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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.

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

Content of pilot reform  includes the following elements:

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

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

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

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

sars-edi-user-manualSARS has been operating Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) with its external stakeholders since 2001. More than 98% of all customs declaration (CUSDEC) transactions are today submitted electronically to Customs and the electronic submission of multimodal cargo reports (CUSCAR) is steadily increasing. Today, declaration processing is fully electronic end-to-end thanks to the availability of highly established EDI and Customs software service providers supporting the local customs and logistics community. SARS has also recently introduced a benefit for compliant cargo reporters who will be absolved of certain manual (paper) submission requirements once they attain an acceptable level of electronic submission compliance and data accuracy.

The ultimate objective is to ensure that all Customs-to-Business (C2B) transactions are electronic to enable full supply chain connectivity between the South African business community and Customs. This in turn enables the possibility of SARS accrediting or approving ‘supply chains’ as opposed to just individual trader segments (importers and exporters). The extent of electronic compliance is also a pivotal requirement for traders operating under the new Customs Control Act, to be enacted in the future.

SARS overall EDI capability extends further than declarations and cargo reports. In recent years Customs-to-Government (C2G) messaging has also been successfully established between SARS and the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) as well as the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). SARS is also engaging other government stakeholders concerning IT connectivity and data exchange.

Moreover, developments for cross-border Customs-to-Customs (C2C) data exchange are also in the pipeline and could come to fruition with the partner administrations in Mozambique and Swaziland in the foreseeable future. These initiatives will usher in increased supply chain connectivity through active use of the Unique Consignment Reference (UCR) between participating customs administrations. The ultimate objective here is the creation of mutual recognition benefits for local and cross-border traders based on their accreditation status agreed between the participating customs administrations.

The SARS Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Manual (which can be downloaded from the SARS EDI webpage) has been updated with the latest versions of SARS Edifact Data Mapping Guides as well as improved diagrams explaining the functional composition of the various electronic messages specified for Customs processing. Also included are the requirements for registering as an EDI user with SARS.

The manual includes recent updates relating to cargo reporting (manifests) as well as the updated customs declaration message incorporating recent inclusion of customs surety, penalty and forfeiture requirements. The latter enhancement removes another document based requirement (the Form DA70 Provisional Payment) for Customs Brokers with the view streamlining data requirements, enhancing customs billing and customs status reporting with the trade and logistics community. This EDI Manual will be an important document over the coming months and years in that it will feature updated electronic requirements in support of the new Customs Control Act. Watch this space!

HS_HandbookFollowing the accepted complementary amendments to the Harmonized System Nomenclature listed in the Council Recommendation of 11 June 2015, the Correlation Tables between the 2012 and 2017 versions of the HS have been revised. The revised Correlation Tables show the correlation resulting from both the amendments to the Nomenclature which have been accepted as a result of the Council Recommendation of 27 June 2014 and the complementary amendments to the Nomenclature which have been accepted as a result of the Council Recommendation of 11 June 2015.

For more details visit the WCO website.

SARS R78 million Airport Cash BustIn order to assist Members with the updating of their existing Rules of Origin in relation to changes in the Harmonized System, the WCO has issued the “Guide for the technical update of Preferential Rules of Origin“. The Guide is available for WCO Members only.

Classification and origin determination of goods are closely interlinked. It is therefore critically important to update Rules of Origin (i.e. Product Specific Rules) to ensure consistency between HS classification and origin determination. This would help to prevent misapplication of Rules of Origin, ensure efficient and effective revenue collection and facilitate trade. Source: WCO

Ivory Coast SEW2As Customs and Border regulatory authorities ramp up their commitment to international agreements, such as the WCO Revised Kyoto Convention, SAFE Framework of Standards and the more recent WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, more countries will offer a single point of entry through which traders, international carriers and logistics providers can access and comply with the resident customs and other government regulatory regimes.

The concept of a Single Window is borne out of the fact that traditional import/export and related regulatory requirements pose a barrier to market entry for international goods. There are many derivatives of Single Window in operation globally. Perhaps the best resource for this can be found on the UNECE’s interactive Trade Facilitation Implementation Guide webpage. One can navigate to the case studies page to read up on a country-by-country experience on various trade reforms including Single Window developments.

Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is one of many African countries who have introduced Single Window as a facilitation measure whereby international trade can interface with Customs in a number of ways. It consists of a web-based trade portal (operated by Webb Fontaine) which interfaces with AsycudaWorld (AW), Côte d’Ivoire Customs’ management system. The portal allows traders to key-in advance import/export information within an electronic document called TVF (Trade Virtual Folder). Customs declarations are then subjected to tariff classification  and valuation, thereafter routed for commercial/risk assessment and revenue accounting on AsycudaWorld, or Sydam World as it is known in Côte d’Ivoire.

Commercial banks use the TVF within the Single Window to endorse the settlement of each import; the Ministry of Commerce subsequently authorizes the overall transaction through the system.

The Single Window provides an entry point for traders and supply chain operators to accomplish various Customs formalities such as –

  • Customs Declaration processing – allowing importers and exporters to electronically file clearances.
  • Manifest operations – used by all carriers to upload their XML manifests and register the same through the trade portal directly into AsycudaWorld. The facility also allows the amendments of waybills (e.g. excess and shortages) and automatically synchronizes the operations with the AW system. The Port Authority IT systems, including the Port of Abidjan and the Port of San Pedro, automatically receive and integrate the manifests submitted by carriers.
  • License module – allows traders to request import/export licenses (regulatory permits) that are later on approved online by the relevant ministries. Each license comprises a list of regulated products, quota allowable amount based on a predefined scheme (gross mass, net mass, FOB, Unit of measurement or unlimited quota). Further developments will include the automatic write-off of license quota by declarations using the Declaration module.

Source: Webb Fontaine

TraxensFrench shipping giant CMA CGM will start phasing in ‘smart’ containers this year, allowing the line and its customers to keep track of each box equipped with new sensors at all times. In an industry first, technology being developed with a start-up company, Traxens, would enable data on the location and condition of the container to be monitored at all times throughout a delivery.

The world’s third-largest container line and Ocean Three member said it had contributed to the capital increase of French firm Traxens that will enable CMA CGM to have access to an unprecedented amount of information on each container and offer clients what it describes as unique tracking solutions and real-time data collecting from all over the world.

Elie Zeenny, CMA CGM senior vice-president, Group IT Systems, said the technology would bring the shipping industry into a new era. This year, Traxens plans to equip the first CMA CGM containers with the patented technology so it will be possible to know in real-time not only a container’s position, but also its temperature, the vibrations it will be subjected to, any attempted burglary, the presence of traces of specific substances in the air or even the regulatory status of the cargo.

With its “4Trax” solution, Traxens offers the tracking of containers from cargo loading to their final destination, and the forwarding of data in real time to all actors in the multimodal transport chain. Traxens has also worked closely with French Customs in the development of its solution. In this regard the solution aims to record the legal status of the container (customs clearance) with the view to eradicate false declarations and counterfeits and to facilitate controls. Sources: Lloyds loading, CMA CGM and Traxens

KentradeThe Kenya Trade Network Agency, operator of the National Electronic Single Window System, has refuted claims by some clearing agents that the platform is lapsing. KenTrade has instead blamed slow integration of its system on the continued parallel use of the Kenya Revenue Authority’s systems – the Orbus and Simba. Currently, importers are using both systems to process documents such as import permits.

Project director Amos Wangora said there is need to retire Orbus system for agents to embrace the Single Window System, particularly in filing Import Declaration Forms. Kentrade accused KRA officials of avoiding the Single Window System.

“We don’t have any problem in the use of the Single Window System. It’s only people who don’t want to embrace the new system. Those using it are doing good only for some KRA officials who still want to use the Orbus system,” said Wangora in an interview on Friday.

KenTrade is the state agency tasked with facilitating cross-border trade through the Single Window System.

Wangora said only three modules remain for the Single Window System to be completed fully – include on declaration submission, bonds and exemption. Testing of the declaration submission module is on and is expected to be completed by 20 January 2015.

