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

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/

SA Parliament adopts report on Border Management Authority Bill

Several media reports have recently published misleading information in regard to the South African Revenue Service and the Border Management Authority Bill. The following statement by Parliamentary Communication Services offers context in the matter –

Parliament adopts report on Border Management Authority Bill

Border Management Authority bill takes another step towards becoming law

The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs adopted a report on the Border Management Authority Bill [B9B-2016] and will recommend to the house to adopt and pass the Bill into an Act of Parliament.

The adoption follows the recommendations and amendments made by the Select Committee on Security and Justice while processing the Bill. The committee agreed that the amendments are valid and strengthen the Bill to ensure that it delivers on its mandate.

An important amendment made by the National Council of Provinces is to highlight the consensus reached between the Minister of Finance and Minister of Home Affairs, which removes the South African Revenue Services from the application of the Act. “We appreciate that the two departments have reached a consensus on how to handle the custom-related issues at port of entries, which has been a major sticking point impeding the completion of the Bill,” said Advocate Bongani Bongo, the Chairperson of the committee.

The committee welcomes the fact that as a result of this consensus, the Bill commits both the Department of Home Affairs and National Treasury to agree on an implementation protocol to enable seamless functioning and co-ordination of border management areas within six months of the implementation of the Act.

The committee is of the considered view that the passing of the BMA Bill is a step in the right direction to secure our borders and end fragmentation within this environment. The committee will table its report before the National Assembly and recommend that the Bill be passed and sent to the President for assent into law.

Regarding the performance of the department in quarter three and four, the committee notes the piloting of an e-visa in Kenya. While the committee is aware that this pilot phase should have been rolled out to six missions across the world, it nonetheless welcomes the announcement that the pilot will be extended to India, Nigeria and China in the course of this quarter. The committee has urged the department to fix teething problems identified and to conclude the piloting stage with the aim of introducing the programme.

The fight against corruption is an important pillar in strengthening accountability and good governance. In line with this, the committee welcomes the announcement that 86.6% of the department’s fraud and corruption cases are finalised within 90 days. The committee continues to emphasise the need for the speedy finalisation of corruption cases and the sanctioning of departmental employees.

The committee will continue to monitor the implementation of the Annual Performance Plan to ensure delivery of services to the people.

For media enquiries or interviews with the Chairperson:

Committee’s Media Officer
Malatswa Molepo 
Parliamentary Communication Services

18 February 2020

South African Customs – Recent Illicit Goods Busts

Customs teams from Durban, Cape Town, Gauteng and the Free State recently dealt a blow to non-compliant traders by busting drugs, illicit cigarettes and undeclared fuel.

Customs officers at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) were responsible for several major drug busts over the past couple of weeks, including the following:

  • On 8 February, a female passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was stopped and her luggage scanned, which revealed suspicious images. After searching her luggage, officers discovered packages wrapped in black tape and containing a white powdery substance. The powder was tested and confirmed to be cocaine, valued at approximately ZAR54 284 349. Officers also searched a male passenger arriving on the same flight and discovered three body wraps on his torso, containing a white powdery substance. The contents were tested positive for cocaine, valued at about ZAR9 057 566. On the same day, officers intercepted a male passenger about to board a flight for Hong Kong and searched him. They discovered body wraps on his upper torso containing cocaine valued at about ZAR11 700 000.
  • On 2 February, a male passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was stopped by Customs officers and his luggage searched. After a luggage scan revealed irregular images, officers searched his bags and discovered packages wrapped in black tape containing cocaine, valued at about ZAR5 850 000.
  • On 27 January, in a similar incident to the above, a male passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was arrested after Customs officers discovered a false compartment in his luggage, which contained cocaine valued at about ZAR6 750 000.

In all the above incidents, the suspects and goods were handed over to the SAPS for further investigation.

In the Durban incident, officers became suspicious of two containers of goods arriving on a vessel in the Durban harbour from China.

The containers, which were declared to contain glassware and household goods, were placed for examination at a cargo depot in Durban. 

Upon inspection by Customs officers on 5 February 2020, the containers were found to contain various suspected counterfeit goods, and several cartons with tablets packed in plastic packets.

Members of the Customs detector dog unit reacted positively to the cartons, which were tested and found to contain Methaqualone (Mandrax).

There was a total of 15 cartons, each containing 20 000 Mandrax tablets with a street value of about ZAR24 million. The case has been handed over to the SAPS for further investigation.

