Embracing Blockchain for Cross-border Trade

In August of 2019, both the United States and Thailand announced their plans to test blockchain applications for tracking and managing shipments. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is planning to test a blockchain application against their current system to determine how distributed ledger technology (DLT) can improve its existing processes. Thailand, on the other hand, plans to use IBM’s blockchain-based logistics platform Tradelens to improve customs processes such as data sharing.

Originally developed in a joint venture between IBM and logistics giant Maersk, Tradelens seeks to streamline processes in the global shipping industry by making the flow of information occur in real-time. The blockchain platform is reported to currently process about half of the world’s shipping data.

These moves highlight countries’ increasing interest in employing blockchain technology in their customs and border operations. The Tradelens website says its ecosystem comprises over 100 different organizations including carriers, ports, terminal operators, third-party logistics firms, and freight forwarders. More specifically, a map on the Tradelens website suggests that about 60 ports and terminals worldwide are directly integrated with TradeLens.

Elsewhere, the Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD), which develops policies and operational systems for the European Customs Union, explored the applicability of blockchain in customs and taxation with a focus on utilizing blockchain as a notarization service.

The Union is looking into using blockchain to digitize ATA Carnet, an international customs document used in 87 countries for temporarily admitting goods duty-free. A pilot project conducted in collaboration with the International Chamber of Commerce World Chambers Federation (ICC WCF), was successfully tested in 2018. 

The ICC WCF, a body of the ICC that helps facilitate mutually beneficial partnerships between ICC members, has been working with different customs authorities to develop solutions for converting ATA Carnets into electronic documents.

About 80 countries around the world have developed authorized economic operator (AEO) programs and signed a mutual recognition agreement (MRA), all in an effort to streamline cargo security. Under such arrangements, individual countries identify and approve trustworthy logistics operators that pose a low risk in security and share the approval information with participating countries. 

This allows countries to piggyback on the security checks of other countries to make customs operations more efficient. However, a few problems have arisen with the program. 

  • There are information leakage risks associated with the conventional way of sharing AEO data by email. While a sender’s email server may be encrypted, there is no guarantee that the receiver’s is as well, and vice versa.
  • Data sharing is not real-time, but monthly or at an agreed-upon interval. This limits the speed at which information on new or suspended AEOs can reach all participants.

To avoid the aforementioned problems as well as achieve additional time and cost savings on security procedures, customs administrations in Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica are working with the Inter-American Development Bank to develop a blockchain application called Cadena.

The move by governments around the world to employ blockchain to improve cross-border trade marks a step toward paperless customs processes, which originally began with the digitization of information flows by making trade-related data and documents available and exchangeable electronically. For all the improvements they’ve brought to paper-heavy processes, traditional electronic data exchange systems still face the challenges of authenticity and the unavailability of real-time data exchange.

For instance, the Netherlands and China launched a five-year project in 2010 to test the applicability of electronic sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) certificates. A World Economic Forum white paper titled “Paperless Trading: How Does It Impact the Trade System?” noted that concerns around the authenticity of the electronic documents arose. This necessitated the adoption of electronic signature systems and a whole new legal framework that recognized the electronic signature.

Still, the entire process requires longer procedures and the introduction of new types of intermediaries — e-signature providers, for instance. Moreover, low-income countries, the trade costs of which remain high compared to high-income countries as according to World Bank data, may not have the budget to implement several new systems for data and document digitization. They still need to invest in better customs infrastructure. 

Blockchain, on the other hand, if implemented in border protection, will ensure real-time availability and immutability of customs documents while saving considerable costs on excessive paperwork.

Source: Original article titled: “Blockchain Adoption as a Cure for Cross-Border Trading“, authored by Craig Adeyanju, Cointelegraph.com, 2019.09.28

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SADC Border posts under the spotlight

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Land borders in the SADC region are critical zones for unlocking economic development, regional value chains and trade. In this light the Global Economic Governance Africa programme is working with the Zimbabwe Trade Forum and the University of Zambia to look at two case studies on the border regions around Beitbridge and Chirundu. The borders, between South Africa and Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwe and Zambia, represent critical links in the North-South Corridor and are vital in both regional development initiatives as well as bilateral ones between the countries.