A section of clearing agents had raised concerns over delays in cargo clearance at the port of Mombasa under the Single Window System. Yesterday, the Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association, Mombasa chapter, said KRA officials prefer their own system, which “lacks transparency”.

A clearing agent told the Star that one has to personally push for services, which involves handouts, under the KRA system. Kentrade has since written to KRA commissioner-general to halt the Orbus system on January 31.

The Single Window System integrates about 24 government agencies’ functions, offering a one-stop shop for processing import and export permit documents.  More than 6,000 imports and exports permits were issued under the new system last year, including permits from Kenya Bureau of Standards and Ministry of Health’s veterinary and pharmaceutical departments.

About 1,200 clearing agents, shipping agents, consolidators and partner government agencies will be trained on the remaining modules. Kentrade targets to have the system fully embraced by all stakeholders by July, with the country set to go paperless by 2015. Source: The Star (Kenya)

EAC-logoSince July 2014, EAC revenue officers work together to facilitate trade within the community. Some improvements remain made; the Single Customs Territory (SCT) does present some advantages. Since the single customs territory is operational, clearing processes are established in the country of destination while the goods are still at the port of Dar es Salaam”, explains Leah Skauki, a SCT liaison officer at the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA).

Once the declaration is over, when custom duties and taxes are paid, TRA verifies the physical goods. “The office grants a notification testifying that the goods fulfil all requirements in order to get the exit note.” Within the new system, the number of weighbridges and non-tariff barriers are reduced because “truck drivers only have to show the documents which certify that the goods have undergone verification.”

Massoundi Mohamed Ben Ali, Administrative Director in Charge of Human Resources and Import – Export at the Bakhresa Grain Milling Burundi, is pleased with the new development. “Before the system was implemented, Bakhresa used to import 3800 Tonnes of wheat (40 trucks) and we were obliged to declare each truck with a different clearing agent. We now fill in one statement with one clearing agent. The procedures are done quickly with a small of amount of money”, he points out.

Clearing agents testify that the number of statement on the borders is reduced. “Before, transporters had to fill in a transit declaration (T1) on each border”, one of the clearing agents in the Dares Salaam port relates.

Aimable Nsabimana, a focal point of SCT in Dar es Salaam for the Burundi Revenue Authority, indicates that the computerised system they use is different in each country.”It is not easy to exchange data. We are forced to print documents for verification. And when the goods arrive in Tanzania, they are in the hands of the TRA which has its own software”, he notes.

Inter-connectivity of software would facilitate verification and avoid fraud. This opinion is shared by many clearing agents: “If we were interconnected, the Tanzanians would be able to easily access Burundian data and vice versa”, one of them says.

Léonce Niyonzima, programme and monitoring officer at OBR and the national coordinator of SCT, agrees that the lack of interconnectivity causes delays in the transmission of documents.

He says that all EAC countries should have been interconnected by June 2014, but due to technical problems Tanzania and Burundi still lag behind. “There is a technical committee responsible for monitoring and evaluation which will draw up the balance sheet of the challenges before ending the pilot stage at the end of this year.”

The Single Customs Territory is funded by Trademark East Africa with an amount of USD 450 thousand for the redeployment of staff, travel expenses, inspection and supervision, information technology, office equipment and assistance. Source: http://www.iwacu-burundi.org

LRA Trade PortalThe Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) has undertaken an extensive Customs Modernisation Programme aimed at simplifying the processes and reducing the costs of ‘doing business’ at the border. Earlier this week, the LRA launched the Lesotho Trade Portal as an introduction of the first portion of these reforms which brings a commitment to transparency for all border users on expectations and procedures.  The launch of the portal will be followed by an introduction of simplified border procedures supported by the implementation of modern computerised systems using ASYCUDA World.

The LRA has been reorganising its structure the past year aligning it with organisational strategy, and alongside that as a result of the modernisation, there will be extensive restructuring to promote efficiency and professionalism in customs and across the LRA. Staff members are undergoing extensive training to prepare for the introduction of the new systems.