In Cape Town, officers were responsible for a massive bust of illicit cigarettes, one of SARS’ key focus areas when it comes to illicit trade (particularly in terms of lost revenue due to the fiscus). 

After receiving an alert from the Compliance Risk and Case Selection team about a possible mis-declaration of a container on a ship arriving in South Africa, a detention notice was issued to the shipping liner and the goods were detained in December 2019.

After following the required legal processes, a Customs Branch Physical Inspection team searched the container at the Cape Town harbour on 20 January 2020.

During the inspection, the team discovered 1050 master cases of “LEGATE” cigarettes, each case containing 50 cartons of 10 packets, with an estimated street value of about ZAR3 150 000.

If the consignment of cigarettes was not detected, the potential loss of revenue would have amounted to about ZAR12 208 350 in Customs & Excise duties and VAT. 

The Western Cape Customs Branch Inspection team has handed over the case to Criminal Investigations from further investigation.

In the Free State, Customs officers dealt a blow to another key area of illicit trade, ie. ghost exports or false declarations of fuel. On 31 January 2020, officers stopped a truck coming from Lesotho through the Ficksburg border post. They had become suspicious of this particular trucking company, as they had recently changed their route to using South Africa as a transit route from Mozambique to Lesotho. 

Officers noticed that the same truck had driven through the border into Lesotho the day before, having declared the truck full with fuel they acquired in Mozambique. The following day it re-entered South Africa, with the driver claiming that the truck was empty (which could indicate a possible ghost export in which they were trying to avoid paying taxes and duties/levies).

They then asked the driver to park the truck at the depot for inspection. However, after the truck was taken to the depot, the truck driver disappeared and the truck company’s lawyer was called to attend an inspection. 

Customs officers then discovered the truck contained 26 000 litres of diesel, with the owners having failed to pay duties and taxes totalling ZAR176 000 due to the fiscus. The truck was detained for further investigation.

And in a similar incident, two trucks were stopped at the Maseru Bridge border post on 4 February for falsely declaring fuel coming from Mozambique to Lesotho. The trucks contained 39 388 litres and 39 414 litres of petroleum respectively. Both were detained for further investigation. 

Source: South African Revenue Service [SARS]

USCBP extends secure e-commerce supply chain pilot

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has expanded its pilot of a new, voluntary scheme to try to improve the security of low-value shipments entering US borders.

The Section 321 Data Pilot is focused in particular on e-commerce, and aims to improve data-sharing between online marketplaces, carriers, technology firms and logistics provider to help protect American consumers from illicit goods arriving by air, ocean, truck, or rail.

That includes, “illicit narcotics, unregulated prescription drugs, brand counterfeits, and unsafe food and beauty products”, according to the CBP, which plans to run the pilot until August 2021.

Nine companies have been selected to participate in the pilot, including e-commerce giants Amazon and eBay, carriers Zulily, FedEx, DHL and UPS, as well as technology firm PreClear and logistics providers XB Fulfillment and BoxC Logistics.

CBP has said that it plans to expand access to all interested and qualified participants “in early 2020.”

The participants will provide cargo origin, content, tracking, recipient and other information to CBP upfront, in addition to the information that is currently legally required for Section 321 shipments – in other words one shipment per day for eligible importers, individuals or companies with a value of $800 or less.

CBP says it wants to see whether having that additional information will enable it to perform “more effective and efficient targeted screening” of these low-value shipments.

Research published in 2018 has suggested that two-thirds of counterfeit goods intercepted by customs around the world are discovered in small parcels sent through postal or courier services.

In part because they are harder for customs officials to track and seize, and also because in many jurisdictions they have not required detailed manifests for their contents. The US stepped up the manifest requirements for Section 321 shipments from January 1, 2019.

CBP broadened the scope of the 321 Data Pilot last month, shortly after the pilot was launched in August, to include ocean shipments and international mail which weren’t included in the original plan.

“Combined with the exponential growth of the online shopping market in the US over the past five years, CBP has seen a significant increase in small, low-value packages,” said the agency in a statement.

“Today, CBP processes more than 600 million express consignment and international mail shipments a year – approximately 1.8m a day. The unprecedented growth in volume of these low-value shipments requires creative solutions to interdict illicit and dangerous products to enter the US.”