The seminar, attended by trade experts, policy makers and researchers from South Africa and the region discussed the field research findings of a study at the Beitbridge and Chirundu border posts conducted on behalf of the programme in June 2018.

The following presentation documents should be of interest to all parties concerned with inter regional trade and trade facilitation development initiatives.

It is also worthwhile to visit Tutwa Consulting’s webpage as it explains how the surveys were conducted and provides salient features in relation to each of the border posts concerned which may not necessarily be apparent in the presentation documents as such.

Source: Tutwa Consulting

SA Documentary on Rhino Poaching wins International Award

STROOP – Journey into the Rhino Horn War, is getting a lot of attention all the way around the world at the moment and its clear to see why!

The film tells the shocking and touching story of the ongoing poaching of the rhinos and the trade in its coveted horn. Four years in the making, this labour of love saw de Bod and director Susan Scott sell their houses, leave their jobs and move in with their mothers in order to document what is happening in the fight to save the rhino from extinction.

The locally made documentary film, has just been awarded the 2018 Green Tenacity Award by the judges of the Eighth Annual San Francisco Green Film Festival, coming ahead of the film’s world premiere at the festival which will run from Thursday September 6 through to Friday, September 14. STROOP was one of 26 final films selected out of 350 submissions and one of five to win awards – a huge credit for producer, Bonné de Bod.

It was supposed to be a 6-month project but soon turned in to a dangerous and intense expedition for which the passionate duo often found themselves in immense danger. In an exclusive first, de Bod and Scott filmed special ranger units inside the world-famous Kruger National Park and at the home of the white rhino, the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park and travelled undercover to the dangerous back rooms of wildlife traffickers and dealers in China and Vietnam.

The result is a hard-hitting – and ultimately moving – documentary that challenges and shocks viewers.

Says Bonné “We are over the moon at receiving this prestigious award and it makes all our hard work and dedication to this film that much more worthwhile. Hopefully, it also means that the recognition will create additional awareness and encourage even more people to see the film when it releases.”

According to the festival’s criteria, the Green Tenacity Award is given to filmmakers “who show great tenacity in exploring crucial environmental issues in their work.”

Made solely with crowdfunding and grants – the film shows why this hunted and targeted species deserves to live in dignity, free from exploitation by illegal traders, poachers, money men and corrupt governments.

STROOP – Journey into the Rhino Horn War will premiere in South Africa in February 2019 after its film festival run overseas.

Source: sandtonchronicle.co.za, 22 August 2018.

Australia and Singapore sign Customs Mutual Recognition Agreement

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Companies that have been certified by the Singapore Customs for adhering to robust security practices can now enjoy a faster customs clearance process for goods that they export to Australia, the agency for trade facilitation and revenue enforcement said on Thursday.

In addition to the faster clearance process, certified Singapore firms will also be subject to reduced documentary and cargo inspections. The same will be applied to Australian companies that are certified by the Australian Border Force (ABF) for goods that they export to Singapore.

The move was recognised under a Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) of Authorised Economic Operator programmes signed by Singapore Customs and the ABF on May 31 that aims to foster closer customs collaboration and elevate bilateral trade ties between the two countries.

The MRA comes under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership signed between Singapore and Australia in 2015. In addition, Singapore is the first Asean country to sign an MRA with Australia.

In its media statement on Thursday, Singapore Customs said: “The Australia-Singapore MRA recognises the compatibility of the supply chain security measures implemented by companies certified under Singapore Customs’ Secure Trade Partnership (STP) programme and the trusted companies of the ABF’s Australian Trusted Trader programme.”

The agreement was signed on Thursday by Singapore’s director-general of customs, Ho Chee Pong, and the commissioner of ABF and comptroller-general of customs, Michael Outram, in Singapore.

Mr Ho said: “The signing of this MRA reinforces the commitment of both our customs administrations to maintain the security of regional and global supply chains, and to facilitate legitimate trade undertaken by Authorised Economic Operators in both countries.

