase revenue through increased trade. Any fall in revenue from import tariffs due to signing up to bilateral free trade agreements can also be offset, says Bijal Tanna of Ernst & Young LLP: “One only has to look at the take-up of VAT by countries since the 1980s to understand that there is a consumer tax outlet to offset any loss of revenue from customs duty reductions. Back in the late 1980s, approximately 50 countries had VAT, now it is in place in over 150 countries.”

However, these arguments don’t always reach an appreciative audience. “In my experience”, says Widdowson, “economies may give lip service to the trade facilitation agenda, including entering into free trade agreements, but still expect their customs administration to collect traditional levels of duty. For example, with the introduction of free trade arrangements – hence falling duty rates – and a downturn in international trade, the Philippines continues to increase the ‘revenue targets’ of its bureau of customs, the derivation of which appears to be devoid of any analytical rigour.” (emphasis – mine)

Tanna also points to the collapse of the Doha round of the WTO negotiations heralding a breakdown in efforts to find a single global platform to drive a uniform approach to trade liberalisation. Perhaps it is the obligation of the international community to renew such efforts, alongside projects to improve customs systems in-country. Source: Original article by Tim Smedley of The Guardian

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!

Swaziland accedes to WCO RKC

The Ambassador of the Kingdom of Swaziland, H.E. Joel Nhleko, deposited his country’s instrument of accession to the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures (Revised Kyoto Convention) with the World Customs Organization on 31 October 2012.

“The WCO is delighted that the number of Contracting Parties to the Revised Kyoto Convention continues to show an upward trend,” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya. “I would therefore strongly encourage other WCO Members to accede to this important Customs instrument as soon as possible,” he added.

Some of the Convention’s key elements include the application of simplified Customs procedures in a predictable and transparent environment, the maximum use of information technology, the utilization of risk management, a strong partnership with the trade and other stakeholders, and a readily accessible system of appeals.

Having entered into force on 3 February 2006, the Revised Kyoto Convention now has 84 Contracting Parties, and is regarded as a blueprint for effective and modern Customs procedures. Swaziland has been a Member of the WCO since 15 May 1981. Source: WCO

The Single Electronic Window (JUE) is a modern system of clearance of goods. After the revision of the whole legislation to allow the implementation of the JUE, the pilot project began in September 2011 in the port of Maputo. Here follows an interview with Kekobad Patel, the President of the Working Group On Tax Policy, Customs and International Trade of the CTA.

What was the adherence of international traders?

“We hoped more adherence of all concerned traders, unfortunately, very few participated in the pilot phase. During this period, both systems (manual and electronic) coexisted. There is always some resistance to change.”

When did the use of the JUE become mandatory?

“The use of JUE became mandatory on April 9, 2012 in the port of Maputo,on April 23 in the port of Beira, early May in the port of Nacala. The city of Tete is now also covered by the system because of the current requirements due to the establishment of large enterprises in the region.”

How many organizations have used the JUE?

“Since its entry into force until 15th of June 2012, over 7,000 import entries were submitted. We still do not deal with export declarations, transit, or special arrangements. These processes are handled manually.”

What are the next areas to be covered by the JUE?

“The second phase will begin in July 2012 and will focus on automotive, multi-modal and road terminals in Maputo, as well as the land borders of Goba, Namaacha (Swaziland) and Ressano Garcia (South Africa) that have received the equipment to begin operations. At the end of the year, the port of Pemba and the land borders of the province of Manica and Tete will be also covered. It will also be possible to treat the other procedures for export and transit. This is crucial, given the geographical location of Mozambique and its relations with the countries of the hinterland. Meanwhile, three Ministries will be electronically linked to award the import licenses: the ministries of Health, Industry and Commerce, and Agriculture. We should not forget that banks are also involved in the JUE. The BCI bank has supported the JUE since the pilot phase. Other banks have joined in recent months: Millenium BIM, Mozabanco and Standard Bank. We expect the membership of other banks.”

What is the biggest challenge of the JUE?

“The implementation of the JUE has led to a change of mentality: “paperless” in the country: less buffer, less paper. The government itself is also involved in the process of e-taxation that ensures that taxpayers should pay their taxes electronically. We still have problems to solve. For example, when a ministry inspects companies, papers are asked for… We need to think about alternatives. The castle must be built stone by stone to ensure it is strong and other sectors such as the public one and banking, are also involved.We believe that the entry into force of the JUE shows how to modernize the country.”

Is the JUE to eliminate the clearing agents?

“The law allows companies to make their own clearance process, but many of them are not prepared. In other countries such as Singapore, the most advanced country in terms of customs, clearing agents continue to exercise thanks to their perfect knowledge of the system.” Source: allAfrica.com

Other news – Mozambique accedes to the WCO’s Revised Kyoto Convention

On 11 July 2012, the Embassy of the Republic of Mozambique to Belgium deposited Mozambique’s instrument of accession to the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures (Revised Kyoto Convention) with the World Customs Organization. The Convention is regarded as a blueprint for effective and modern Customs procedures, and will enter into force in Mozambique on 11 October 2012. Mozambique becomes the 82nd signatory to the Convention. Some of the Convention’s key elements include the application of simplified Customs procedures in a predictable and transparent environment, the maximum use of information technology, the utilization of risk management, a strong partnership with the trade and other stakeholders, and a readily accessible system of appeals. Will be interesting to see how Mozambique Customs treats the national transit procedure?

