In 1993, I recall certain members of the shipping community admonishing the Customs and Excise department for being backward, lacking the ability to meet the demands of the community – shipping lines in particular. At the time this criticism was valid, and would have still been relevant for another 10 years – the time it took SARS to eventually implement its first manifest acquittal system (MAS). Since the inception of MAS (2003) the interest and energy to bring about trade compliance in the submission of manifest and conveyance information has been tardy and uncoordinated from a central viewpoint. In retrospect, several reasons exist for this – erratic and unpredictable systems architecture, as well as the lack of a customs champion to drive the operational compliance initiative from a national level.
Along the way there have been various milestones which have signalled a radical re-think in the philosophy of cargo reporting. Introduction of the ISPS code and the US 24-hour advance manifest rule set the tone for world-wide ‘re-engineering’ (I prefer the word ‘reform’) of processes, information exchange and legal basis. These have continued for supply chain operators through various iterations of ‘advance reporting’ – New Zealand, Canada, China and more recently the EU’s Import Security filing have required shippers and logistics operators to re-align their business models to meet new customs reporting requirements. True, all these initiatives may have their respective national or regional flavours, yet, the Customs data requirements are principally identical.
In 2008 SARS signalled its intent to mandate the electronic submission of cargo reports, supported by legislation to give this due effect. Why electronic? Because there’s a belief that any party involved in international cargo handling, forwarding, and shipping must be computer literate in order to operate (at all) in this highly competitive business. We are not talking about once-off casual importers here, but parties who have a greater or lesser degree of business acumen, knowledge of INCOTERMS and supply chain procedural requirements. Am I mistaken? Perhaps. Maybe the Customs perception of this industry tends to accord it too much credence?
Mid-2010, SARS addressed these issues and made a few fundamental decisions to improve this lot. It was time to build a new system from ground up, on a modern, stable technology platform. In order to ensure that the business principles and systems logic were kept intact, it was time to assign the best brains (internally) to accomplish this. In a very short period, a new system was developed and put into production, offering improved predictability in the data validation and processing. Over the last 2-3 months several manifest and cargo conveyance providers have been actively participating in a test initiative.
Automated Cargo Management (ACM) was launched ‘live’ on 6 May 2011. The reality is that the ratio of manifests to clearance declarations is a mere 17% for sea freight and 8% in the case of aircargo, respectively. The take-on in number of new air and sea cargo reporting registrants is equally abysmal. Let’s reserve any further ‘adjectives’ for now.
A recent poll hosted by a local industry web service revealed a predictable outcome (over a 5-day time period) where a vast majority of respondents indicated a negative experience with the introduction of the new system. The reality is that those who participated and the internal Customs’ experience suggest a more positive situation. Why then the poll result? Speculation suggests that the pre-implementation communication campaign was not adequate; that few operators in industry really understand what they are required to do. Is this really palusible when the outreach by SARS, service providers to their clients in trade, and the industry umbrella organisations have all been canvassing their respective members about the developments? How come only 10 new applications for registration were only received by SARS the week after implementation?
Clearly there is no urgency. Almost 10 years of advanced manifest reporting has transpired across various global supply chains, and yet some operators are still unsure of what their obligations are meant to be. So how are we going to fix this? In order to succesfully offer real AEO benefits and other advanced services within the context of Kyoto and the SAFE Framework of Standards, this needs to be rectified. In Part 2, I will sketch the options available to address if not rectify the current state of affairs. Bringing non-cooperating parties into a state of compliance is a SARS’ pastime. Talk to you soon.