What with increased automation and the plethora of services becoming available to brokers, traders and specialist duty/tax recovery consultants, it would seem that the virtual nature of business has overlooked some key criteria which is cardinal for trader compliance with Customs. Lets deal with one of these – customs clearance (goods declaration) and cargo reporting (cargo manifest) information. Before I forget, as of June 2011, this also includes supporting documents. South African Customs law prescribes an obligation on traders to maintain documents (which includes any electronic transcription/version thereof) for a statutory period of 5 years. This applies to all customs’ registrants and licensees.
While service providers (computer bureaus) provide a vital service in the provision and maintenance of software, hardware and communication services to the trade, site should not be lost of the fact that at any point in time, the trader may need to access, produce or submit documentation to support a claim or proof of their compliance in any customs matter. As one ‘provider’ recently exclaimed – since the inception of SARS’ electronic supporting document facility E@syScan, ‘gigabytes’ are now being transmitted over the internet. No doubt SARS endeavours have (or are) making service providers more profitable, but these also require a fair measure of support and ongoing maintenance to ensure such facility work at optimum performance. But, I’m digressing somewhat.
My point is that traders must have full rights, access and ownership of such data, including so-called product libraries. SARS has not imposed any view or directive on this matter, and has left it to the terms and conditions of the commercial agreement between the trader, broker and the service provider. Should a broker/trader wish to terminate his/her relationship with a service provider, the agreement should provide for a transfer of ‘customs transactional data’ from the service provider to the trade entity. There are no doubt instances of breach of contract which may cause either or both parties to sever the commercial relationship under a cloud. Nonetheless, my advice to the trader/broker is to ensure that their contractual agreement includes a clause which provides for the availability or transfer of ‘data’ to the trading entity in the event of a termination of the agreement. A ‘can’ of worms? Speak to me!