You will recall a recent challenge by trade to SARS’ proposed implementation of mandatory clearance of national transit goods inland from port of initial discharge – refer to Revisiting the national transit procedure – Part 1.

First, some background

Now lets take a step back to look at the situation since the inception of containerisation in South Africa – some 30 years ago. Customs stance has always been that containerised goods manifested for onward delivery to a designated inland container terminal by rail would not require clearance upon discharge at initial port of entry. Containers were allowed to move ‘against the manifest’ (a ‘Through Bill’) to its named place of destination. This arrangement was designed to expedite the movement of containers from the port of discharge onto block trains operated by Transnet Freight Rail, formerly the South African Railways and Harbours (SAR&H) to the inland container terminal at City Deep. Since SAR&H operated both the national railway and the coastal and inland ports, the possibility of diversion was considered of little import to warrant any form of security over the movement of containers by rail. Moreover, container terminals were designed to allow the staging of trains with custom gantry cranes to load inland manifested containers within a ‘secure’ port precinct.

Over the years, rail freight lost market share to the emergence of cross-country road hauliers due to inefficiencies. The opening up of more inland terminals and supporting container unpack facilities, required Customs to review the matter. It was decided that road-hauled containers moved ‘in bond’ by road would lodge a customs clearance (backed with suitable surety) for purposes of national transit. Upon arrival of the bonded freight at destination, a formal home use declaration would be lodged with Customs. Notwithstanding the surety lodged to safeguard revenue, this has the effect of deferring payment of duties and taxes.

Diversification of container brokering, stuffing and multi-modal transport added to the complexity, with many customs administrations failing to maintain both control and understanding of the changing business model. Equally mystifying was the emergence of a new breed of ‘players’ in the shipping game. Initially there were so-called ‘approved container operators’ these being ocean carriers who at the same time leased containers. Then there were so-called non-approved container operators who brokered containers on behalf of the ocean carrier. These are more commonly known as non-vessel operating common carriers or NVOCCs. In the early days of containerisation there were basically two types of container stuffing – full container load (FCL) and less container load (LCL). The NVOCCs began ‘chartering’ space of their containers to other NVOCCs and shippers – this also helped in knocking down freight costs. This practice became known as ‘groupage’ and because such containers were filled to capacity the term FCL Groupage became a phenomenon. It is not uncommon nowadays for a single FCL Groupage container to have multiple co-loaders.

All of the above radically maximised the efficiency and distribution of cost of the cellular container, but at the same time complicated Customs ‘control’ in that it was not able to readily assess the ‘content’ and ownership of the goods conveyed in a multi-level groupage box. It also became a phenomenon for ‘customs brokers/clearing agents’ to enter this niche of the market. Customs traditionally licensed brokers for the tendering of goods declarations only. Nowadays, most brokers are also NVOCCs.  The law on the other hand provided for the hand-off of liability for container movements between the ocean carrier, container terminal operator and container depot operator. Nowhere was an NVOCC/Freight Forwarder held liable in any of this. A further phenomenon known as ‘carrier’ or ‘merchant’ haulage likewise added to the complexity and cause for concern over the uncontrolled inland movements of bonded cargoes. No doubt a disconnect in terms of Customs’ liability and the terms and conditions of international conveyance for the goods also helped create much of the confusion. Lets not even go down the INCOTERM route.

Internationally, customs administrations – under the global voice of the WCO - have conceded that the worlds administrations need to keep pace and work ‘smarter’ to address new innovations and dynamics in the international supply chain. One would need to look no further than the text of the Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) to observe the governing body’s view on harmonisation and simplification. However, lets now consider SARS’ response in this matter.

SARS response to the Chamber of Business

Right of reply was subsequently afforded by FTW Online to SARS.

Concerns over Customs’ determination to have all goods cleared at the coast – expressed by Pat Corbin, past president of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry in last week’s FTW – have been addressed by SA Revenue Service.  “One of the main objectives of the Control Bill is the control of the movement of goods across South Africa’s borders to protect our citizens against health and safety risks and to protect the fiscus. “In order to effectively determine risk, SARS has to know the tariff classification, the value and the origin of imported goods. This information is not reflected on a manifest, which is why there is a requirement that all goods must be cleared at the first port of entry into the Republic.“It appears that Mr Corbin is under the impression that the requirement of clearance at the first port of entry has the effect that all goods have to be consigned to that first port of entry or as he puts it “to terminate vessel manifests at the coastal ports in all cases”. This is incorrect. “The statutory requirement to clear goods at the first port of entry and the contract of carriage have nothing to do with one another. Goods may still be consigned to, for example, City Deep or Zambia (being a landlocked country), but they will not be released to move in transit to City Deep or Zambia unless a declaration to clear the goods, containing the relevant information, is submitted and release is granted by Customs for the goods to move. The release of the goods to move will be based on the risk the consignment poses to the country.“It is definitely not the intention to clog up the ports but rather to facilitate the seamless movement of legitimate trade. If the required information is provided and the goods do not pose any risk, they will be released.”