“As major trading partners, I am confident that this new MRA of our respective Authorised Economic Operator programmes will bring about much benefit to our businesses and boost bilateral trade.”

The signing of the Authorised Economic Operator-MRA will further strengthen closer cooperation at the borders and smoothen the passage of goods between our two countries of trusted traders.

Source: The Business Times (Singapore), original article by Navin Sregantan, 31 May 2018

 

WCO News – February 2018

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This edition of WCO News features a special dossier on the theme chosen by the WCO for 2018, namely “A secure business environment for economic development”, with articles presenting initiatives and related projects that contribute to creating such an environment. The articles touch on authorized economic operators, national committees on trade facilitation, coordinated border management, performance measurement, e-commerce, data analysis, and partnerships with the private sector.

For sub-Saharan African readers, look out for the write up of the Customs systems interconnectivity and the challenges and opportunities for Customs administrations in the SACU region.

Other highlights include articles on Customs systems interconnectivity in the Southern African Customs Union, on the experience of a young Nigerian Customs officer who participated in the Strategic Management and Intellectual Property Rights Programme at Tokyo’s Aoyama Gakuin University, on how the WCO West and Central Africa region is using data to monitor Customs modernization in the region, and on the benefits that can be derived by facilitating transit procedures.

Source: WCO, February 2018

US-China: First Agricultural Commodity traded through Blockchain

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The first full agricultural commodity transaction using a blockchain platform has been completed by Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), Shandong Bohi Industry, ING, Societe Generale and ABN Amro.

The trade included a full set of digitalized documents (sales contract, letter of credit, certificates) and automatic data-matching, thus avoiding task duplication and manual checks. Time spent on processing documents and data was reduced five-fold. The companies involved said that other benefits included the ability to monitor the operation’s progress in real time, data verification, reduced risk of fraud and a shorter cash cycle.

In the test, the Easy Trading Connect platform was used to execute a soybean shipment transaction from the U.S. to China. The transaction involved user participation on the blockchain-based platform by teams from Louis Dreyfus Company as the seller and Bohi as the buyer, with banks issuing and confirming the letter of credit. Russell Marine Group and Blue Water Shipping also participated in the process, issuing all required certificates. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided valuable insights on how to include phyto-sanitary certificates in the process.

The Easy Trading Connect platform was first validated with an oil cargo transaction in February 2017, with the subsequent launch in November 2017 of an energy consortium aiming to offer blockchain-based services to the energy sector. The same principle was then applied to develop a blockchain-based platform tailored to agricultural commodities trading.

ING, Societe Generale, ABN Amro and other major industry players such as LDC have a long-term ambition to improve security and operational efficiency in the commodity trading and finance sector through digitalization and standardization.

“One thing is clear: the digital revolution is transforming the commodities sector,” said Gonzalo Ramírez Martiarena, Chief Executive Officer of LDC. “Distributed ledger technologies have been evolving rapidly, bringing more efficiency and security to our transactions, and immense expected benefits for our customers and everyone along the supply chain as a result. The next step is to harness the potential for further development through the adoption of common standards, and welcome a truly new era of digital trade flow management on a global level.”

Source: Maritime Executive, 3 January 2018 (Image credit: David Hundley (LDC)

Customs Community Adopts Resolution on Cross Border E-Commerce

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The WCO Policy Commission (PC) has seized the momentum garnered in the domain of electronic commerce and has unanimously adopted the Luxor Resolution at its meeting held this week from 4 to 6 December 2017 in the Egyptian city which gives its name to the Resolution.

The Resolution, developed in close collaboration with all stakeholders, outlines the guiding principles for cross-border E-Commerce addressing eight critical aspects, notably Advance Electronic Data and Risk Management; Facilitation and Simplification; Safety and Security; Revenue Collection; Measurement and Analysis; Partnerships; Public Awareness, Outreach and Capacity Building; and Legislative Frameworks.

The Resolution is aimed at helping Customs and other government agencies, businesses, and other stakeholders in the cross-border E-Commerce supply chain to understand, coordinate and better respond to the current and emerging challenges.

