Archives For Customs Academia

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This initiative brings together the foremost experts in Customs matters to meet the demands of a complex international and cross-border trading system. Business professionals, Customs managers and administrators, border agency officials, international organization representatives and academia will benefit from the intensive interactive discussions of the most pertinent topics in the Customs environment today.

The courses will be led by technical experts widely respected in their various fields and will also include instructors from private sector companies, government institutions, and academia. The primary objective of the WCO Knowledge Academy for Customs and Trade is to provide an intense training for Customs and Business practitioners.

The Academy is open to all interested participants. Registration is free for one participant from each WCO Member administration. Additional participants from Member administrations, and non-WCO Member participants are subject to a fee. The Public Sector learning track will have interpretation in English and in French.

Why attend?  

  • Gain in-depth knowledge of the WCO’s tools and instruments
  • Express business needs and expectations on core Customs issues
  • Share knowledge, know-how and expertise with participants
  • Be part of a vital Customs-Business knowledge network.

Visit the WCO Knowledge Academy for Customs and Trade webpage for up-coming details of itinerary and programme.

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As part of its Capacity Building programme, the WCO organized a Leadership and Management Development (LMD) workshop from 14 until 25 November 2016 in Pretoria, South Africa. Nineteen middle managers of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) were inspired to strengthen their leadership and management capacities, as well as their personal effectiveness to drive reforms within their organization. The workshop was made possible with the support of the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

During a meeting with a delegation of executive management at the end of the LMD workshop, participants were invited to not only implement their newly acquired skills and insights in their own units, but to also continue learning and developing themselves as well as the whole organization. A first follow-up meeting to that end was immediately planned.

In the LMD workshop participants learned that knowing yourself and self-awareness, managing strategically, people management, outstanding communication skills and change management are very important to address SARS’ future challenges. The participating managers were extremely participative and showed a strong motivation and commitment to know, improve and manage themselves, in order to have a great and positive impact on others, as well as on the organization. With personal testimonies at the end of the workshop participants demonstrated their motivation to bridge the gap between policy making and organization-wide implementation of changes.

In the near future SARS will implement its own Leadership and Management Development programme. For further development as a regional centre of expertise in this LMD domain SARS and WCO plan to strengthen their cooperation.

For more information on the WCO Leadership and Management Development Programme, please contact Capacity.Building@wcoomd.org. Source: WCO

chinas-second-continent-howard-frenchFormer US Diplomat Brooks Spector takes a look at this important book (Daily Maverick) that should be on every economic policy maker’s reading list. Howard French’s China’s Second Continent, offers a very different – and provocative – perspective on China’s economic future, with special attention on Africa. Building on years of experience in both China and Africa, and following months of personal inquiry across the continent to search for answers to the questions of what China really wants in Africa, and how it is going to get there, French has effectively turned these questions on their head.

Instead of writing about China’s international economic policies in the language of the think tanks, of Wall Street and The City, or government councils in Whitehall or Washington, French has focused instead on what a million individual Chinese have done – or are now doing – throughout Africa, almost without regard to what the Chinese government may have planned or been thinking. In tackling the topic through this optic, French has given this vast Chinese movement into and across Africa crucial human dimensions. For the full review please visit this hyperlink. China’s Second Continent is available in hardcopy and electronic publication from online book stores. Source: Daily Maverick

20140827%20154452At the invitation of the “Institut de l’Entreprise” in the framework of its programme “Entretiens Enseignants-Entreprises”, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya spoke at the Summer University’s conference entitled “La croissance en question(s)” (growth into question(s)) in the Veolia Campus, Jouy-le-Moutier, France on 27 August 2014.

Supported by the French ministry of Education and the Council of Economic Analysis, this forum gives the opportunity to high school teachers in economics and social sciences to exchange views with the business world. It also provides them with an opportunity to update their knowledge on current economic issues benefiting from the attendance of renowned economists and prominent business leaders.

260 High school teachers participated in the event and listened to a panel session on poverty reduction during which Secretary General Mikuriya explained the contribution of Customs through enhancing connectivity at the borders to secure and facilitate global supply chain. They were eager to understand how the WCO and Customs could play a significant role in trade facilitation to convey the messages to their classrooms. Source: WCO

WCOThe first World Customs Organization (WCO) East and Southern Africa (ESA) Research Conference took place in Harare, Zimbabwe on 4-5 June 2014. The event was organized by the WCO ESA Regional Office for Capacity Building (ROCB) and hosted by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) provided funding.

Opening remarks were delivered by Ms. Christine Msemburi, the Executive Director for the WCO ESA ROCB in Nairobi, Kenya; Mrs. Anna Mutobodzi, the Acting Commissioner General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority; Mr. Happias Kuzvinzwathe, Customs Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority; Mr. Robert Ireland, the Head of the WCO Research Unit in Brussels, Belgium; and Professor C. Hope Sadza, Founder and Founding Vice Chancellor of the Women’s University of Africa.

