East Africa COVID-19 Preventative Measure – Transit Cargo to move by Rail

Transit cargo destined for Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan will be transported by Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to Naivasha then to Tororo Kampala from June 1st, the government has said.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the move was arrived at during a meeting with his counterparts from the three countries as a key measure to curb cross border transmissions of COVID-19.

“All transit cargo/containers transported on SGR will be armed only at the Inland Container Depot (ICD) AT Naivasha to be tracked through the Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System,” a part of the statement read.

Macharia further pointed out that all cargo railed to the Inland Container Depot at Naivasha will be collected by trucks to the partner states via Busia or Malaba.

He however, pointed out that fuel products will be transported by pipeline to Kisumu and thereafter through Lake Victoria to Port Bell or Jinja in Uganda.  

Cases of coronavirus among truck drivers who transport cargo across East African member states have tested positive with high numbers prompting Kenya to close its borders with Somalia and Tanzania.

Kenya has subsequently banned any truck driver who turn positive at the border from corssing into the country, with Tanzania having adopted a similar approach lately.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said the development explained why President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the mandatory screening of truck drivers at border posts before clearance into the country.

Kenya also closed its borders with Somalia, following increased coronavirus cases in Wajir which borders Somalia.

Since the border closure, Tanzanian government officials in Arusha and other border towns have publicly protested, accusing Kenya of discriminating their truck drivers.

Martin Shigella, the Tanga Regional Commissioner was blunt last week, declaring that no Kenyan truck driver will be allowed to cross into Tanzania, accusing them of exporting COVID-19 to the country which is largely seen as the weak link in managing coronavirus in the region, and the world. He also warned Tanzanians against buying goods in Kenya.

But on Wednesday, President John Pombe Magufuli announced on a tour to Singinda region, that “COVID-19 pandemic will not threaten our association with Kenya.”

He said he had held talks with his Kenyan counterpart Kenyatta, and agreed to have their ministers resolve the matter.

“Our economies need each other, our onions are sold in Kenya and Kenya exports milk and other items here,” he said, rooting for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Source: Capital News, (Kenya), 22 May 2020

Zimbabwe expedites Rutenga Dry Port

The face of Rutenga in Mwenezi District, Zimbabwe is fast changing with the growth point undergoing rapid expansion as it reaps huge benefits from its designation as a dry port.

The Second Republic, led by President Mnangagwa, wants to expedite opening of a dry port at Rutenga to de-congest Beitbridge Border Post and quicken human and land cargo movement as part of efforts to meet vision 2030 targets.

Rutenga, which is the district’s capital, was identified as a suitable place for a dry port owing to its location at the centre of a road and rail network linking Zimbabwe and South Africa — its largest trading partner — together with Mozambique.

Since its designation as a dry port, the urban settlement is now home to a new Government complex while private players are rushing to open service stations and hardware shops with financial institutions expected to follow suit.

Mwenezi Rural District Council is expected to adopt a local development plan that will designate land for both residential and industrial purposes at the growth point.

Council chief executive Mr Albert Chivanga last week said the development plan was awaiting approval by a full council.

“We have worked on the local development plan and a full council meeting will soon meet to approve it after which various companies and businesses that have been allocated land will start actual construction work.”

“We are excited by the level of interest to invest in Rutenga and the future looks good because companies are stampeding to come and invest thanks to the planned opening of a dry port here.”

Among the big companies eyeing a piece of the cake at Rutenga are beef processing firms seeking to exploit Mwenezi’s vast cattle herd.

“More than two abattoirs have applied for land in the recent past while there is a Marula processing plant being earmarked for the growth point. The plan is to make Rutenga a major producer of export quality beef and processed Marula juice,” said Mr Chivanga.

He said his council had also offered Zimbabwe Revenue Authority 12 hectares of land to set up a holding bay for the envisaged dry port.

Some investors making inquiries were from Asian countries such as India, which he said was evidence of the growth point’s vast potential.

Government has already taken the lead by completing a new modern complex, housing State offices to make sure provision of key services is housed at one place for easy logistical processes. Future water problems were also being forestalled by upgrading works undertaken by Zimbabwe National Water Authority.

Rutenga draws its water from Manyuchi Dam, one of the largest water bodies in Masvingo province, which remains largely underutilised. The urban settlement’s population is billed to quadruple to over 20 000 in the next few years, buoyed by the opening of a dry port and other investment that will flow.

It is hoped that the dry port opening and subsequent growth of Rutenga will also have a domino effect on the growth of Sango Border Post, which is a gateway to Mozambique to the south east.

Government has already started upgrading the Rutenga-Sango and Rutenga-Zvishavane roads to create a faster and accessible link between the growth point and both eastern and western parts of the country.

Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe), 25 May 2020

New Zealand Customs – announces new laws concerning the importation of Tobacco Products

When you import or bring tobacco products into New Zealand, you must comply with New Zealand laws. You must pay all relevant taxes on your imported tobacco at the border.

From 1 July 2020, tobacco products, tobacco leaf and tobacco refuse will become prohibited imports and you will be required to have a permit to import these products.