Source: article by Phil Taylor, Securityindustry.com, 20 January 2020

AU – Online tool to remove Trade Barriers in Africa goes live

An online platform developed by UNCTAD and the African Union to help remove non-tariff barriers to trade in Africa became operational on 13 January.

Traders and businesses moving goods across the continent can now instantly report the challenges they encounter, such as quotas, excessive import documents or unjustified packaging requirements.

The tool, tradebarriers.africa, will help African governments monitor and eliminate such barriers, which slow the movement of goods and cost importers and exporters in the region billions annually.

An UNCTAD report shows that African countries could gain US$20 billion each year by tackling such barriers at the continental level – much more than the $3.6 billion they could pick up by eliminating tariffs.

“Non-tariff barriers are the main obstacles to trade between African countries,” said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, director of UNCTAD’s trade division.

“That’s why the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area depends in part on how well governments can track and remove them,” she said, referring to the agreement signed by African governments to create a single, continent-wide market for goods and services.

The AfCFTA, which entered into force in May 2019, is expected to boost intra-African trade, which at 16% is low compared to other regional blocs. For example, 68% of the European Union’s trade take place among EU nations. For the Asian region, the share is 60%.

The agreement requires member countries to remove tariffs on 90% of goods. But negotiators realized that non-tariff barriers must also be addressed and called for a reporting, monitoring and elimination mechanism.

The online platform built by UNCTAD and the African Union is a direct response to that demand.

Hands-on training

Complaints logged on the platform will be monitored by government officials in each nation and a special coordination unit that’s housed in the AfCFTA secretariat.

The unit will be responsible for verifying a complaint. Once verified, officials in the countries concerned will be tasked with addressing the issue within set timelines prescribed by the AfCFTA agreement.

Hands-on training

UNCTAD and the African Union trained 60 public officials and business representatives from across Africa on how to use the tool in December 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya.

They practiced logging and responding to complaints, in addition to learning more about non-tariff barriers and their effects on trade and business opportunities.

“The AfCFTA non-tariff barriers mechanism is a transparent tool that will help small businesses reach African markets,” said Ndah Ali Abu, a senior official at Nigeria’s trade ministry, who will manage complaints concerning Africa’s largest economy.

UNCTAD and the African Union first presented tradebarriers.africa in July 2019 during the launch of the AfCFTA’s operational phase at the 12th African Union Extraordinary Summit in Niamey, Niger.

Following the official presentation, they conducted multiple simulation exercises with business and government representatives to identify any possible operational challenges.

Lost in translation

One of the challenges was linguistic. Africa is home to more than 1,000 languages. So the person who logs a complaint may speak a different language from the official in charge of dealing with the issue.

Such would be the case, for example, if an English-speaking truck driver from Ghana logged a complaint about the number of import documents required to deliver Ghanaian cocoa to importers in Togo – a complaint that would be sent to French-speaking Togolese officials.

“For the online tool to be effective, communication must be instantaneous,” said Christian Knebel, an UNCTAD economist working on the project.

The solution, he said, was to add a plug-in to the online platform that automatically translates between Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Swahili – languages that are widely spoken across the continent. More languages are being added.

UNCTAD’s work on the AfCFTA non-tariff barriers mechanism is funded by the German government.

Source: UNCTAG.ORG, 17 January 2020

9/11 – 18 years on

WTC 6, home to the US Customs Service, New York until September 2001

As unrecognisable as the building is, the same can be said for the world of Customs today. Few contemplated a ‘Customs’ parallel at the time; but, when the Department of Homeland Security was launched, the emergence of US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) ushered in a new way of doing business. The world of Customs was literally ‘turned on its head’. Bilateral overtures seeking agreements on ‘container security’, ‘port security’ as well as an industry focussed ‘Customs and Trade Partnership Against Terrorism’ (C-TPAT) forced the World Customs Organisation (WCO) into swift action. After years of deliberation and negotiation several guidelines were released, later to be packaged as the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards. It seemed that the recent Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) on simplification and harmonisation of Customs procedures was already ‘dated’. Customs as a proud solo entity was gone for ever, as country after country seemed compelled to address border security through wholesale transformation and upheaval of their border frontier policies and structures. Thus was born ‘border security’ and ‘cooperative border management’. In a manner of speaking, 9/11 put Customs onto the global map. Along with WCO developments, the tech industries brought about several innovations for risk management and other streamlined and efficient service offerings. Prior to 9/11, only the wealthy countries could afford non-intrusive inspection capabilities. One key aspect of the SAFE Framework’s was to include a pillar on Capacity Building. Through this, the WCO and business partners are able to offer tailor-made assistance to developing countries, to uplift their Customs and border capabilities. In particular, countries in Africa now are now in a position to consider ‘automated’ capabilities in the area of Customs-2-Customs information exchange as well as establishment of national Preferred Trader and Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) schemes. At the same time a parallel industry of ‘Customs Experts’ is being developed in conjunction with the private sector. The end result is the availability of ‘standards’, ‘policies’ and ‘guidelines’ fit for Customs and Border operations, focussed on eliminating incompatibilities and barriers to trade. Where these exist, they are largely attributed to poor interpretation and application of these principles. With closer cooperation amongst various border authorities still a challenge for many countries, there are no doubt remedies available to address these needs. In gratitude, let us remember the thousands of public servants and civilians who lost their lives that we can benefit today.