Following their selection in response to a Call for Papers, eight research papers were presented at the conference by representatives of Customs administrations, the private sector, and academia from the ESA region. The research focused on topics linked to trade facilitation, including information and communications technology (ICT), risk management, transit systems, measurement, and Customs-Business partnerships. The research papers will be consolidated and published in an e-book.

The work of the researchers was supervised by Mr. Creck Buyonge, Adjunct Associate Professor (Revenue & Customs) at the Centre for Customs & Excise Studies, University of Canberra, and Mr. Mark Goodger a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban) and the University of Cape Town.

Ms. Msemburi congratulated the researchers for their sustained efforts and contributions to building knowledge on Customs matters in the region. “We need to be ruthless and honest as we write about ourselves so that we build a factual body of knowledge in Customs for East & Southern Africa” said Ms. Msemburi.

Mr. Ireland commended Ms. Msemburi for her leadership in organizing the conference. “This successful event is another step forward for the global Customs community in conducting research through systematic inquiry and consideration of local conditions in order to better inform policy formulation and implementation” said Mr. Ireland. Source: WCO

Cahir Castle Portcullis by Kevin King

Cahir Castle Portcullis by Kevin King

The traditional symbol of customs and borders services is the portcullis – the fortification through which a ship used to enter a port. But as developing countries are increasingly asked to recognise the benefits of liberalised trade to the detriment of their import duty revenue, how can they be helped to raise the portcullis? And is it really in their interests to do so?

With world trade growth expanding more than twice as rapidly as gross domestic product (GDP) over the past decade, says Steve Brady, director, Customs and Trade Facilitation for development consultancy Crown Agents, the potential rewards from participating in world trade are significant. “According to figures from WTO, in 2011 world merchandise exports and imports in real terms grew by over 5%. As a result, each reached over $1.8tn, the highest level in history.”

The major players working with developing country governments to help them benefit from this increase in trade include the World Bank, ICC, World Customs Organisation (WCO), IMF, UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), development banks and specialist intermediaries such as Crown Agents.

A number of countries have improved their capacity as a result of international and domestic efforts, yet some are still hesitant to do so. The Centre for Customs and Excise Studies (CCES) at the University of Canberra finds that many developing country governments are heavily dependent on the revenue from import duties – in some cases this can be as high as 70% of a country’s total revenue base. The desire to protect this is understandably strong. Yet this same desire can be used to drive forward modernisation efforts, explains Professor David Widdowson, CEO of CCES. “Revenue leakage resulting from commercial fraud, poor customs and border procedures and corruption represents a major impediment to poverty reduction.”

Similarly time-consuming manual processing systems, over-regulation, or outright corruption, will discourage trade and investment and further undermine a country’s development. “In the worst cases up to 20 signatures are required to obtain customs clearance of goods, all of which require ‘informal payments’,” says Widdowson. “I have also seen examples of 15 different government agencies playing some role at the border, all acting independently.”

Guidelines or blueprints to modernise such customs and borders processes are available, for example, via the revised Kyoto convention (extolling the basic principles of automation, simplification, responsiveness to the regulation, consistency and co-ordination); the “Framework of standards to secure and facilitate global trade” developed by the WCO; and its “Columbus programme.”

Turkey is cited by Sandeep Raj Jain, economic affairs officer at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), as a case study for the successful modernisation of customs systems, having consolidated 18 previously autonomous border gates and introduced a single IT clearance system, leading to an increase in tax revenues and a decrease in clearance time to the benefit of incoming and outgoing trade. Angola increased receipts sixteen-fold from $215.45m in 2000 (£148m) to $3,352m in 2011 through an improved National Customs Service and the introduction of an automated entry processing system and customs clearance Single Administrative Document.

The African Development Bank also supported post-conflict Liberia with the extension of an automated system for customs data, helping to reduce the time to clear goods at the port from 60 days to less than 10 days and increase revenue collection at three ports from about $4m a month to $10m-$12m. This, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia has said, given the government additional scarce revenues to invest in the projects to improve the livelihoods of people.

Horror stories also abound of revenue loss, acting as a cautionary tale for leaving outdated customs processes untouched. A World Bank report, for example, finds that in Algeria smuggling caused a loss to the public exchequer rising from DA18bn in 2006 ($237m) to over DA61bn in 2011.

The message from the international community is that improved, automated and transparent customs services not only help eradicate theft and corruption, but also increase revenue through increased trade. Any fall in revenue from import tariffs due to signing up to bilateral free trade agreements can also be offset, says Bijal Tanna of Ernst & Young LLP: “One only has to look at the take-up of VAT by countries since the 1980s to understand that there is a consumer tax outlet to offset any loss of revenue from customs duty reductions. Back in the late 1980s, approximately 50 countries had VAT, now it is in place in over 150 countries.”

