The following article featured in the 1st Issue of the WCO Newsletter 2023. It is authored by Anthony Buckley, Chair of Customs Knowledge Institute. The article argues that a formal plan for building and managing Customs knowledge is necessary for a Customs brokerage to operate effectively. The components of such a plan are discussed, as well as the determinants that may affect the choices made. The discussion refers also to general issues of Customs knowledge acquisition, management and updating. The considerations apply to all Customs practitioners and trading businesses.
The number of possible games of chess is greater than the number of atoms in the observable universe according to Claude Shannon. In Customs, there are many more variables than the 32 pieces on a chessboard. In any transaction, we have the interested parties, the type of transaction, the goods involved, the route being followed, the intended procedure, the non-tariff controls, the rates of duty and the liability for payment, each of them with many possible variations, combinations, and types of supporting evidence. On that basis, it seems that every single movement of goods across a Customs border is unique, at least in some minor way. How does a Customs broker meet the expectation of a client, who expects the broker to be familiar with every possible variation?
As if the challenge of complexity is not enough, the broker is also expected to maintain records of all transactions and retrieve them in various formats as required by customers and Customs administrations.
In practice, of course, we find ways of doing things that are theoretically impossible. Most Customs movements fall into certain categories and are handled accordingly, by operators familiar with one or a few of the categories. High value complex transactions are handled by teams with a mix of expertise, at considerable expense. Low value consignments use simplified procedures and reduced checking. Significantly, evidence suggests that many transactions proceed despite errors, sometimes of significant effect. Thus, when considering “Customs knowledge”, we must distinguish between what is necessary for all, and what is essential only for certain functions.
All economic operators must have a general understanding of what Customs is, how it controls trade, what its legal structure is, what rights, entitlements and obligations attach to the operator and to the Customs authorities, the importance of compliance with legal requirements, and the costs of non-compliance. For many who buy and sell internationally, their knowledge does not proceed far beyond this general understanding, except perhaps for some detail concerning the particular goods they trade.
For a Customs broker, this level of knowledge is only the beginning.Continue reading →
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