USCBP seizes MSC Gayane with 18 tonnes of cocaine aboard

MSC Gayane

US customs officials seized a container ship financed by JPMorgan this week after authorities found nearly 18 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $1.3 billion in the vessel.

The drug bust on the Liberian-flagged MSC Gayane is surprising for several reasons. The sheer quantity of cocaine it was carrying, its links to JPMorgan, its presence in the US, and the recent string of West African drug busts are worth noting.

A container ship financed by JPMorgan was seized by US customs officials this week after authorities found nearly 18 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $1.3 billion on the vessel. The drug bust on the MSC Gayane is surprising for several reasons, outlined below.

The roughly 39,500 pounds, or 17.9 metric tons, of cocaine – about the same weight as three African bull elephants – found aboard the MSC Gayane outweighed the total amount of cocaine that passed through West Africa in 2013 and all of the cocaine seized across Africa from 2013 to 2016, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The vast quantity may reflect a supply glut. Global cocaine manufacturing surged by a quarter in 2016 to 1,410 tons, according to the World Drug Report 2018. The production boom is centered in Colombia, where cultivation of the coca plant rose 17% to 171,000 hectares in 2017, according to the UN.

The link between the MSC Gayane and JPMorgan may be the most surprising aspect of the drug bust.

The MSC Gayane is operated by the Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Co., but JPMorgan helped finance MSC’s purchase of the ship. The two reportedly structured the purchase so the ship was owned by client assets in a transportation strategy fund run for JPMorgan’s asset-management arm.

JPMorgan hasn’t yet publicly addressed its association with the vessel, and it has declined to comment to Markets Insider.

The MSC Gayane sailed under the flag of Liberia, a West African country. West Africa is a popular transit route for smugglers between South America and Europe because of its porous borders, weak rule of law, largely unmonitored coastline, and limited infrastructure and resources. The proportion of cocaine seizures in Africa accounted for by West Africa rose to 78% in 2016, “reflecting the rapidly growing importance of West Africa as a transit area,” the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said.

But there appears to be little drug smuggling between West Africa and the US, making the MSC Gayane drug bust highly unusual. Higher street prices and a lower risk of getting caught make Europe a more lucrative and attractive market than the US, the Nigerian drug smuggler Chigbo Umeh told The Guardian in 2015.

While notable, the ship’s flag doesn’t necessarily implicate Liberia.

“A Liberian registered ship is not in itself a link with the West Africa drug economy,” Mark Shaw, the director of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, said in an interview with Markets Insider. “Liberia serves as a flag state for much shipping.”

The drug bust on a Liberian-flagged vessel is the latest in a string of major seizures linked to West African countries this year.

In May 2018, Algerian officials seized more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine on a Liberian-registered container ship that was transporting frozen meat from Brazil, according to the BBC. In February of this year, Cape Verde officials found 21,000 pounds of cocaine, with a street value north of $700 million, on a Panamanian-flagged vessel. A month later, authorities in Guinea-Bissau notched their biggest-ever cocaine bust – and the country’s first in a decade – when they discovered more than 1,700 pounds of the drug hidden in a false bottom of a truck loaded with fish.

“There were doubts whether West Africa was still being used as a major transit route, but these seizures seem to suggest that there is a return,” Shaw said in an interview with Bloomberg in March. “It’s a surprise and it’s very significant.”