Permits are approved and issued by Customs. That means if you want to send someone in New Zealand any kind of tobacco product including as a gift, you will have to apply for a permit.

Also from 1 July 2020 you cannot receive any tobacco products through the international mail. Tobacco must only be imported using a freight forwarder, the fast-freight courier system or as bulk sea or air cargo. You will still be able to use New Zealand Post’s international courier service.

Customs will issue a permit to established importers for one year from 1 July or the length of time a manufacturer holds a licence to manufacture tobacco products. Other importers will need to apply for a permit.  Permits will be issued free of charge. 

From 1 July 2020, any tobacco products, leaf or refuse imported without a permit will be seized and destroyed. Customs will send a written notice to importers confirming the seizure and destruction of the tobacco products, leaf and refuse. In the unlikely event of the product being seized and destroyed in error (for example, when the person had a valid permit to import), the importer will be entitled to compensation for the customs value of the products.

A permit is not required to import cigars, cigarillos, water-pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff and snus.

Passengers arriving into New Zealand with tobacco do not need a permit and individual duty-free tobacco limits are unchanged. More information about duty-free limits and FAQs are available to download.

Source: New Zealand Customs Service, 22 May 2020

WCO launches COVID-19 Trade Facilitation Repository

In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, characterized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a pandemic on 11 March 2020, countries around the world have been adopting a series of trade and border protection measures to try to contain the spread of the disease across borders. Such measures have had immediate and severe impacts on economic activities and caused major disruptions in supply chains. Given that trade facilitation is a key policy tool that can help countries mitigate some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WCO has partnered with the WTO, UNCTAD, the CSSO, the GATF, IATA and ITC to develop a COVID-19 Trade Facilitation Repository in which all these actions are consolidated.

The repository acts as a platform that consolidates the initiatives on trade facilitation adopted by organizations and stakeholders, seeking to provide access to these resources in a unique and user-friendly database. It contains a useful listing of all such initiatives broken down by organization, type of measure and subject matter. As the situation evolves and further actions are taken, the platform will be expanded to include other key actors working in the area of trade facilitation.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented sanitary and economic effects, the WCO and other international organizations, NGOs, business associations and other representative entities have redeployed resources to develop new instruments, tools and guidance materials on trade facilitation measures. These documents can be a useful source of information for countries to learn from each other, share best practices and experiences and provide inspiration to design targeted policy responses. However, these resources were scattered throughout a multitude of platforms. This initiative will assist in ensuring that the seamless flow of safe cross-border trade continues, especially with regard to essential goods which are crucial for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID19 Trade Facilitation Repository can be accessed via the following link and will be updated regularly to reflect new guidance material developed.

The WCO thanks its partners, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Commonwealth Small States Office (CSSO) in Geneva, the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation (GATF), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) for this initiative and reiterates its commitment to assist its Members in securing, protecting and facilitating legitimate global trade.

Source: World Customs Organisation, 9 May 2020

WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo resigns

The World Trade Organization’s Director General, Roberto Azevêdo announced his resignation effective 31 August of this year. His tenure will end three years into his second four year term which was otherwise due to expire in 2021.

Azevêdo’s departure annouoncement comes in a week where a bill to withdraw the United States from the organization was introduced in the US House of Representatives by the Democratic Chairs of the Transportation & Infrastructure, and Energy and Commerce Committees. This following the introduction of a Joint Resolution to the same effect in the US Senate by Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.

It comes as the organisation finds its dispute resolution function paralyzed by a US Appellate Body blockade, a potentially existential budget battle looms, its scheduled ministerial conference cancelled and even supportive members eyeing unilateral trade action in contravention of its principles.

At perhaps the most perilous time in its 25-year history, the WTO will be without a formally appointed leader, and the forthcoming selection process for his replacement hands the US yet another opportunity to exercise an effective veto over the organization’s future.

Dmitry Grozoubinski highlights the significance of Azevêdo’s departure.

Is this resignation a big deal?

While not likely to be the straw that breaks its back, this unfortunately timed resignation is still a hefty new weight for an exhausted WTO camel whose knees were already trembling. As the kids would say, “It’s not great.”

While opinions on the Roberto Azevêdo’s performance vary, his departure couldn’t come at a worse time, and the process to replace him is both very long and just as susceptible to being held hostage by an ornery member as everything else in the organisation.

As a global champion of rules based trade, the WTO’s ‘DG’ has an important role to play in making the full throated case against the rising tide of export restrictions, protectionism and unilateralism unleashed by the US-China trade tensions and exacerbated by Covid-19. Now is no time for the system to be without its Knight in Shiny Armani.

As the head of the WTO secretariat, the director general was poised to play a key role in steering the organisation through what now seems a near inevitable battle over its budget at the end of the year. If the US once again blocked adoption of the WTO’s budget, it would have been up to him to try and forge a compromise, or make the difficult and controversial decisions required to keep the lights on, staff paid and fondue pot glowing in the face of an unapproved budget.