Additionally, and taking into consideration the relevance of the topic and the need to better position the work of the WCO and coordinate ongoing efforts, the PC has also issued a Communiqué to the Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11), the Organization’s highest decision-making body, attended by trade ministers and other senior officials from the WTO’s 164 Members, that will take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 10 to 13 December 2017.

The Communiqué strongly reaffirms the WCO’s leadership in providing policy and operational frameworks for the effective management of cross-border E-Commerce from both a facilitation and a control perspective, and clearly demonstrates its strong commitment to supporting the WTO’s Work Programme on E-Commerce, moving forward. Source: WCO 

  • Access the Resolution on Guiding Principles here!
  • Access the Communique here!
  • Visit the WCO’s Cross-Border E-Commerce webpage here!

Globalisation to give way to “localisation”

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Global trade has reached its peak and globalisation is giving way to localisation, which is one of the most “profound changes” currently facing the global economy, says Paul Donovan, global chief economist at UBS Wealth.

Accounting for about a quarter of the world’s GDP, global trade is at a record high. “This is as good as it gets. What we are now starting to see is localisation returning to the manufacturing sector,” Donovan said on Tuesday, speaking at a Sasfin Wealth event.

Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, collectively referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, mean that factories are mechanising, and are placed closer to companies’ consumer markets.

Swedish retailer H&M is using robotics, manufacturing most of its clothing in Europe, not Asia, enabling it to respond to consumer demand more effectively, Donovan said.

This allows the fast-fashion front-runner to quickly respond to consumer demand and even unseasonal weather.

“The fourth industrial revolution will dramatically alter investment, economics and society.”

At SA’s recent inaugural Singularity University event, disruption innovation expert David Roberts said that 40% of the S&P 500 companies would disappear in the next 10 years as exponential technologies disrupted a host of industries. The average lifespan of an S&P 500 company had decreased from 67 years to 15 years, he said.

While only about 9% of jobs would disappear altogether, automation and digitisation would affect about 40% of jobs, said Donovan. This would require people and companies to adapt to new ways of doing things.

“If your university degree is reliant on memorising a textbook, you are a low-skilled worker. We need companies and countries with workforces that are flexible.”

Donovan predicted a return to the imperial model of trade, where raw materials and intellectual property were imported, while “everything else” happened close to the consumer. “Raw materials will still be globalised, but finished products will be declining as a force for global trade in the years ahead.”

Source: Originally published in Business Day, Ziady. H, September 6, 2017. Globalisation gives way to localisation, in profound change, UBS economist says.

Transfer Pricing – the culprit in base erosion and profit shifting

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Tax collection from transfer pricing audits has become more common in Africa, with little sign that it will abate in the near future.

The transfer pricing policies of many multinational companies have attracted widespread attention in the recent past, to the extent that it is considered the “criminal child of tax”.

Transfer pricing is the way a company prices goods and services supplied to a company within the same group. The price should be aligned to a price that the company would offer to a third party.

Nishana Gosai, senior transfer pricing executive at Baker McKenzie, and former head of the transfer pricing unit at the South African Revenue Service (SARS), says that despite having transfer policies in place, most large multinational companies find it difficult to control every aspect of its business. There is a rising perception that transfer-pricing transgressions are criminal and should be met with criminal sanction.

In Tanzania, failure to keep transfer pricing documentation is considered an offence. The punishment is a fine of $30,000 or six months’ imprisonment, or both.

In SA, the revenue authority settled a transfer-pricing dispute with a subsidiary of Kumba Iron Ore to the tune of R2.5bn in 2016. The initial assessment was R6.5bn.

In Tanzania, a large mining company recently received a $190bn tax assessment.

Transfer pricing has been regarded as the major culprit in base erosion and profit shifting (Beps) in which profits are shifted from high-tax jurisdictions to lower tax jurisdictions to limit a global group’s tax exposure.

Gosai emphasises that transfer pricing is not an exact science. It requires judgment and discretion. No one can define the exact price. Finding middle ground requires pragmatism. Information is important in any transfer-pricing dispute, but it seems the burden of proof is becoming insurmountable, she says.

