German Customs dispute disrupts plywood imports from China

Laminated woodThe importance of tariff classification and its impact on statistical and economic data – German imports of hardwood plywood from China continue to be affected by a dispute between the German trade and customs officials. In the last three years, customs officials, particularly at the port of Bremerhaven, have been checking Chinese plywood to ensure that boards are cross-laminated rather than laid parallel to each other.

According to German customs, boards should be reclassified as Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) if not fully cross-laminated. This is frequently the case with lower-quality Chinese plywood manufactured using small veneer pieces for the cores. LVL incurs a higher rate of duty of 10% compared to 7% for plywood. Roughly 40% of Chinese hardwood plywood deliveries into Germany were reclassified in this way in 2012.

German import merchants and the timber trade federation GD Holz have held talks with German customs to try to more clearly define which products should be considered plywood and which LVL. According to GD Holz, these talks have been unproductive so far and customs continue to reclassify Chinese plywood. Several German importers have now filed lawsuits and results are still pending. At the same time, GD Holz report that since 2014, several importers have been reimbursed for some instances of excessive duty paid. However, customs has not revealed why reimbursements were offered in some cases but not in others.

The uncertainty created by the dispute in Germany may partly explain the recent rise in imports of Chinese hardwood plywood into ports in Belgium and Netherlands. German buyers may be avoiding excess duty by buying from stocks landed in these neighbouring European countries.

The reclassification process has led to inconsistencies in the statistical data on German hardwood plywood imports. Data derived from Eurostat indicates that German imports fell by 18.3% to 34,700 cu.m in the first five months of 2015. This followed a decline of 5.5% to 103,000 cu.m for the whole year 2014.

However, the Eurostat data deviates from figures published by the German Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) which indicate a 62% increase in German hardwood plywood imports from China in the first quarter of 2015. On enquiry, Destatis note that they have adjusted their data downwards for 2014 to take account of plywood reclassified as LVL.

However Destatis have not yet made the same adjustment to the 2015 data. As a result, Destatis data on deliveries to Germany appear to surge this year. Overall, once all adjustments are made, Destatis reckon German imports of Chinese hardwood plywood in the first five months of 2015 were probably around the same as last year.

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SARS R78 million Airport Cash Bust

Johannesburg – They [smugglers] had cash stashed in 11 pieces of luggage including four backpacks – R78 million destined for the United Arab Emirates.

But eagle-eyed customs officials at OR Tambo International Airport were on to them and confiscated the bags with R23m and $3.775m in notes.

On the same day, R50m worth of cocaine stashed in hair product bottles was seized at the same airport, in one of the biggest crime-busting days at OR Tambo.

On Monday, SA Revenue Service (Sars) officials said five people had been arrested after being caught with the undeclared cash as they were about to leave South Africa.

“Risk profiling earlier by Sars custom officials identified the passengers, and led to their apprehension as they boarded the aircraft at 9.45pm.

“Upon noticing the officials, the passengers retreated and headed back to the entrance of the boarding gate. At this point, officials closed the boarding gate door and the passengers were compelled to wait for the Sars officials,” Sars said.

When asked whether they had any currency, one of the passengers apparently said he had R100 000 and that the other members of the group had currency with them.

“The five individuals were escorted back to immigration at international arrivals, booked back into South Africa and escorted to customs.”

Sars spokesperson Luther Lebelo said the bags with the cash had been handed over to the SA Reserve Bank.

“The matter has been handed over to the SA Reserve Bank for further investigations. Once the bank is satisfied that there is an element of criminality, they can take the matter to the police,” he said.

The arrests on Friday – details of which were released on Tuesday – followed a R50m drug bust at the airport. National police spokesman Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said the consignment of cocaine, weighing about 143kg, was one of the largest drug recoveries at a South African port of entry.

“The drugs were hidden in 147 hair products bottles and were found during a routine inspection at the cargo section. The consignment arrived from Brazil, and information displayed on the cargo indicated it was in transit to Cotonou, Benin, in West Africa,” he said.

Other drug busts at OR Tambo over the past month include:

  • The confiscation of 60 000 Viagra tablets with a street value of R6m at the airport’s mailing centre.
  • Cocaine weighing 3.46kg and valued at R993 020, found in the backpack of a passenger in transit from Sao Paulo and headed for Lagos, Nigeria.
  • Sixty-five packages of crystal meth valued at R4.2m, confiscated while being loaded into a bakkie in the cargo area.
  • Heroin valued at R201 810 destined for Spain and Ireland, discovered along with 2kg of cannabis at the airport’s mailing centre.

Source: The Star