As the chair of the trade negotiations committee, the director general offers convening power, good offices, and a consensus building voice. With critical negotiations around fisheries subsidies, e-commerce, investment, and WTO reform all hanging in the balance, the absence of a Director-General only further decreases the likelihood of progress (perhaps from Hail Mary Pass to Igloo in Hell).

What happens now – Interim Director-General? 

Upon Mr Azevêdo’s departure at the end of August, The rules now require the WTO General Council – a meeting of all WTO Members which serves as its highest decision making-body outside of a ministerial conference to appoint one of the four Deputy-Directors General as an interim director.

This presents a potential hurdle, as the WTO General Council makes decisions by consensus. Therefore, even a single member’s objection could prevent the appointment of an interim leader for the organisation.

The current deputies are Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria, Karl Brauner of Germany, Alan Wolff of the United States and Yi Xiaozhun of China. For obvious reasons, neither the US nor the Chinese DDGs are likely candidates for unanimous approval, and it is not impossible to envisage objections to Agah and Brauner as well – either personally or on general principle to sabotage the organisation further.

What happens next – A new Director-General?

Whether an interim DG is appointed or not, the WTO members will need to begin the process of selecting a new Director-General.

The procedure is lengthy and would ordinarily begin nine months before a DG’s term is set to expire. Once the process begins, WTO members have one month to nominate candidates, which must be their own nationals.

After this month is over, the candidates are expected to come to Geneva and meet with the WTO missions. The next seven months are to be spent weening the applicants down to a single final consensus candidate.

Is there politics? 

Oh my god yes. While the Director-General has no legal authority to make or enforce the rules, WTO members are still intensely jealous of the position and allergic to any candidate they feel might impede their interests.

Arriving at a single consensus candidate requires a raft of compromises, trades and deals even at the best of times, which of course the current situation is not.

What happens if no consensus candidate can be found? 

Theoretically, the rules do allow for a vote by the membership to select a Director-General. However, this procedure is both a measure of last-resort and intended primarily for a situation where the membership is split between two or more valid candidates and agrees by consensus on a vote to break the deadlock.

Were the US or some other member to block all candidates as a matter of principle, they would also likely oppose a vote. Even if a vote could then be forced regardless, it would only fuel the fires of those who argue the WTO has gone rogue.

So what does it all mean? 

On its own, this resignation does not fundamentally change the state of play. The WTO is severely weakened, partially paralysed and increasingly in the crosshairs of the US, where concerns about it extend beyond the Trump administration and across party lines.

It does however rob the WTO of an experienced, consensus-approved leader at a time when both the organisation and the cause of rules-based trade desperately need one.

Still, though slim, there is hope the DG selection process might serve to revitalise the organisation. Long rumored candidacies like that of Kenya’s formidable Amina Mohamed, who chaired the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference to a successful conclusion and would be the organization’s first female and first African Director-General, offer a path to a more globally representative future.

Source: article by Dmitry Grozoubinski, Borderlex.eu, 14 May 2020

WCO-IMO Partnership for maritime digitalization to support flow of trade by ship

The WCO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) strengthened their partnership recently to further facilitate the exchange of information in a harmonized way by updating the IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business and mapping it to the WCO Data Model. The updated Compendium, which is a set of standards on the submission of maritime related data, will enable the integration of Maritime and Customs Single Windows and allow closer coordination between Customs administrations and Maritime authorities. 

It is known that when ships enter and leave ports, vital information concerning cargo, dangerous goods, crews, vessel details and other pieces of information have to be exchanged with the authorities ashore. However, under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL), public authorities are now required to set up systems for this all to happen digitally. 

With a view to sustaining the maintenance work of the Compendium and to allow more involvement of different stakeholders in the maritime supply chain, within the framework of existing partnerships, the IMO, the WCO, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) and the International Standards Organization (ISO) have come together to support this increased maritime digitalization. 

The renewed partnership paves the way for updating the IMO Reference Data Model and for its further development towards the harmonization of data standards in other areas, beyond the FAL Convention, such as exchanging operational data that could help facilitate the just-in-time operation of ships. Just-in-time operations allow ships to optimise their speed, so they arrive at their destination port when their berth is ready for them, thereby saving energy and cutting costs and emissions. 

The partners involved have been cooperating to develop the IMO Reference Data Model, which is a key element of the IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business and covers the reporting requirements defined in the FAL Convention to support transmission, receipt, and response of information required for the arrival, stay, and departure of ships, persons, and cargo via electronic data exchange.  This work ensures interoperability between the respective standards of each organization, such as the WCO Data Model.

Source: WCO, 14 May 2020

WTO Report – Role of e-Commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic

The WTO Secretariat has published a new information note looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected e-commerce, including the implications for cross-border trade. It notes the increased use of e-commerce as consumers adapt to lockdowns and social distancing measures and draws attention to several challenges, such as the need to bridge the digital divide within and across countries.