To facilitate legitimate trade and enhance compliance LRA will introduce risk based controls to enable legitimate trade to pass more freely through the border posts and following the recent pilot project, there will be a full introduction of a ‘Preferred Trader Scheme’ offering additional facilitation benefits to compliant traders.

Through use of modern technology LRA will speed up the inspection process as they will be coordinated and organised from dedicated inspection areas. There will eventually be an introduction of inland clearance to improve service delivery and clearance time.

To protect legitimate trade and reduce market distortion, there will be targeted anti-smuggling activities. This will be for deterrence of illicit and illegal goods as well as to protect the nation from prohibited importation of goods.

The Lesotho Business Partnership Forum has also voiced its unanimous approval of the Lesotho Trade Portal. It believes this milestone represents a major breakthrough in the relationship between business and government. It reveals a level of transparency in procedures and processes which business can only welcome as a sign of a more constructive and open approach to the management of government affairs.

Similarly, the traders and general public will participate in an extensive publicity campaign with announcement in the media as to how to get involved and benefit from the reforms.  A key tool in this process to keep everyone on the loop, will be the News section of Lesotho Trade Portal itself. This will be supported by an extensive communications programme and an education programme targeted at regular border users. Source: Lesotho Revenue Authority

Picture1The Japanese-funded e-Customs system known as “VNACCS/VCIS” (Vietnam Automated Cargo and Port Consolidated System and the Vietnam Customs Information System) is set to “go live” on April 1, 2014.

Based on the NACCS/CIS of Japan, VNACCS/VCIS is intended to handle e-Declaration, e-Manifest, e-Invoice, e-Payment, e-C/O, selectivity, risk management/criteria, corporate management, goods clearance and release, supervision and inspection.

With the launch of the VNACCS/VCIS, Vietnam Customs is trying to simplify customs clearance procedures, reduce clearance time, enhance the management capacity of customs authorities in line with the standards of modern customs, as well as to cut costs and facilitate trade. VNACCS/VCIS also purports to ensure Vietnam’s compliance with the ASEAN “single window” initiative.

VNACCS/VCIS is intended to improve on the current e-Customs system. For example, the VNACCS/VCIS provides new procedures for the management of pre-clearance, clearance and post-clearance processes, adds new customs procedures such as registration of the duty exemption list, introduces a combined procedure for both commercial and non-commercial goods, simplifies procedures for low unit value goods and offers new management procedures for temporarily exported/imported goods, etc.

After the testing phase (which took place from November 2013 until the end of February 2014), users have been raising concerns regarding the VNACCS/VCIS system’s complexity. VNACCS/VCIS provides a declaration process with 109 export and 133 import data fields, compared to the current 27 export and 38 import declaration fields. Many of them are not compatible with the actual systems of companies, and appear to require from declarers an extensive knowledge of customs-related matters.

Comment – from an outsider’s perspective, besides systems testing, it would seem to appear that insufficient time has been allocated for alignment of industry systems to Vietnam Customs’ new data requirements. This, and the fact that no ‘grace period’ (waiver of sanctions or penalties) will be considered by the customs administration does not bode well for a smooth transition.

VNACCS/VCIS employs the quantity reporting mechanism in the official Units of Measures (“UOMs”), often used in international trade statistics, yet creates significant obstacles to companies that do not have compatible manufacturing, inventory planning and control systems. Vietnam Customs has stated that it will work on improving this issue.

VNACCS/VCIS also applies the declaration of customs values at the unit level. Since unit costs and unit prices used in financial systems of companies may not always be identical to declared values, companies may fail to comply with such requirement. Sanctions may be applied from day 1 of the new systems activation.

Technical difficulties are also a matter of great concerns to business community, e.g. with asset tracking. Currently under VNACCS/VCIS, reporting is limited to 7 digits, incompatible with many companies having asset tracking systems with identification numbers of up to 20 digits. To address concerns raised by the business community about the new system, Japanese experts have agreed to support Vietnam Customs 1 year after the official implementation date of the system.