“We are moving into a space where tax administrations are demanding documented proof and evidence to substantiate routine commercial realities,” Gosai says.

Andrew Wellsted, head of the tax team at Norton Rose Fulbright, says that if a company’s affairs or record-keeping are not up to scratch, it faces a long, time-consuming process of getting what the revenue authorities require.

If taxpayers have followed incorrect practices, knowingly or otherwise, it will expose them to tax liabilities and potential disputes. Irrespective of any actual legislative changes, 93% of respondents believe that tax authorities will increase tax audit assessments as a result of proposed Beps initiatives.

“If the audit is conducted in an aggressive fashion, it can be very disruptive to the day-to-day operations of the taxpayer. This needs to be carefully managed by taxpayers and the authorities,” says Wellsted.

Deloitte recently published its survey on the views of multinational companies regarding the greater interest in “responsible tax” and Beps among the media, and political and activist groups.

In the 2017 survey, 460 people in 38 countries responded. The results show that respondents are expecting a major effect on their compliance requirements due to the additional reporting requirements arising from the Beps action plans developed and published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The survey shows that 94% of the respondents believe that the additional transfer-pricing reporting requirements will substantially increase their compliance burden when it comes to corporate tax.

More than 90% of the respondents agree that tax structures are under greater scrutiny by tax administrations than a year ago.

“Irrespective of any actual legislative changes, 93% of respondents believe that tax authorities will increase tax audit assessments as a result of proposed Beps initiatives,” Deloitte’s survey found.

Gosai says many multinationals make the mistake of not fully understanding what they are submitting to a revenue authority, the context of such submissions, the potential ways that it could be interpreted by a revenue official and, most importantly, that once submitted, such disclosures cannot be retracted.

Companies tend to over-comply when faced with a request for information from SARS, especially if it is not specific about its scope. There is a danger that information offered by the taxpayer that is not relevant to the question asked may lead to further questions or may create the wrong impression.

Most tax disputes turn either on a legal interpretation of legislation, or a factual issue. The dispute is often centred on whether or not an arm’s-length price (the price offered to an unconnected third party) has been charged.

“This involves complex and detailed economic analysis and is invariably very subjective,” Wellsted says.

“Thus finding the objectively right answer as to what an arm’s-length price could be, is almost impossible,” he says.

Source: Originally published in Business Day, Visser. A, published as “Multinationals face quandary over transfer pricing”, September 6, 2017.

Chamber of Mines goes after UNCTAD over faulty trade misinvoicing report

Chamber of Mines

The report claimed there was widespread misinvoicing in primary commodities in developing countries, including South Africa.

The Chamber of Mines on Tuesday called on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to withdraw its report on trade misinvoicing and acknowledge its shortcomings, saying that the prestigious agency had failed to collect its data accurately.

This comes after the Chamber released the third and final report in a series commissioned to examine the July 2016 UNCTAD report that claimed there was widespread misinvoicing in primary commodities in developing countries, including South Africa.

Also read Maya Forestater’s blog post Misinvoicing or misunderstanding? for an incisive explanation regarding the UN’s claims in its recent report Trade Misinvoicing in Primary Commodities in Developing Countries.

The UNCTAD report titled “Trade Misinvoicing in Primary Commodities in Developing Countries: The cases of Chile, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia”, claimed to have found widespread under-invoicing which, it alleged, was designed by commodities producers to evade tax and other entitlements due to the fiscal authorities.

UNCTAD said some commodity dependent developing countries were losing as much as 67 percent of their exports worth billions of dollars to trade misinvoicing.

For South Africa, the report calculated cumulative under-invoicing over the period 2000-2014 to have amounted to U.S.$102.8 billion; which was U.S.$620 million for iron ore, U.S.$24 billion for silver and platinum, and U.S.$78.2 billion for gold.

UNCTAD revised the report in December, though its fundamentals remained unchanged.

The Chamber of Mines also commissioned Eunomix to compile its own reports which were published in December and February respectively, focusing on UNCTAD’s gold scenarios.