As well as highlighting the uptick in e-commerce during the COVID-19 crisis, the report looks at measures introduced by governments to facilitate e-commerce and some of the challenges facing these initiatives. Governments have worked to increase network capacity, encourage the provision of expanded data services at little or no cost, and lowered or scrapped transaction costs on digital payments and mobile money transfers. The report also looks at ongoing e-commerce discussions in the WTO and how continued implementation of the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement could address some of the challenges brought to the fore by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The report argues that the experiences and lessons emerging from the COVID-19 crisis could be a further incentive for global cooperation in the area of e-commerce, which could help to facilitate cross-border movement of goods and services, narrow the digital divide, and level the playing field for small businesses.  

Download the report here!

Source: World Trade Organisation

China Shanghai Pudong Airport log jammed – Medical Supplies for export

Freight gridlock at Shanghai Pudong International Airport is so bad that some cargo planes are being forced to leave nearly empty and logistics companies are recommending ocean transportation as a faster option. 

Airfreight professionals describe an operational meltdown, with trucks stuck in queues for two to three days to drop off shipments and boxes piling up in warehouses unable to get put on aircraft because Chinese customs officials and ground handlers are overwhelmed by the surge in export demand for face masks and other medical supplies.

The volume of hospital gear, resumption of e-commerce and other trade following China’s coronavirus quarantine and new export restrictions are blamed for the massive backlog, which was compounded by factories rushing out extra shipments before closing for the May Day holiday.

“In my 20 years, I have never experienced this level of congestion at any airport. And there are no signs of this alleviating in the next week to 10 days,” especially with factories reopening again, Neel Jones Shah, the global head of airfreight at San Francisco-based Flexport, said in an interview.

An avalanche of personal protective equipment, test kits and disinfectant is descending on Chinese airports because the rest of the world desperately needs it to minimize exposure to the COVID-19 virus and air is the fastest delivery method. China is the world’s largest source for respirator masks, surgical masks, medical goggles and protective garments, accounting for 50% of global exports in 2018, according to Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

But the onslaught of goods is running into a bureaucratic wall and piling up. Last month, Chinese authorities placed export controls on 11 types of medical supplies, including infrared thermometers, after complaints in Europe and the U.S. about low-quality purchases. Chinese-made N95 respirators failed in several tests to meet filtering standards for small particles, while non-medical masks are also being sold as medical-grade ones. In addition to special certification, all the shipments must be individually inspected and verified by customs authorities to make sure they are not defective or fraudulent.

The risk-control office that certifies the medical equipment was closed for Chinese Labor Day and customs worked reduced hours during the holiday, adding to the bottleneck.

The process of opening boxes and going through the contents with a fine-tooth comb is very manual and adds at least three days to transit times, said Brian Bourke, chief growth officer at Chicago-based SEKO Logistics.

China’s new policy has forced freight forwarders to cancel many bookings because export shipments are regularly failing customs inspections. Most of them are demanding customers have cargo ready at least four days before a flight. It now takes five to six days for shipments to get from the manufacturer’s dock onto a plane, according to logistics companies in the area. 

Meanwhile, forwarders and consolidators are requiring all freight charges for protective garments be paid up front, 72 hours before departure, because the cost of chartering a dedicated plane at the eye-popping one-way rate of $1.5 million or more, is prohibitively expensive. Pre-payment is also desired because shipments may miss the flight’s cutoff time and result in the forwarder otherwise having to eat the loss.    

Delayed or rejected loads have a knock-on effect, too, because they need to be rebooked on later flights.

The most-affected transfer station is PACTL, a joint venture between Shanghai Airport Group and Lufthansa Cargo that controls three of the seven cargo terminals at Pudong Airport, according to a SEKO client advisory. Since May 3, Eastern Air Logistics’ western cargo terminal is temporarily not accepting any new charter flights in an attempt to clear the backlog.

Chinese social media sites show massive traffic jams of trucks, with no space to unload, on the entrance road to Pudong Airport. The wait is so long, Bourke said, that trucking companies have to rotate fatigued drivers via motorcycle.

Even after shipments are cleared, they can sit in a warehouse because ground handling companies often don’t have enough labor to consolidate shipments for aircraft loading, he added.

Light loading

Jones Shah, a former head of cargo at Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE: DAL), and others who do business at Pudong airport say the increased tender times have forced multiple carriers on several occasions to depart only 10% or 20% loaded because of schedule commitments, or fears that pilots will violate duty-hour limits by waiting.

Under normal circumstances, cargo airlines typically change crews in China. Instead, flights are originating in Tokyo or Seoul. Upon arrival, crews stay on the planes to avoid being tested or quarantined by Chinese authorities keen on preventing outsiders from reinfecting the local population. If freighters stay too long in Shanghai, crews will time out their duty clock and violate anti-fatigue rules before reaching a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska, or U.S. destinations.  

“It’s a disaster right now.  . . . There is personal protective equipment that could have been coming to the U.S. just wasn’t able to because of this backlog,” Bourke said.

Contacted by FreightWaves, North American passenger airlines that now operate so-called “ghost” charters — planes without passengers flying dedicated cargo routes — downplayed the congestion’s impact on load factors.