There are concerns for potential risks of non-compliance for wrong declaration due to lack of an adequate understanding of VNACCS/VCIS. Vietnam Customs has rejected a proposal for “grace period” before applying sanctions upon violations, but encourages companies to actively participate in training programs organized by customs authorities to better avoid potential non-compliance risks.

Another concern is the chance of system failure which may lead to severe interruptions and delays in clearance procedures. Vietnam Customs has ensured business community that they have a back-up contingency mechanism in place to support customs procedures in the event that VNACCS/VCIS fails to operate properly. In the meantime, a new circular detailing the implementation of VNACCS/VCIS is being drafted and should come into effect by the launch date. Various business associations are still trying to find ways to mitigate the likely disruption from the sudden transition to the new system. Source: Baker & McKenzie (Vietnam)

City Deep Container Terminal (Transport World Africa)

City Deep Container Terminal (Transport World Africa)

The controversial Customs Control Bill adopted by Parliament’s finance committee on Wednesday includes a “fallback” provision allowing for a return to the current customs control system should the new one fail.

A similar clause was included in the law that introduced value-added tax in 1991, allowing for a legal alternative to be implemented quickly if things do not work out as planned.

The committee also adopted the Customs Duty Bill and the Customs and Excise Amendment Bill as part of a total revamp by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) of the customs system. Visit this link for access to the Bills and submissions to the parliamentary committee.

The Customs Control Bill has been highly contentious as it will fundamentally change the way imported goods are cleared and released. The Democratic Alliance and Business Unity SA (Busa) opposed the original proposals on the grounds that doing away with manifests in the operations of City Deep would threaten the inland terminal in Johannesburg. SARS disputed this but nevertheless amended the bill.

Busa’s Laurraine Lotter yesterday welcomed the inclusion of the fallback clause but said she would have to see the details of the amendments introduced by SARS before commenting.

The fallback provision — which will automatically lapse five years after the effective date of the legislation — was included to be on the safe side, although SARS does not expect the proposed system to fail. It consulted widely on the bill, sought legal opinions about the legality of its amended proposals and ultimately secured the support of ship operators and agents, freight forwarders and Transnet for the amendments.

Implementation could be delayed by 12 months to allow the trade sufficient time to prepare.

SARS chief legal and policy officer Kosie Louw assured the committee this week the existence of City Deep would not be jeopardised. He urged adoption of the new system of customs control, saying the authorities needed more detailed information about incoming cargo to clamp down on fraud and illegal imports.

In terms of the bill, the submission by shipping lines of a manifest that provides only a general description of cargo will be replaced by a clearance declaration. This must contain information on the tariff, value and origin of the goods, and be submitted by the importer (which can be held accountable for its veracity) three calendar days before arrival at the first place of entry into South Africa.

Penalties will be levied only if the clearance is not submitted within three working days after the arrival of the goods. Containers will be provisionally released before arrival of the goods at the first place of entry and finally released at the first point of entry. To allow for seamless movement of goods, shipping lines will still issue multimodal contracts and through bills of lading.

“The revised proposal provides certainty and predictability to role players in the supply chain regarding the movement of goods,” Mr Louw said.

He said the new system would allow customs officials to undertake documentary inspections earlier, mitigating delays. High-risk containers would be identified before arrival, detained on arrival and held at the inland terminal for inspection. Containers with no risk would be able to move “seamlessly” to the inland terminals.

Mr Louw submitted that the objections to the proposal — that it would require traders to change their sale contracts; that sellers would be reluctant to sell under the new terms; that importers would be affected; that carriers would no longer issue a bill of lading to internal terminals; and that it would give rise to delays and congestion at ports — were found to lack foundation by international trade law expert Prof Sieg Eiselen and two advocates.

He said the proposed system would lay a solid and predictable framework for a modernised system of customs control that balanced the need for trade facilitation with the need to prevent imports of illicit goods. The current system was governed by an outdated, 1960s law. Source: Business Day

Related articles

Amidst diverse expectations and feelings of excitement, anxiety and anticipation, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) migrated to its new integrated Customs and Border Management solution over the weekend of 17 August 2013. A new modern electronic solution Interfront can now rightfully claim some success even if it is an unseen component within a multi-layered, multi-technology solution of which South African Customs is now the proud owner. After 9 months of rigorous parallel testing between old and new, and a period of dedicated external testing with Service Providers of the customs business community, the decision to implement was formally agreed with trade a fortnight ago.

