US Retailers Question “Unfair” Container Fees

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The U.S. National Retail Federation (NRF) and a coalition representing retailers, manufacturers, truckers, transportation intermediaries and other business groups has asked the Federal Maritime Commission to set new policy preventing terminal operators and ocean carriers from charging unfair fees when uncontrollable incidents such as storms and strikes keep cargo from being picked up from ports on time.

“Recent events involving port congestion, labor strife, an ocean carrier bankruptcy, inclement weather and other disruption events have had crippling effects on U.S. ports and the stakeholders who rely on the efficient movement of goods,” the 25-member Coalition for Fair Port Practices said in a petition filed with the commission. During the incidents, storage and use charges have continued “even though shippers, consignees and drayage providers had no control over the events that caused the ports to be inaccessible and prevented them from retrieving their cargo or returning equipment.”

Cargo owners and trucking companies are normally given a certain number of free days to pick up containers of imported goods from ports after they have been unloaded from ships. After that, they can be charged demurrage, a fee intended to ensure that containers are removed quickly and efficiently. In addition, detention and per diem fees can be charged if the cargo containers and chassis used to haul them are not returned within a specified time.

That system was thrown into disarray this fall when the bankruptcy of South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping left cargo owners unable to pick up containers on time and later prevented them from returning containers and chassis, says the NRF.

Delays have also occurred during other port disruptions cited in the petition, including the 2014-2015 labor slowdown at West Coast ports and Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast in 2012.

The coalition said millions of dollars in fees have been charged during such incidents:

  • A retailer was charged $80,000 because it took up to nine days to retrieve containers when only four free days were allowed.
  • A trucking company was charged $1.2 million after long lines at New York and New Jersey ports kept it from returning containers on time.
  • A transportation company was charged $1.25 million after containers it tried to return were turned away at West Coast ports. The amount was eventually reduced to $250,000 but only a year after the company was forced to pay the fees upfront.

“Shippers, consignees and drayage providers do not create and cannot avoid these events,” the group said. “They cannot control the weather. They do not choose the terminals that carriers use. They are not parties to port labor collective bargaining agreements.”

The federal Shipping Act requires that the fees and related practices be “just and reasonable.” The petition asks the FMC to adopt a policy that would require free days to be extended during times of port congestion, weather-related events, port disruptions or delays caused by government actions or requirements beyond the control of the parties picking up or returning containers. Demurrage and similar fees charged during such incidents would be declared “unreasonable.” In some cases, “compensatory” fees could be charged provided that they did not exceed actual storage or equipment use costs. The proposed policy would apply to ocean carriers and marine terminal operators. Source: Maritime Executive

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WCO – the opportunities and challenges of E-commerce

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The WCO Policy Commission, held in Moscow, Russian Federation, from 5 to 7 December 2016 under the chairmanship of Mr. R. Davydov, brought to the fore the key role of Customs in creating a sustainable and efficient e-commerce ecosystem, reviving-up the exchange of data between stakeholders and enhancing risk-management through electronic interface. The other main topics discussed during the Commission pertained to trade facilitation, security, the enhancement of the Customs/Tax cooperation and the modernization of Customs administrations.

The newly established WCO Working Group on E-Commerce will work to tackle the different dimensions of e-commerce by collecting and exchanging best practices in the field, stocktaking and leveraging some of the ongoing work being carried out by other entities and drawing up proposals geared towards the development of practical solutions for the clearance of e-commerce shipments, including appropriate duty/tax collection mechanisms and control procedures.

Concerning the in-depth discussions on Custom /Tax cooperation, the WCO issued this year “Guidelines for strengthening cooperation and the exchange of information between Customs and Tax authorities at the national level” and will continue working on topics of common interest for Customs and Tax experts such as transfer pricing, drawback and Illicit Financial Flows (IFF).

During the Commission, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya, confirmed the WCO Theme for 2017 “Data Analysis for Effective Border Management” and stressed the impact of the digital revolution and the need to address promptly the challenges posed to the global economy. The Secretary General invited all the WCO Members to promote and share information in the coming months on how they are leveraging the potential of data to advance and achieve their objectives and respond to the expectations of traders, transport and logistic operators, and governments.

As data analysis will be emphasized in 2017 as a force multiplier for Customs administrations, it is relevant to highlight that the WCO is carrying out a Study to collect best practices among its members to assess and promote initiatives in the area of e-commerce. A previous analysis of preliminary data underscored the need for digitalization of processes, better sharing of information between e-commerce stakeholders and customs for improved risk management and the necessity for harmonization in the low-value shipment processes. Source: WCO

China Customs – pilots Independent Customs Declaration and Tax Payment for Imported Goods

China Customs EmblemAudit firm KPMG reports that the General Administration of Customs (GAC) will reform the existing customs clearance procedure for imported goods, according to a GAC Circular on Carrying out Pilot Reform of Tax Collection and Administration Procedure issued on 29 October 2016. Under the current procedure, review of the customs declaration is required before goods are released. This reform is designed to further guide import and export enterprises to be self-disciplined and law-abiding, with the principle stated as “honesty and observance of the law brings convenience; dishonesty and irregularity leads to punishment” to improve customs clearance efficiency.

Content of pilot reform  includes the following elements:

Independent customs declaration and tax payment – when importing goods, enterprises should submit customs declarations truthfully and accurately in advance, calculate tax payable and surcharges and handle payment-related procedures on their own.

Review of elements relating to tax calculation after release of goods  – generally, goods will be released after enterprises complete the customs declarations and tax payment procedures on their own. Afterwards, the customs authority will spot-check and review the valuation, classification and origin of the imported goods of the enterprises. In special cases, the authority will inspect the customs declaration in advance.

Proactive disclosure scheme After release of goods – enterprises are encouraged to report to the authorities in writing if they are aware of any of their own violations against customs regulations. Enterprises which the customs authority believes to be voluntary disclosers of their own irregularities will be less punished or free from punishment. For enterprises which have disclosed their irregularities and paid back taxes proactively, late fees can be reduced or eliminated.

For more details access the KPMG report here! Source: KPMG

SARS publishes external NII Standard for Customs X-Ray Scanning operations

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SARS offers non-intrusive inspection capability at 3 ports of entry and exit to the Republic of South Africa namely, Port of Durban, Port of Cape Town and Beit Bridge border post. These facilities are intended to offer an expedited inspection service without having to physically break seals or de-van a vehicle or container. Given that the equipment offers high resolution  capability based on x-ray imaging technology, safety and and occupational health standards are a priority.

SARS has recently published a standard (SC-CC-35) for external parties relating to the scanner operation as well as health and safety standards. Source: SA Revenue Service