“PVG [airport code for Shanghai] has some challenges as a result of a huge increase in volume and flights, but American Airlines Group Inc. (NASDAQ: AAL) has been able to fill nearly all flights to-date. Demand remains very strong and our handling partners have been able to process freight in time to meet our outbound flights,” Sandy Scott, managing director of cargo operations – Europe & Asia Pacific, said in a statement. “Limiting export deliveries to 48 hours prior to flight departure helps with smoothing the flows through the cargo terminal. American is in constant contact with all global account customers, local customers, and handling partners to ensure flights leave on time and with full loads.”

A Delta spokesperson said, “Delta Cargo is working with our ground handlers and contracted warehouse providers in Shanghai to improve the situation in light of congestion affecting all airlines. Delta is committed to continuing our cargo-only flights between Shanghai and the U.S.”

Air Canada has not had aircraft leave empty because of good planning that enables it to swap out shipments that are not ready for ones that are, said Tim Wong, director of cargo sales and services for Asia-Pacific.

Airfreight workarounds

Freight forwarders are employing a number of tactics to bypass the bottlenecks and say customers need to be open to quick course corrections.

Flexport works with airline partners to delay flights upline, “before they leave for Shanghai because then the crews can continue to rest and not start their duty day. And that gives us a little more time to have freight tendered and built,” Jones Shah said. “But it can get tricky. Flights have to get to their destination because they have another flight after that. So, you’re operating within the confines of a very intricate schedule. This is a 24/7 job right now managing the complexity.”

Other Chinese airports face similar problems, to a lesser degree. SEKO is trying to avoid Shanghai at all costs for now, instead sending most airfreight to Zhengzhou airport, a 10-hour drive west of Shanghai. Time:matters, the logistics arm of Lufthansa Cargo, and its Chinese agent, Shanghai International Freight Forwarding, are also arranging cargo-only passenger charters from airports in Xiamen, Malaysia, and Nanjing, China, spokeswoman Katja Sondey said.

Making matters worse is that Chinese regulations don’t allow personal protective equipment to be exported or transshipped through Hong Kong.

“That has created lots of backlogs and capacity issues in Guangzhou and Shenzhen as many airlines do not have landing rights in mainland China and is one of the reasons why rates are sky high,” said Christos Spyrou, the CEO and founder of logistics cooperative Neutral Air Partner, via email from Hong Kong.

Fast-boat services, like those offered by Matson, Inc. (NYSE: MATX) and APL, offer another relief valve for shippers. Matson, for example, sails direct from Shanghai to Long Beach, California, in 10 days.

“We’re telling people that sometimes it’s more of a sure thing to move via expedited ocean services. And that’s an education,” Bourke said. “When your airfreight guys are selling ocean, that’s when you know that the market is working in a crazy way.”

Jones Shah said shippers — especially those who are moving a lot of volume — need a diversified strategy when it comes to moving medical supplies.

“If you’re just moving one shipment of 500,000 masks, airfreight is the way to go. If you’re moving multiple shipments of 40 million to 50 million masks over the duration of a project, there is absolutely a hybrid, modal strategy that is going to get you there.

“It’s not just air or ocean that’s going to let you be successful. You need a combination of the two,” he said.

Europe doesn’t have an express-ocean option, so some logistics companies are increasing use of transcontinental rail from China to move urgently needed protective suits and related supplies. Imperial Logistics International said it took 20 days for the first batch of 45 containers with medical gear for health care workers to arrive in Germany by train.

Source: Benzinga, featured on Yahoo.com, 8 May 2020

Infographic – The Future of Supply Chain Automation

This infographic from Raconteur highlights the state of automation across global supply chains, while also providing an outlook for future investment.

As Amazon continues to set the bar for efficiency by integrating an astounding spectrum of automation technology, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that traditional supply chain models are ripe for disruption. 

For this reason, companies around the world are now rethinking their warehouse and distribution systems, with automation taking center stage.

Source: Raconteur, 2020

Bid to Hire 50,000 Post-Brexit Customs Staff

The U.K. risks failing to recruit the 50,000 customs agents the logistics industry says are needed before Britain’s final parting with the European Union, spelling potential chaos at the country’s busiest border.

The coronavirus has hampered efforts to train staff to handle the extra paperwork firms will need to complete after the U.K. exits the EU’s customs union at the year-end, according to industry bodies involved with the process. One lobby group says its offer to help plug the shortage of recruits has met with silence from Whitehall.

Without enough agents, goods traveling to and from the EU, the U.K.’s single biggest trading partner, risk being delayed at ports, disrupting supply chains and heaping more pain on companies reeling from coronavirus. Even if the two sides strike a trade deal by December, agents will still be needed to process an additional 200 million customs declarations, according to estimates by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

“This is all blown out the water by the virus,” said Robert Keen, director-general of the British International Freight Association, which is helping to train workers to process the new paperwork with funding from a 34 million-pound ($43 million) government program. “Everybody is fighting to keep their businesses going.”

Keen’s industry group has postponed its classroom training until at least June. The number of monthly registrations for its online learning course has dropped by 80% since February.

Asked by lawmakers on April 27 how many agents have been recruited so far, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said he didn’t know.