Interfront Customs and Border Solution (iCBS) replaces several key legacy systems, one of which has served South Africa for more than 30 years. The vast business and technical competence and skills which faithfully maintained and supported the old systems are to some extent in the wilderness now, but will hopefully find place within the new technology environment. While technology nowadays is particularly agile, and human physical placement at the coal face is under threat, organisations like SARS will always require customs technical business and policy competence to maintain the cutting edge.

There still remains an enormous amount of work to do regarding the alignment of the new clearance system with the specific guidelines, standards and principles of the WCO. With regional integration becoming more prominent on the sub-Saharan African agenda, the matter of ‘facilitation’ and ‘non-tariff barriers’ will inevitably become more prominent discussion points. Other salient features of the SAFE Framework of Standards such as Authorised Economic Operators and IT connectivity have already emerged as key developmental goals of a number of regional customs and border authorities. The timely introduction of Interfront places SARS in a pivotal position to influence and enable the required electronic linkages, crucial for the establishment of bi-lateral and multilateral trade agreements, transport corridors, and, support for ‘seamless’ multi-modal movement of cargo from port of discharged to its place of manifestation with limited intervention, based on the principles of risk management. Enjoy the Interfront video feature.

 

In the waiting... vehicle queue at Beitbridge

In the waiting… vehicle queue at Beitbridge

Scores of car importers were left stranded at Beitbridge Border Post on Wednesday after the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority‘s (Zimra) vehicle clearance system went offline for eight hours.

Zimra introduced the ASYCUDA plus system for processing vehicle imports in March this year in a bid to ensure efficiency and reduce regular interface between the customs officers and its clients. Asycuda is (Automated System for Customs Data) is a more efficient and advanced system for customs data processing since it is internet based. Upon its introduction the system left little room for wheeling and dealing between Zimra employees and criminals.

However, connectivity has remained a major challenge at the Manica Bonded warehouse where vehicle imports are processed. When The Herald visited the bonded warehouse yesterday restless car importers were seen moving around the yard while others were making numerous inquiries from the Zimra help desk.

In separate interviews motorists advised the revenue authorities to consider having a back-up plan in case of the Asycuda system breakdown. He said it was worrying that the revenue authority had introduced the Asycuda system yet they had little capacity to sustain it.

It was the second time in a week that the Asycuda system went offline after operations came to a standstill on Friday last week. Prior to the introduction of Asycuda system, Zimra had been using a station based system which operated with very few technical glitches.

Figures from Zimra show that between 60 and 100 vehicle imports are processed at Manica per day and rise to 120 during peak times. Asycuda system is connected to the parastatal’s national grid which is accessible at any of its stations countrywide. Efforts to get a comment form Zimra spokesperson were fruitless. Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe)

Interfront logo2

Its been some time since I’ve penned an article on the South African Customs Modernisation Programme. Aside from it being the SA Revenue Service’s prerogative to communicate and publish notice of its internal developments and plans, some caution always needs to be exercised observing bureaucratic protocol, ensuring that the official message is forthcoming from SARS. Given the widespread interest in the programme as well as the development of the Interfront [formerly Tatis] integrated customs border management solution (iCBMs) as a wholly owned development of South Africa, I think it not out of place to inform the public interest on this matter. Readership of this blog has an extensive global following and a specific interest in Interfront developments.

Unlike ASYCUDA, Sofix, e-Biscus, and a host of other integrated Customs-tailored business solution offerings, Interfront’s solution for SARS will not include a client user frontend. In other words, the Interfront system (iCBMs) will essentially drive declaration backend processing. This comprises a fully integrated declaration validation and processing engine, supported by a sophisticated tariff engine and duty calculator; the latter offering future web-based services for customs users. In order to compliment the SARS corporate and standardised user interface approach, the iCBMs interfaces with SARS’s revenue accounting, trader registration, risk management, and case management workflow systems. Not only does this leverage cost savings and efficiencies, but ensures a unified ‘workspace’ for all of SARS employees.