The third report, which was published on Tuesday, deals with the other commodities.

The Chamber said in terms of gold, the UNCTAD study methodology compared reported exports by product and country of destination with the reported imports of the products by those same countries, and did not use other widely available data, including that of Statistics SA and the Reserve Bank.

The Chamber also dismissed all other UNCTAD findings in terms of silver and platinum, and iron ore.

The Chamber said all the factors that UNCTAD did not consider reinforced the point made in the earlier Eunomix reports regarding the lack of rigour and unreliable methodologies used in UNCTAD’s report.

“This is extremely unfortunate given the levels of credence that tend to be given to reports of this UN agency. Accusations of extensive misinvoicing and other illicit financial flows are feeding a growing lack of trust between key stakeholders in the mining industry,” the Chamber said.

“The Chamber of Mines again calls on UNCTAD to withdraw this report and acknowledge its shortcomings.” Source: The Citizen, Business News, 22 Aug, 2017. [Picture: Chamber of Mines]

AGOA – a Poisoned Chalice?

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“Is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) always a poisoned chalice from the United States of America?”, asks an editorial in The East African. The Kenya newspaper suggests it appeared to be so after the US allowed a petition that could see Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda lose their unlimited opening to its market.

This follows the US Trade Representative assenting last week to an appeal by Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, a used clothes lobby, for a review of the three countries’ duty-free, quota-free access to the country for their resolve to ban importation of used clothes, the The East African continues.

The US just happens to be the biggest source of used clothes sold in the world. Some of the clothes are recycled in countries like Canada and Thailand before being shipped to markets mostly in the developing world.

In East Africa, up to $125 million is spent on used clothes annually, a fifth of them imported directly from the US and the bulk from trans-shippers including Canada, India, the UAE, Pakistan, Honduras and Mexico.

The East Africa imports account for 22 percent of used clothes sold in Africa. Suspending the three countries from the 2000 trade affirmation would leave them short of $230 million in foreign exchange that they earn from exports to the US.

That would worsen the trade balance, which is already $80 million in favour of the US. In trade disputes, numbers do not tell the whole story. Agoa now appears to have been caught up in the nationalism sweeping across the developed world and Trumponomics.

US lobbies have been pushing for tough conditions to be imposed since it was enacted, including the third country rule of origin which would require that apparel exports be made from local fabric.

The rule, targeted at curbing China’s indirect benefits from Agoa through fabric sales, comes up for a legislative review in 2025, making it prudent for African countries to prepare for the worst. Whether that comes through a ban or phasing out of secondhand clothing (the wording that saved Kenya from being listed for a review) is immaterial.

What is imperative is that African countries have to be resolute in promoting domestic industries. In textiles and leather, for instance, that effort should include on-farm incentives for increasing cotton, hides and skins output, concessions for investments in value-adding plants like ginneries and tanneries and market outlets for local textile and shoe companies.

The world over, domestic markets provide the initial motivation for production before investors venture farther afield. Import bans come in handy when faced with such low costs of production in other countries that heavy taxation still leaves those products cheaper than those of competitors in the receiving countries.

The US has also been opposed to heavy taxation of used clothes, which buyers say are of better quality and more durable. For Kenya to be kept out of the review, it had to agree to reduce taxes on used apparel.

These factors have left Agoa beneficiaries in a no-win situation: Damned if you ban, damned if you do not. With their backs to the wall, beneficiaries like Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda have to think long term in choosing their industrial policies and calling the US bluff.

Beneficiaries must speak with one voice to effectively guard against trade conditions that over time hamper domestic industrial growth. Source: The East African, Picture: US GAO

Highlights – WCO Global Conference on Transit

WCO Transit GuidelinesYes, the info junkie I am – this is what I was really after! The WCO chose to delay the real stuff. The WCO has published its Transit Guidelines, and a substantial compendium its is. Click here to access/download the file (5,4MB)! The WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, has noted the possibility of developing a separate publication on transit encompassing national or regional best practices.