He told members of Parliament the government had been in talks with the logistics industry about creating a training school. Such an initiative already exists — the U.K. Customs Academy was started in September with the Institute of Export. 876 courses have been initiated or completed since the academy opened, according to KGH Customs, which helps run the program.

“There is a significantly long way to go,” said Marco Forgione, director-general of the Institute for Export. According to him, the 50,000 figure is almost certainly a conservative estimate of how many agents will be needed. He is calling on the government to encourage people who have lost their jobs because of the virus to re-train as customs officials.

‘Full Stop’

In a sign of how the virus has sapped attention away from Brexit in Whitehall, the Freight Transport Association submitted a proposal to the Treasury on March 17 about how to set up a mass education program to train up agents. More than a month later, the lobby group hasn’t received a reply.

“My impression is it has come to a full stop,” said Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the Road Haulage Association. He expressed surprised he hadn’t seen any job ads for customs agents.

Talks to seal a trade deal between Britain and the EU have been disrupted by the virus. The U.K. is seeking a Canada-style accord which would eliminate tariffs on goods but create new non-tariff barriers like customs declarations and rules-of-origin paperwork. Without a deal, the U.K. would trade with the EU on terms set by the World Trade Organization, meaning steep duties on products from cars to beef.

Need to Prepare

The two sides have until the end of June to extend the standstill period Britain entered after Brexit on Jan. 31 – but the government has repeatedly ruled out seeking a delay. Business groups such as BIFA and the FTA have called for an extension, arguing firms shouldn’t have to face the double whammy of higher trade costs while still recovering from the negative effects of coronavirus.

A government spokesman said thousands of agents, freight forwarders and parcel operators had used the 34 million-pound fund to improve their IT hardware and train staff.

“The U.K. has a well-established industry of customs intermediaries who serve British businesses trading outside the EU,” the spokesman added.

Even if firms are able to divert resources into training later in the year, by when the virus might have abated, companies will still need time to prepare, said Arne Mielken, founder of Customs Manager, an advisory firm for importers and exporters.

“You can’t hammer in customs knowledge overnight,” he said. “We urge companies not to neglect the fact that Brexit is still happening.”

Source: Article by Joe Mayes, Bloomberg, 4 May 2020

Africa – Closed Borders Become a Problem

Many African states have closed their borders due to COVID-19. The movement of goods continues, albeit slowly. For people, transiting countries is difficult and the consequences for workers and small businesses are dire.

2020 should be the year of open borders in Africa. After years of negotiations, the concrete implementation of the African Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was finally on the agenda. The common African passport was also to become a reality this year.

But then came the coronavirus pandemic — and 43 of the 54 states in Africa closed their borders as a result. This figure was published by the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) in early April.

It is true that many countries allow goods to pass through, at least partially. However, the consequences for the continent, especially the long-term effects, can hardly be estimated. The African Union warns that border closures for people and goods could have a “devastating effect on the health, economy and social stability of many African states” that rely on trade with neighbors.

Africa thrives on mobility

The restricted transportation of goods is only one of the negative outcomes of border closures Africa is heavily dependent on the mobility of its workforce, explains to Robert Kappel, Professor Emeritus of the Institute for African Studies at the University of Leipzig. But right now, that workforce is stuck in place.

“Mobility is part of everyday life for most Africans,” Kappel told DW. “You go somewhere else for a while, work, earn income and send it to your family, acquire and bring back skills, create networks across borders,” Kappel said. The economist is certain that the longer mobility is restricted, the more African states will suffer from reduced economic growth.

Kappel cites Ivory Coast as an example. Just as Western European countries depend on eastern European harvest workers, many people come from Burkina Faso to work on Ivorian cocoa plantations.

Even people who have been living in Ivory Coast for a long time are now being sent back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kappel said the reason for their expulsion is simply because they are foreigners. “Cote d’Ivoire, one of the world’s largest cocoa producers, has been relying on the exchange of workers for decades and now suddenly has to limit this,” he said.

Southern Africa moving in the ‘right direction’

For goods transported by truck, meanwhile, the restrictions on the continent appear to be slowly easing. That’s according to Sean Menzies, responsible for road freight transport at the South African logistics company CFR Freight. The company’s trucks transport goods to almost all neighboring countries and member states of southern Africa’s regional bloc, SADC, including food to Zimbabwe and mining equipment to the Democratic Republic of Congo or to Zambia. The spread of coronavirus and the resulting border closures brought restrictions for CFR Freight.

Initially, only essential goods such as food, hygiene products or personal protective equipment could be transported across borders, Menzies said. Shortly afterwards, the regulations were also relaxed for cargo that reaches South Africa by sea but is destined for other SADC countries. These containers may be transported across borders, regardless of whether their contents are vital or not.

Menzies said the new regulations and controls will not delay the transport too much. “At the very beginning there were problems and a lot of confusion about what is required. But within a week, the customs officers understood and implemented the guidelines,” said the logistics expert. From then on, he said, traffic at the border posts has been fairly smooth. Menzies praised the cooperation in the region regarding the movement of goods during the pandemic.