So, where to from here?

The issue at hand concerns the issue of the ‘means’ of customs treatment of goods under national transit. In Part 3 we’ll consider a rational outcome. Complex logistics have and always will challenge ‘customs control’ and procedures. Despite the best of intentions for law not to ‘clog up the port’, one needs to consider precisely what controls the movement of physical cargo – a goods declaration or a cargo report? How influential are the guidelines, standards and recommendations of the WCO, or are they mere studies in intellectual theories?

FTW Online last week ran an interesting article in response to a proposed change in Customs’ policy concerning the national transit movement of containers from coastal ports to inland container terminals and depots. In February 2011, I ran an article Customs Bill – Poser for Cargo Carriers, Handlers and Reporters alluding to some of the challenges posed by this approach. The following article goes a step further, providing a trade reaction which prompts a valid question concerning the practicality and viability of the proposed change given logistical concerns. I believe that there is sufficient merit in the issues being raised which must prompt closer collaboration between the South African Revenue Service and trade entities. For now it is sufficient to present the context of the argument – for which purpose the full text of the FTW article is presented below. In Part 2, I will follow-up with SARS’ response (published in this week’s edition of the FTW) and elaborate on both view points; as well as consider the matter  on ‘raw’ analysis of the ‘cargo’ and ‘goods declaration’ elements which influence this matter. Furthermore, one needs to consider in more detail what the Revised Kyoto Convention has to say on the matter, as well as how other global agencies are dealing and treating the matter of ‘security versus facilitation’.

Customs’ determination to have all goods cleared at the coast does not bode well for the South African trade environment, Pat Corbin, past president of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), said. Speaking at the Transport forum in Johannesburg Corbin said the Customs Bills have been on the cards for several years now and while consensus had been reached on most issues in the Nedlac process, the determination of Customs to not allow for any clearing to take place at inland ports will only add more pressure to the already overburdened ports in the country. “Customs maintains that despite the changes they propose it will be business as usual. We disagree. We have severe reservations about their intention to terminate vessel manifests at the coastal ports in all cases and have called for further research to be undertaken in this regard,” said Corbin. “By terminating the manifest at the coast it has severe ramifications for moving goods from road to rail. International experience has shown when you have an inland port and you have an adequate rail service where the vessel manifest only terminates at the inland port, up to 80% of the boxes for inland regions are put on rail while only 12% land on rail if the manifest terminates at the coastal port.” Corbin said the congestion at both the port and on the road would continue and have an adverse impact on quick trade flows. “It also raises issues around the levels of custom security and control at inland ports and then the general implications on the modernisation project.” According to Corbin, government’s continued response has been that no provision exists for inland ports and that goods must be cleared at the first port of entry. “They maintain that it is about controlling goods moving across our borders and thus the requirement that all goods must be cleared at the first port of entry. The security of the supply chain plays an important role to avoid diversion or smuggling of goods,” said Corbin. “Government says that the policy change will not clog up the ports or prohibit the seamless movement of trade. Labour organizations and unions seem to agree with them.” But, Corbin said, the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce differs and is worried about the ramifications of this dramatic change to the 35-year-old option of clearing goods at an inland port or terminal. “With this policy change all containers will have to be reconsigned after not only Customs clearance on copy documents but also critically, completion of shipping lines’ requirements ie, payment of freight, original bill of lading presentation and receiving delivery instructions prior to their issuing a delivery order.” Corbin said the issue had been addressed directly with Transnet CEO Brian Molefe on two occasions, but that he had said he accepted Customs’ assurance that nothing would change and the boxes would still be able to move seamlessly once cleared. “It is not understood that the manifest will terminate at the coast where all boxes will dwell until they can be reconsigned,” said Corbin. Source: FTW Online – “New Customs Bill ruling will put pressure on port efficiency.”

CBP – An ode in modesty

February 10, 2012 — 1 Comment

There’s nothing like beating the breast and extolling the homeland’s unselfish generosity for the benefit of mankind, or am I being facetious? Today’s post on the US Customs and Border Protection‘s website titled “CBP Leads World Customs Organization on Natural Disaster Responsiveness” , is a case in point. The reader is left in no doubt as to who was responsible for recent developments that provide for a Customs role in natural disasters. I read with interest New Zealand Customs‘ role in the Christchurch earthquakes last year – very understated and with empathy for the survivors. The WCO consists over 177 affiliated customs administrations / border agencies each of whom make some form of contribution to it’s various committees and resulting accords or standards. So what if CBP made a major contribution, its a cheap shot to boast at the expense of others who might also have contributed, if not to the same extent. Read the article here!