However, these arguments don’t always reach an appreciative audience. “In my experience”, says Widdowson, “economies may give lip service to the trade facilitation agenda, including entering into free trade agreements, but still expect their customs administration to collect traditional levels of duty. For example, with the introduction of free trade arrangements – hence falling duty rates – and a downturn in international trade, the Philippines continues to increase the ‘revenue targets’ of its bureau of customs, the derivation of which appears to be devoid of any analytical rigour.” (emphasis – mine)

Tanna also points to the collapse of the Doha round of the WTO negotiations heralding a breakdown in efforts to find a single global platform to drive a uniform approach to trade liberalisation. Perhaps it is the obligation of the international community to renew such efforts, alongside projects to improve customs systems in-country. Source: Original article by Tim Smedley of The Guardian

Coat_of_arms_of_South_Africa_svgGovernment Communication and Information (GCIS) has published a statement on Cabinet’s recent meeting (26 June 2013) revealing at least three key aspects affecting SARS as well as external stakeholders involved in or impacted by Customs business. An excerpt of the statement follows below.

Cabinet approved the submission of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Trade in Services to Parliament for ratification, in accordance with section 231 of the Constitution. The objectives of the Protocol are to liberalise intra-regional trade in services on the basis of equity, balance and mutual benefit. This Protocol also sets out a framework for the liberalisation of trade in services between SADC member states and serves as a basis for negotiations.

Cabinet approved the implementation steps proposed for the establishment of a Border Management Agency (BMA).  The BMA would manage migration, customs and land border line control services and efficiently coordinate the service of all departments in ports of entry. The Department of Home Affairs will be the lead Department in establishing the BMA.

Finally, and for some a contentious issue, Cabinet also approved the Customs Control Bill (CCB), the Customs Duty Bill, 2013 (CDB) and the Customs and Excise Amendment Act, 2013 (CEAA) for submission to Parliment.  The Bills provide a foundation for the facilitation of international trade and protection of the economy and society, thereby creating a balance between customs control and trade facilitation. Source: GCIS

Over 230 delegates representing WCO Members, the academic world, international organizations, the private sector, donor organizations and other interested parties attended the 7th WCO Conference on the Partnership in Customs Academic Research and Development (PICARD) hosted by the University of Cadi Ayyad in partnership with Morocco Customs and the WCO in Marrakesh, Morocco from 25-27 September 2012.

The Conference was co-chaired by Prof. Michael Wolffgang, University of Münster, and Prof. M’barek Benchanaa and Prof. Abdullah Ait Ouahman from the University of Cadi Ayyad. The Conference focused on three main topics: The Impact of Regional Economic Integration and Preferential Trade Arrangements on Customs Services; Emerging and Evolving Risks; and Customs Strategic Human Resource Management.

The WCO PICARD Programme was officially launched in 2006 to strengthen co-operation between the WCO, universities, and Customs human resources entities such as Customs Academies. The programme’s objective is to provide a platform where stakeholders can co-operate, collaborate, and contribute to two main pillars: (1) Customs professionalism and (2) Customs-related research.

Key PICARD achievements include adopting the PICARD Professional Standards for operational and strategic Customs managers; holding six successful PICARD Conferences; and publishing many Customs-related research papers in the World Customs Journal. Moreover, a growing number of universities have obtained WCO recognition of their Customs-related academic curriculums.

The PICARD Conference has become an annual meeting place for Customs officers, Customs human resource professionals, and academics to network and exchange ideas on Customs professionalism and Customs-related research. It is an opportunity for Customs academies and the WCO Regional Training Centres to glean new ideas on human resource development. At each conference, research papers are presented; this year, papers will be presented on regional economic integration, emerging and evolving risks, and human resource management.

The dearth in Customs expertise has become an international phenomenon, and South Africa is no exception. Locally based training organisation, GMLS, has been working with the University of Kwazulu Natal, Durban and UCT in Cape Town and in Durban specifically it is expected after council of Higher education approval next year that we will be offering a full masters Degree in Customs for the first time in South Africa as a MCom Customs and Excise, says GMLS CEO Mark Goodger. GMLS is a WCO E learning trainer, an ICC accredited trainer and an approved TETA (Transport Education Training Authority Trainer).

Mark was invited as a guest speaker to this year’s Picard Conference. He explained that the WCO arranged presentations to  stimulate discussions and guidance required from the WCO in the future. Along with South Africa, presentations were also delivered by Finland, Canadian and Moroccan Customs training experts in the results of research and the status in SADC countries of recognised accredited training frameworks which can be utilized by Customs worldwide. Whilst Customs administrations are implementing the Revised Kyoto Convention and the SAFE Framework it is clear that trade will need to follow the direction of future compliance as Customs leads forward into the 21st century.