COVID-19 test for East Africa truck drivers

The East African Community (EAC) is also trying to simplify the transport of goods between member states. On Monday the EAC issued new guidelines. Among other things, the regional bloc suggested that all border crossings should be kept open for freight traffic so that trucks can be cleared as quickly as possible.

EAC member states are interlinked at many levels, Kenneth Bagamuhunda, Director General for Customs and Trade in the Secretariat, the executive body of the EAC, said. “This forces us to really come together and issue regional guidelines,” Bagamuhunda told DW in an interview. Although the guidelines are not binding, they are intended to enable joint action.

The situation at the borders in East Africa could not be described as “very stable,” it was changing from day to day. But things were beginning to improve. Some states had started to test all truck drivers. “This led to some delays at first,” Bagamuhunda said.

30 kilometers (18 miles) – that’s how long the traffic jam was last weekend at the Kenyan town of Malaba on the border with Uganda, a Kenyan media house, Citizen TV, reported. Because truck drivers are particularly mobile, there is a risk that they will contribute to the spread of the virus. At least 20 of the 79 officially registered cases in Uganda are truck drivers, according to the BBC.

The EAC’s new guidelines now require testing for all truck drivers. The states are also to set up special stopping points so that drivers have as little contact with the population as possible.

Impact on farmers and small businesses

Small and medium-sized companies that depend on cross-border trade are particularly threatened by delays and restrictions, economist Robert Kappel said. “Many of the farmers or small entrepreneurs must now try to sell their products elsewhere but often the local market is limited.”

The EAC is now considering how to support these small businesses. According to Bagamuhunda, different approaches are being discussed: “Can we, for example, create an online mechanism so that they can handle their goods? Or systems that help them to trade with as little interaction as possible?” Soon, proposals will be made to politicians.

Source: article by Uta Steinwehr, DW.com, 2 May 2020

WCO issues updated joint WCO/WHO HS classification list for COVID-19 medical supplies

The WCO continues its close cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) to contribute to the rapid cross-border movement of medical supplies and medicines needed urgently during the current COVID-19 global pandemic. Following the coordinated response adopted by the two organizations, a WHO/WCO List of Priority Medicines was released and the Joint WCO/WHO HS Classification List for COVID-19 Medical Supplies was further updated. 

The clinical characteristics of the COVID-19 and its evolution makes it challenging for the health system of many countries and shortage of medicines can worsen the situation. Potential supply chain disruptions may jeopardize the timely supply of all essential medicines, including those not directly related to COVID-19. 

The List of WHO/WCO Priority Medicines for Customs Used during COVID-19 aims at assisting Customs and economic operators in classifying these medicines. The list contains the suggested HS codes for medicines used in the general medical care administered to hospitalized patients; as part of the direct treatment of the COVID-19 disease; and for which interrupted supply could result in serious health consequences. 

The new list, which will now be continuously updated, is the result of an efficient collaboration between the WHO and the WCO. The medicines and active substances were compiled by the WHO taking into account various information published by National Health Authorities, scientific societies or pharmacology experts, and with suggested HS codes provided by the WCO Secretariat. 

The List of WHO/WCO priority medicines used during COVID-19 can be found on the WCO COVID-19 dedicated webpage.

HS classification reference for Covid-19 medical supplies 2.1 Edition

Taking into consideration the suggestions received from Members and other stakeholders, the WCO/WHO HS Classification Reference for Covid-19 Medical Supplies was once more updated with additional items that could be used during this pandemic situation. COVID-19 medical supplies list update:

Future initiative foreseen by the WCO for COVID-19 medical supplies list

The WCO is aware that some countries have used the WCO list as a reference when making their own national lists of medical supplies. In order to further facilitate trade in medical supplies and present information in a coordinated manner, the WCO is considering, for the next edition of the medical supplies list, to include links to specific national classification lists of medical supplies.  Members wishing to include information on their national classification lists of medical supplies can send their links to: hs@wcoomd.org

Further assistance in identifying essential items can be found on the website of WHO. The COVID-19 Critical Items List from the WHO can be found at:

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/covid-19-critical-items

Source: World Customs Organisation, 30 April 2020

AfCFTA Postpones Implementation of Agreement

The Secretary-General the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Mr. Wamkele Mene, yesterday announced the postponement of the implementation of the AfCFTA agreement scheduled for July 1, 2020, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mene said: “It is obviously not possible to commence trade as we had intended on 1 July under the current circumstances.

“I think that’s the responsible thing to do. I don’t think it would be appropriate when people are dying to be focused on meeting the 1 July deadline. Instead all governments should be allowed to concentrate their efforts on fighting the pandemic and saving lives at home.”

Mene did not disclose the targeted implementation date, but there were strong speculations that the new commencement date might be January 2021. “The political commitment remains, the political will remains to integrate Africa’s market and to implement the agreement as was intended,” he said.

The AfCFTA was promoted as having the capacity to bring about $3.4 trillion intra-African trade with 1.3 billion people across Africa and constitute the largest new trading bloc since the World Trade Organisation was formed in 1994.

According to the Head, Division of International Economics Relations, Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Dr. Efem N. Ubi, the postponement of the take-off date was in order to enable African countries focus fully on surviving the threat from COVID-19.