Source: The article was written by Theron Mohamed, Market Insider, 11 July 2019

WCO News – June 2019

Food tops EU customs’ counterfeit seizure list in 2017

TAXUDCustoms officers seized 31m counterfeit items at the EU’s borders last year worth more than €580m – with food, toys and cigarettes intercepted most frequently.

The total numbers of seized products has declined since 2016, but there is a worrying trend towards a higher proportion of potentially dangerous items such as food, medicines, electrical goods and toys, which accounted for 43 per cent of all detained goods. That’s up from 26 per cent in 2015 and 34 per cent in 2016.

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of the seizures were for foodstuffs, followed by toys making up 11 per cent, cigarettes at 9 per cent and clothes at 7 per cent of the total.

“The EU’s customs union is on the front line when it comes to protecting citizens from fake, counterfeit and sometimes highly dangerous goods,” said  Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs.

“Stopping imports of counterfeits into the EU also supports jobs and the wider economy as a whole,” he added. Given the increasingly likelihood that the UK will no longer be part of the customs union post-Brexit, it’s worth noting that UK customs seized almost 1.5m goods last year.

Once again, China and Hong Kong were the primary sources for the vast majority of illicit goods, at 73 and 10 per cent, respectively, with China down from 81 per cent in the prior year and Hong Kong up from around 8 per cent. Other countries have emerged as hot spots for particular product categories, however, with Moldova a source of illicit alcohol, the US for other fake beverages and Turkey for counterfeit clothing. India was the top country of origin for fake, and potentially harmful, medicines.

In terms of modes of transport, two thirds (65 per cent) of all detained articles entered the EU via the maritime route, usually in large consignments. This was followed by air traffic which transported 14 per cent, and courier/postal traffic which together accounted for 11 per cent and mainly involved consumer goods ordered online such as shoes, clothing, bags and watches.

The Commission said the downturn in seizures comes after it implemented new measures aimed at protecting intellectual property rights last year, with a particular emphasis on helping smaller companies and startups respond to breaches.

Source: Securingindustry.com, P.Taylor, 2018.09.27

WCO – Blockchain for Customs

WCO-Unveiling the Potential of Blockchain in CustomsThe World Customs Organization (WCO) has initiated work to identify possible case studies and uses of blockchain for Customs and other border agencies with a view to improving compliance, trade facilitation, and fraud detection (including curbing of illicit trade through the misuse of blockchains and Bitcoins), while touching on associated adjustments in legal and regulatory frameworks.

The objective of this research paper is to discuss ways in which Customs could leverage the power of blockchain and the extent to which the future of Customs could be shaped by the use of blockchain-based applications. Blockchain projects are currently in the beta testing phase in the finance sector (facilitating inter-banking system processes), insurance sector (preventing fraud and accelerating coverage) and international trade. With regard to the latter, this paper focuses its attention on two initiatives.

  • The first was launched by MAERSK-IBM as a global trade digitalization platform to which Customs administrations are expected to join.
  • A second initiative consists of an “information highway”, joining the National Trade Platform of Singapore and the Trade Finance Platform of Hong Kong, with a view to creating a Global Trade Connectivity Network (GTCN).

A conclusion that has been reached after discussion is that Customs would be able to have a broader and clearer picture of international trade particularly in terms of the movement of cargoes and consignments as being tied with the flow of capital. With blockchain-based applications, therefore, Customs could become a full-fledged border regulator with greater capabilities in the future.

Source: WCO, Y.Okazaki, June 2018

 

Ivory – Vietnam remains a threat to Elephants

Exposing the Hydra - IvoryDespite being the focus of numerous investigations and exposés regarding the country’s role in the international illegal wildlife trade, Vietnam continues to be a primary hub for ivory trafficking.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has released a report Exposing the Hydra: The growing role of Vietnamese syndicates in ivory trafficking documenting the findings of a two-year undercover investigation. (Download the full report at this hyperlink).

Investigators successfully infiltrated several ivory trafficking syndicates operating in Mozambique, South Africa, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, building a detailed picture of how these criminal organizations are structured, how they cooperate with one another and how they also traffic other endangered species such as rhinos and pangolins.

In contrast to China, which closed its domestic legal ivory market in January and stepped up enforcement against ivory trafficking, the Government of Vietnam has not demonstrated serious commitment to tackling wildlife crime, says the organization. Instead, the past decade has seen Vietnam serve as a prominent transit route for large ivory shipments to China as well as overseeing a growing carving industry and one of the world’s biggest markets for ivory sales.