At the recent conference on transit, particular attention was given to the difficulties faced by landlocked developing countries.  During a special session on the issue, the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), several concrete suggestions were made on how to turn land-lockedness into land-linkedness.  The Director General of Paraguay Customs indicated that trade transactions in his country incur 30% additional costs due to Paraguay’s geographical limitations.  The Representative from UN-OHRLLS confirmed that on average, LLDCs bear up to 40 % additional costs on trade transactions.  The investment being made in hard infrastructure, such as roads, rail infrastructure, intermodal logistical hubs and dry inland ports, remains one of the main priorities in order to improve the situation.  Participants confirmed the need for harmonization and simplification of border control procedures, as well as the promotion of ICT for the management of transit systems.  This is of significant importance to LLDCs in Africa of which there are eight!.

Representatives from  several of Africa’s Regional Economic Communities present at the Conference, such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), also highlighted the need to ensure that establishment functioning legal frameworks are in place to address the main challenges of regional transit regimes.

The use of existing information and communication technology (ICT) solutions was also raised at the Conference.  Today, numerous technologies are available to secure the movement of goods, such as electronic Customs seals which are actively used on containers transported from China to Europe and have proved to be reliable and efficient.  The regional electronic tracking system used for goods transiting between Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda was also mentioned as a successful project resulting from cooperation between neighbouring Customs administrations.  The Representative from ECOWAS informed participants that work has started to connect the IT systems of ECOWAS Members.  Regarding the challenges related to interconnectivity, the benefits of global implementation of the WCO Data Model were pointed out.

Railway transport is playing an increasingly important role in moving goods between countries in Eurasia, as explained by the Representatives from China and Russia Customs as well as the Representative from the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF).  It was pointed out that block trains now bring goods from China to Europe through Russia and Central Asian countries within a fortnight; four times faster than via maritime routes.  It is worth nothing that in the absence of a global instrument regulating the movement of trains across borders, which would obviously be of benefit to transit operations, bilateral agreements are the norm.

Transit systems, such as the European Union’s New Computerised Transit System (NCTS), the Convention on International Transport of Goods Under Cover of TIR Carnets (TIR Convention) and relatively new transit facilitation initiatives in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), were also discussed in detail.  Turkey, a user of two transit systems – NCTS and TIR – highlighted the importance of digitalization of the transit processes and explained its involvement in the e-TIR project aimed at providing an exchange platform for all actors (Customs authorities, holders and guarantee chains) involved in the TIR system.  In this regard, Turkey has participated in two pilot projects with two neighbouring countries, namely Georgia and Iran. Source: the WCO

WCO Data Model – speaking the ‘Global Customs Language’ in the Maluti’s

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At least 30 representatives of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recently met in Maseru – capital of the ‘Mountain Kingdom’ – Lesotho, to undertake a 5-day training workshop on the WCO Data Model, between 29 May to 2 June.

The training formed part of capacity building support to Member States to implement IT connectivity and information exchange between SACU Customs Administration. The training was facilitated by WCO Data Model Expert, Mr Carl Wilbers from South African Revenue Service (SARS) and GEFEG.FX software tool Expert, Mr. Martin Krusch from GEFEG, Germany.

The recent ratification of Annex E to the SACU agreement – on the use of Customs-2-Customs (C-2-C) Data Exchange between member states – paves the way for participating countries to exchange data within the terms of the agreement on the basis of the GNC Utility Block, also greed to by the respective member states. It also coincides with recent work on the establishment of a SACU Unique Consignment Reference (UCR) which must be implemented by the SACU countries in all export and transit data exchanges between themselves, respectively.

Just recently, in May 2017, the heads of SACU Customs administrations were presented a prototype demonstration of data exchange between the respective systems of the South African Revenue Service and the Swaziland Revenue Authority.

The WCO Data Model provides a maximum framework of standardized and harmonized sets of data and standard electronic messages (XML and EDIFACT) to be submitted by Trade for Cross-Border Regulatory Agencies such as Customs to accomplish formalities for the arrival, departure, transit and release of goods, means of transport and persons in international cross border trade.