“The focus should be on sustaining our economy and see how we can win the war against COVID-19 by managing what we have. And the most important thing for the post COVID-19 economy is for African countries to focus on the kind of education that will promote science and technology that will transit the continent from a primary producer to a manufacturing economy. The focus onward should be science, technology, agriculture and health so that Africans can produce and have things to trade among themselves,” Ubi said.

Source: This Day Live, Nigeria, 29 April 2020

Ghana – Integrated Customs Management Systems to be mandatory in June 2020

The Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has stated that effective June 1, 2020, all transactions related to the import and export of goods at the various ports in the country shall be processed through the Integrated Customs Management Systems (ICUMS).

The move, according to the GRA, was aimed at coordinating all import and export activities at the ports on a single platform to reduce cost in clearing and exporting of goods.

ICUMS  is a new port clearing system that processes documents and payments through one window and the system is a departure from the previous system where ‘valuation and classification’ and ‘risk management and payment’ were handled by different entities.

The deployment of ICUMS, which started yesterday at the Tema Port and all other entry points, is envisaged to replace the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAARS) which was being handled West Blue and the GCMS which was jointly operated by the Customs Division of GRA and GCNet.

The GRA in a press statement issued in Accra on Monday, signed by the Acting Commissioner-General, Ammishaddai Owusu-Amoah and copied to the Ghanaian Times, however, said between April 28, 2020 and May 31, 2020, transactions in respect of import and export manifest can be processed through either the ICUMS or the Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS) for the Tema Port as well as all other entry points.

 “All existing transactions commencing prior to the 31st of May 2020 for which processing have not been completed in the GCMS (before or after payment of duty) shall be processed through the ICUMS,” the statement said.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry in March 2018 signed a contract with the Ghana Link Network Services Limited in collaboration with Customs UNI-PASS International Agency (CUPIA) of Korea Customs Services to introduce the UNI-PASS Systems in Ghana for a period of ten years at a cost of $40 million.

However, the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF) has kicked against the government contract with Ghana Link Network Services and the implementation of the UNI-PASS system in Ghana.

According to the Institute, the GCNet and West Blue Consulting systems were superior and were working perfectly and thus there was no need for a new system.

GIFF in a situation report on the deployment of UNIPASS/ICUMS at Takoradi copied to the Minister of Trade and Industry, Alan Kyeremanteng, cited by this paper, cautioned that the nationwide implementation of the UNI-PASS system, now Integrated Customs Management System will adversely affect their operations.

“The myriad of problems facing declarants mostly due to lack of proper mapping of the process flow, inadequate training of declarants and unresolved systemic issues must be addressed,” the report said. 

But government in a statement it issued a couple of weeks ago debunked reports that UNI-PASS, has no track record and the required competence to execute the work at hand and  that the UNI-PASS technology had not been deployed or tested anywhere in the world was inaccurate.

“The UNI-PASS technology has been deployed successfully in Tanzania since 2015 under the name Tancis, which World Customs Organisation (WCO) has acclaimed as one of the best innovative trade facilitation systems. Cameroun, like Ghana, has deployed the same technology after successfully developing their system early this year,” the statement said.

“The decision to discontinue with the services of GCNet and other service providers was informed by the need to replace the multiplicity of vendors with a single service provider deploying an end-to-end system,” the statement said.

Source: article by Kingsley Asare, Ghanaian Times, 29 April 2020

Chinese fishing trawlers fined for being in South African waters

Three docked trawlers and a boy fishing

Six Chinese fishing trawlers were detained and issued with fines after they had entered South African waters without the required permission.

The trawlers were detected entering the South African Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off the Northern Cape coast on 3 April 2020, after being ordered out of Namibian waters by the Namibian authorities.

The Fishery patrol vessel, the Sarah Baartman, later intercepted the vessels off the Western Cape coast and ordered them to the outer anchorage of the Port of Cape Town.  Following the interception of the vessels on 7 April, the Chinese Embassy submitted a Diplomatic Note requesting permission for the vessels to shelter in Cape Town from adverse weather conditions.

The vessels were then boarded by an integrated Operation Phakisa Initiative 5 team and inspected. No fish were found aboard and all fishing gear was stored as per the Marine Living Resources Act. All the vessels were subsequently fined for entering South African waters without permission.

Once the fines had been paid, the six trawlers were released and monitored as they transited South African waters.

Whilst off Port Elizabeth, the vessels requested permission to shelter in Algoa Bay from adverse weather conditions.  The request was approved by the South African Maritime Safety Authority.  After departing Algoa Bay, the vessels sailed up the coast and left South African waters late on 19 April and early on the morning of 20 April 2020.

There was no evidence of illegal activity whilst in South African waters.

During the COVID-19 lockdown period, integrated teams have been deployed under Operation Phakisa along the coast to support the national effort to protect our marine resources – on the coastline and at sea.  The team, which includes enforcement officials, is checking for infringements related to the Marine Living Resources Act, the Road Traffic Act, non-compliance with COVID-19 Disaster Management regulations and other criminal activity in general.  

Source: https://www.environment.gov.za/