The report states that since 2009, 56 tons of ivory have been seized in Vietnam and a further 20 tons linked to Vietnam seized in other countries. This is equivalent to ivory sourced from approximately 11,414 elephants.

EIA estimates that since 2015 the ivory traffickers identified during the course of their investigation have been linked to seizures totalling 6.3 tons of ivory and 299 kilograms of rhino horn, including the recent record seizure of 50 rhino horns in Malaysia in August 2018. Between January 2016 and November 2017 there were at least 22 successful shipments of ivory from Africa, with an estimated weight of 19 tons and potential revenue of $14 million.

Source: EIA International and Maritime Executive, 16 September 2018

Egypt foils attempt to smuggle 6 tons of cannabis from Syria

Egypt’s Ministry of Interior confirms that it has foiled a plot to smuggle a large shipment of cannabis weighing 6 tons into the country through the Mediterranean Sea on board a ship.

The Ministry said in an official statement that the efforts of its security services are continuing to abort the schemes of dangerous elements seeking to import and smuggle narcotics into Egypt.

It pointed out that early investigations of the General Directorate for Drug Control confirmed the intention of a gang to smuggle a large amount of cannabis stored in Syria to Egypt.

The crew of the ship managed to set sail from the Syrian port of Lattakia for landing off the coast of Egypt, but Egypt’s maritime security prevented them from doing so.

The ministry added that in light of the information available about the movement of the smugglers, they moved to the south of Crete to avoid arrest by the Egyptian authorities.

The ministry said that the concerned bodies coordinated with Greek authorities and provided them with information on the movements of the ship to be seized.

The coordination resulted in the Greek authorities seizing the ship and the cargo and arresting its crew of six persons with Syrian nationality.

The search of the ship resulted in the seizure of a total of 6 tons of cannabis hidden inside secret stores. Source: Egypt Independent, 9 December, 2017

U.S. Border Searches of Electronic Devices

Mobility concept

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Index, and National File Tracking System of Records, implemented new or modified uses of information maintained on individuals as they pass through the immigration process. The new requirements became effective as of 18 October 2017.

The new regulation updates the categories of individuals covered, to include: individuals acting as legal guardians or designated representatives in immigration proceedings involving an individual who is physically or developmentally disabled or severely mentally impaired (when authorized); Civil Surgeons who conduct and certify medical examinations for immigration benefits; law enforcement officers who certify a benefit requestor’s cooperation in the investigation or prosecution of a criminal activity; a­nd interpreters.

It also expands the categories of records to include: country of nationality; country of residence; the USCIS Online Account Number; social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results; and EOIR and BIA proceedings information.
The new regulation also includes updated record source categories to include: publicly available information obtained from the internet; public records; public institutions; interviewees; commercial data providers; and information obtained and disclosed pursuant to information sharing agreements.

With this latest expansion of data allowed to be collected, it begs the question: How does one protect sensitive data housed on electronic devices? In addition to inspecting all persons, baggage, and merchandise at a port-of-entry, CBP does indeed have the authority to search electronic devices too. CBP’s stance is that consent is not required for such a search. This position is supported by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has determined that such border searches constitute reasonable searches; and therefore, do not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment.

Despite this broad license afforded CBP at the port-of-entry, CBP’s authority is checked somewhat in that such searches do not include information located solely in the cloud. Information subject to search must be physically stored on the device in order to be accessible at the port-of-entry. Additionally, examination of attorney-client privileged communications contained on electronic devices first requires CBP’s consultation with Associate/Assistant Chief Counsel of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

So what may one do to prevent seizure of an electronic device or avoid disclosure of confidential data to CBP during a border search? The New York and Canadian Bar Associations have compiled the following recommendations:

  • Consider carrying a temporary or travel laptop cleansed of sensitive local documents and information. Access data through a VPN connection or cloud-based warehousing.
  • Consider carrying temporary mobile devices stripped of contacts and other confidential information. Have calls forwarded from your office number to the unpublished mobile number when traveling.
  • Back up data and shut down your electronic device well before reaching the inspection area to eliminate access to Random Access Memory.
  • Use an alternate account to hold sensitive information. Apply strong encryption and complex passwords.
  • Partition and encrypt the hard drive.
  • Protect the data port.
  • Clean your electronic device(s) following return.
  • Wipe smartphones remotely.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Source: article originally published by Mondaq.com, author: Cory, J (2017:11)