The course was extremely comprehensive, providing SACU customs users the full spectrum of the power and capability which the GEFEG.FX software tool brings to the WCO’s Data Model. GEFEG is also the de facto Customs data modelling and data mapping tool for several customs and border authorities worldwide. It significantly enhances what was once very tedious work and simplifies the process of mapping data, ensuring that the user maintains alignment and consistency with the most up-to-date version of WCO data model. One of the more significant capabilities of the GEFEG.FX software is its reporting and publishing capability. For examples of this please visit the CITES electronic permitting toolkit and the EU Customs Data Model webpages, respectively. Pretty awesome indeed!

Users had the opportunity of mapping the SACU agreed data fields both manually as well as using the tool. The SACU group was able to add additional enhancements to its agreed data model, providing an added benefit of the work session.

“The Wall” – USCBP extends notices for expression of interest

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The notices detailing President Donald Trump’s promise to build a “big, attractive wall” were made public late Friday (3 April 2017) by Customs and Border Protection. The request from the Customs and Border Protection Department called for a 30-ft-high wall, but said that plans to build a wall minimum 18 ft in height may be acceptable.

“The north side of wall (i.e. USA facing side) shall be aesthetically pleasing in color, anti-climb texture, etc., to be consistent with general surrounding environment”, reads the RFP. In the documents, CBP says that the side facing the US must also be “aesthetically pleasing” in “color, anti-climb texture etc., to be consistent with general surrounding environment”.

And that’s before a new Trump budget, which came out Thursday, includes $2.6 billion over two years to begin construction of the wall. The government is asking for a 9-meter-high concrete barrier, extending 2 meters underground, built to be “physically imposing” and capable of resisting nearly any attack, “by sledgehammer, vehicle jack, pickaxe, chisel, battery-operated impact tools, battery-operated cutting tools [or] oxy/acetylene torch”.

Earlier this week Mexican lawmakers increased pressure on Mexican construction firms tempted to help build deeply reviled wall.

The proposal document asks contractors for 30-foot-long prototypes and mock-ups of 10 feet by 10 feet. Although Trump made it a centerpiece of his presidential campaign to get the Mexican government tol pay for the wall, expectations are low that the U.S.’s southern neighbor will give money while it’s being built or afterwards.

The specifications leave almost all of the design work to interested bidders, who now have about two weeks to develop and submit their plans, known as proposals. Trump called for the wall to stop illegal immigration into the United States from Mexico and to cut off drug-smuggling routes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said in January that the wall would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion, though other estimates have put the price tag as high $25 billion.

There was some misplaced optimism that Donald Trump would immediately jettison all of his inane campaign promises upon taking office; that the threat of a wall at the Mexican border would be quietly tabled for its obvious insanity.

Proponents of a wall make two questionable assumptions: First, that there will be a continued north flow of refugees. Friday’s release did not address the overall cost of the wall. The city of Berkeley, California, said last week it would refuse to do business with any company that’s part of the border wall. The cost of about 1,000 miles of wall could cost $21.6 billion between now and 2020. Published on Aliveforfootbal website

WCO – Study Report on E-Commerce

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 13.18.00The recent WCO publication of a Study Report on E-Commerce is based on a short survey answered by the Organization’s Members. The Report compiles Customs administrations’ practices as well as their ongoing and/or future initiatives related to the processing of cross-border low-value e-commerce.

Current practices, issues and challenges as well as initiatives and potential solutions are presented in each of the survey sections: Facilitation; Risk Management; Data Exchange/Cooperation with E-Commerce Operators; Control and Enforcement; Revenue Collection. Case studies are also widely used throughout the document to illustrate specific practices.

The survey was undertaken as part of the WCO Work Plan on Cross-Border E-Commerce aimed at addressing cross-cutting issues in relation to e-commerce and coming up with practical solutions for the facilitated clearance of low-value shipments, including appropriate duty/tax collection mechanisms and control procedures.

An overview of the WCO’s work so far, including tools, reports and interim recommendations issued by the WCO Working Group on E-Commerce (WGEC), as well as work to be completed in the future, is available here. Source: WCO