Much of the Interfront technology is therefore hidden to the customs user, with traders experiencing an identical interface with SARS Customs, as it does today. From the outset of the Customs Modernisation Programme (July 2010), the approach has followed pragmatic migration of customs electronic clearance processing – across its 30 odd legacy systems – towards an integrated clearance process that could mimic the functionality featured on the new iCBMs. The modern technology and scalability of Interfront offers the ability and agility to enhance service levels and efficiencies to another level. At the same time, operational policies and procedures have been modernised with the aim and intent of meeting the requirements contained in Customs new Control and Duty Bills.

Much of the ‘change’ experienced by both customs officers and the trade over the last 2 years has prepared the country for the eventual migration to the new system. These have been significant, and at times painful changes, not without anxiety and apprehension. Over the last 6 months an even more painstaking and taxing effort has been expended by the Customs Modernisation Team, Interfront and other service providers in addressing a seamless harmonisation and switchover of customs business from disparate legacy systems to a new customs technology platform. The “Parallel Run” has witnessed the daily comparison of customs clearance data between the old and new systems, identification and logging of disparities (bugs), modification of the two environments to ensure the same result is achieved. This has not been an easy and simple process, as any country having undergone a system switchover can attest to.

This month, February 2013, service providers to the customs industry are readying their resources to commence user testing. This implies that service providers (computer bureaus) will engage their clients to prepare test cases for submission to customs to test the new Interfront process. Given that Customs legacy systems and Interfront have been synchronised to a high level of compatibility, the process for traders should not reveal much difference to what they have experienced over the period of modernisation over the last 2 years. One area of note will be the structure and content of Customs Response messages. Traders will have to familiarise themselves and test their interpretation of these messages to ensure they perform or respond appropriately to the instructions.

Satya Prasad Sahu - Technical Officer at the WCO provided members of SACU, SADC and the EAC comprehensive guidelines for the development of the GNC Utility Block concept in Africa (February 2012)

Satya Prasad Sahu – Senior Technical Officer at the WCO provided members of SACU, SADC and the EAC comprehensive guidelines for the development of the GNC Utility Block concept in Africa (February 2012)

In terms of compliance and compatibility with international developments, the new iCBMs is engineered on the WCO Data Model. All relevant simplification processes as exemplified in the Revise Kyoto Convention are likewise factored into its design, although not all of these will be immediately available with the initial rollout. Introduction of the new Customs Control and Duty Acts will require these principles to be fully functional and operational, however.

The WCO Data Model is the pivotal design component around which most of the new system’s business and validation rules are centred. This in itself is a major achievement as it bodes well for all future ‘cross border’, customs-2-customs connectivity initiatives. In this regard SARS is well advanced in bilateral and multilateral projects with key trading partners, for example IBSA (cross-global trilateral initiative), and in Africa, we are working with SACU, SADC, COMESA and the EAC to bring about regional customs connectivity. On a bilateral basis, initiatives with Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are developing nicely. A significant contributor to cross border/cross global customs connectivity is undoubtedly the excellent work brought about by the dedicated members of the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs adhoc workgroup. In June last year, the WCOs policy Commission unanimously endorsed the GNC architecture and Utility Block approach. African customs connectivity efforts have likewise adopted this model which ensures harmonisation and uniformity in approach, legal dispensation, data exchange, risk management and procedure. The WCO moreover plays a overseeing role in many of these GNC and capacity building initiatives across the globe – this assists greatly in sharing and learning of experiences.

I would think that the above should be sufficient to wet the appetites of customs practitioners, traders, ICT technocrats, and perhaps even legislators and bureaucrats on developments in South Africa. Subsequent to the launch of Interfront SARS will make its ideas and strategy relating to forthcoming initiatives known to trade and the business community. A Year of Innovation? Yes, and hopefully a happy tale that will bode well for the South African trade and supply chain logistics community, and some good fortune for Interfront in its business development in the region and beyond!