The recent death of a close friend and colleague – Lester Millar – brings to mind, once again, the dire situation of a dwindling ‘knowledge base’ in the area of Customs’ core competency. In an era where most customs or border management authorities are happy to employ people with a variety of tertiary qualifications – with the idea that this alone will be sufficient to ‘arm and support’ them in the field of customs/border control and management – what happened to the skills of yesteryear which allowed both government and trade practitioners to exercise their technical abilities to agree or disagree amicably on a customs tariff or valuation interpretation that could result in thousands of rands (ZAR) going to state coffers or the retailer’s bank account?

Many would argue that with the extent of automation and modern techniques, customs core skills are no longer valid or even necessary. Indeed the extent and design of systems goes so far as removing the relevance of human intuition and decision-making. Today we have automated risk management, automated duty calculation and declaration processing, automated cargo and goods accounting, any even a call centre – so is there really a role for a Customs specialist in the 21st century? Customs Managers today have their reports and other so-called ‘empirical data’ to rely on for decision-making and strategizing. The year-end revenue rush, it-self, relies on such computer generated reports negating the need for an internal ‘think-tank’ to devise means of collecting the hidden revenue before the deadline.

For those in the trade, a similar situation exists, with some difference however. The traditional customs clearance and cargo reporting process is highly mechanised these days and if your systems are up to the task, you can rest assured staff can remain glued to their seats and screens without having to venture to the Customs House. Here too, lies a significant change. The traditional Custom House no longer exists and is basically home to the ‘Customs Frontline’ which deals with ‘physical’ intervention and other trade services. Tariff, Valuation and Origin are now confined to back-office functions accessible via a call centre or tiered response mechanisms embedded in Customs’ new automated workflow; that is, if physical or telephonic access to regional customs specialists have been removed.

Few can dispute the advantages of technology supported processes. Yet, when things go array, even the knowledgeable people have difficulty in resolving an issue. Some suggest that human discretion is dangerous and counter-productive, which perhaps is true if left to an uncouth, power-crazy customs or border control official. Yet, ‘discretion’ is a tenet most necessary for interpretative and cognitive skills which once most Customs Officials used to have.

So what is this core competency to which I refer? First of all Customs competency requires an officer to reason, interpret and apply the customs law in the “fairest” possible way based on the facts at his/her disposal. So it means the officer must have an ability to discern; importantly between right and wrong. Discernment must also take into account an acute understanding of previous/historical evidence relating to a case. For a customs official, it will be important to comprehend the rights and legal obligations of the parties concerned, as well as the documentation relating to the case/transaction. Moreover, where a case/transaction deals with a matter of ‘tariff’, or ‘valuation’ or ‘origin’ the officer must at least have the basic knowledge and skills of the internationally defined rules of interpretation in these disciplines. I say ‘at least’, because in any of the mentioned areas, it may require an expert opinion to further conclude the outcome of a matter.

While automation will take care of validation and computation to the n’th degree, storing and retrieving vast amounts of data in milliseconds, the fact remains that a competent ‘human being’ is still required to preside over a complex decision. Good systems are built on ‘rules’, not exceptions. It is the latter therefore that requires ‘customs core competency’ to resolve.

Our dear friend and colleague Lester was gifted with a phenomenal ability to distill and comprehend information. This knowledge made him one of our finest, and sadly virtually last remaining tariff experts. Add to this, a wonderful and helpful nature and willingness to serve the public – a not too common trait nowadays. Adios Lester…..since we did not fully profit from your time with us, may we at least profit from our loss!

Just in time for the Christmas holiday break! A new edition of the World Customs Journal is now available and, per usual, offers a number of excellent papers on current issues and demands facing Customs and Border Control agencies. Professor David Widdowson, editor-in-chief, and head of the Centre for Customs & Excise Studies (CCES) at the University of Canberra, Australia makes some poignant remarks about customs education, research and the application thereof in the modern world –

World Customs Journal - Sept 2011“one very clear message for me is the need to ensure that our research remains demand-driven rather than supply-driven, otherwise it won’t be valued or, worse still, it won’t even be read by those who could potentially benefit from it. In this regard, there is a need to monitor the effectiveness of what we do – to what extent is the theory being translated into practice? To what extent are academic efforts and activities found to be useful by the WCO and its member administrations? To what extent are research findings being applied in a practical sense? This is, in itself, a fertile area for future research.”

These are very pertinent views given the volume of students undertaking these courses, who in many cases work in customs environments (at home) which are seemingly both oblivious and ignorant to the importance of academic knowledge and human intellect. With so much importance and bias on the ICT nowadays, the technical skills and attributes of what makes a good customs and border control official are relegated to secondary importance. Please read the articles

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