Indonesian Customs – IBM’s Blockchain Supply Chain Platform

The IBM development is unarguably one of the leading bodies driving global adoption, with the development of a blockchain platform built with flexibility and ability to run on any cloudThe blockchain platform allows upcoming projects to build, operate, govern and grow blockchain solutions across any computing environment through its blockchain technological advancement.

IBM successfully introduced its TradeLens platform in partnership with the Danish transport giant, Maersk in 2018. TradeLens has recorded huge success, partnering with major organizations and government agencies across the world due to its ability to deliver services such as cross border goods shipping at a faster rate.

Blockchain taking the Centre Stage

With blockchain gaining more followers and the adoption race picking up pace, many organizations, countries, agencies, and more seem to be jumping on the blockchain train before they get left behind with IBM blockchain technology in the forefront of delivering products that are needed by upcoming blockchain projects to strive. Recent news coming from Indonesia, revealed that after several months of working towards implementing a new partner on its platforms, the Indonesian Customs and Excise Department have announced that it would make use of IBM TradeLens technology.

Indonesia’s customs department is set to be the 11th government agency to be part of the TradeLens consortium after the realization of the benefit and advantage of making use of the TradeLens platform, other countries whose custom departments have partnered with TradeLens includes Thailand, Canada, Azerbaijan, among others.

The effects of customs agency deploying IBM TradeLens technology

The company’s stated goal is to facilitate faster trade and to eliminate altogether paper-based verification processes thereby paving the way for quicker trade and customs validation

By digitizing the supply chain industry using blockchain, the country stands to boost its production potential by around fifteen percent (15%), which is a substantial figure in an industry driven by extremely thin margins

The president/director of IBM Indonesia, Tan Wijaya is optimistic that the partnership with Indonesia’s custom departments will be beneficial to all stakeholders in the entire logistics ecosystem and it will encourage the overall modernization of trade.

The company’s stated goal is to facilitate faster trade and customs verification and eliminate paper-based processes which are in line with Indonesia’s custom and excise service.

TradeLens growth

As TradeLens continues to onboard new projects and partnership with other organizations, its platforms which allows supply chain data to be immutably tracked and broadcasted using a permissioned blockchain. The company’s highlighted objectives are to facilitate faster trade and customs verification and also to eliminate completely the strenuous paper-based procedures. Other constraints include the inability to provide a comprehensive risk assessment, complex promotion, inefficient and expensive stakeholder communication, and lack of transparency. 

IBM initially launched TradeLens in partnership with Danish transport conglomerate Maersk during August, 2018. Earlier this month, Maersk estimated that approximately 10 million supply chain events are being tracked on TradeLens each week which points to how successful the platform is turning out to become.

Early February, The United States Federal Maritime Commission granted an antitrust exemption to five US-based members of the TradeLens consortium to be able to share data in regards to American supply chain events with the agreements between the five (5) parties coming into effect on 6th February,2020.

Regulators from Indonesia embrace Blockchain 

 It is worth noting that TradeLens Partnership with Indonesian custom authorities is not the first venture of the country’s positive nature towards the adoption of blockchain and its technologies.

The recent partnership announcements between TradeLens and Indonesia customs departments comes three weeks after Indonesia’s oldest cryptocurrency exchange, Indodax formerly known as bitcoin.co.id, received full license from the country’s Commodity Futures Trading Regulatory Agency (BAPPEBTI) to operate in the country.

This and other partnerships of blockchain projects in Indonesia shows that the country is primed and set to grow along with the new blockchain technologies.

Source: Alo Kingsley, Business Blockchain HQ, 7 March 2020

AfCFTA – an uphill struggle in quest for regional trade on the continent

Picture : Bloomberg.com

The following article was published by Bloomberg and sketches the day-to-day hardship for cross border trucking through Africa. In a sense it asks the very questions and challenges which the average African asks in regard to the highly anticipated free trade area. While rules of origin and tariffs form the basis of trade across borders, together with freedom of movement of people, these will mean nothing if African people receive no benefit. As globalisation appears to falter across Europe and the West, it begs the question whether this is in fact is the solution for Africa; particularly for the reason that many believe globalisation itself is an extension of capitalism which some of the African states are at loggerheads with. Moreover, how many of these countries can forego the much need Customs revenue to sustain their economies, let alone losing political autonomy – only time will tell.

Nyoni Nsukuzimbi drives his 40-ton Freightliner for just over half a day from Johannesburg to the Beitbridge border post with Zimbabwe. At the frontier town—little more than a gas station and a KFC—he sits in a line for two to three days, in temperatures reaching 104F, waiting for his documents to be processed.

That’s only the start of a journey Nsukuzimbi makes maybe twice a month. Driving 550 miles farther north gets him to the Chirundu border post on the Zambian frontier. There, starting at a bridge across the Zambezi River, trucks snake back miles into the bush. “There’s no water, there’s no toilets, there are lions,” says the 40-year-old Zimbabwean. He leans out of the Freightliner’s cab over the hot asphalt, wearing a white T-shirt and a weary expression. “It’s terrible.”

By the time he gets his load of tiny plastic beads—the kind used in many manufacturing processes—to a factory on the outskirts of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, he’s been on the road for as many as 10 days to traverse just 1,000 miles. Nsukuzimbi’s trials are typical of truck drivers across Africa, where border bureaucracy, corrupt officials seeking bribes, and a myriad of regulations that vary from country to country have stymied attempts to boost intra-African trade.

The continent’s leaders say they’re acting to change all that. Fifty-three of its 54 nations have signed up to join only Eritrea, which rivals North Korea in its isolation from the outside world, hasn’t. The African Union-led agreement is designed to establish the world’s biggest free-trade zone by area, encompassing a combined economy of $2.5 trillion and a market of 1.2 billion people. Agreed in May 2019, the pact is meant to take effect in July and be fully operational by 2030. “The AfCFTA,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his Oct. 7 weekly letter to the nation, “will be a game-changer, both for South Africa and the rest of the continent.”

It has to be if African economies are ever going to achieve their potential. Africa lags behind other regions in terms of internal trade, with intracontinental commerce accounting for only 15% of total trade, compared with 58% in Asia and more than 70% in Europe. As a result, supermarket shelves in cities such as Luanda, Angola, and Abidjan, Ivory Coast, are lined with goods imported from the countries that once colonized them, Portugal and France.

By lowering or eliminating cross-border tariffs on 90% of African-produced goods, the new regulations are supposed to facilitate the movement of capital and people and create a liberalized market for services. “We haven’t seen as much institutional will for a large African Union project before,” says Kobi Annan, an analyst at Songhai Advisory in Ghana. “The time frame is a little ambitious, but we will get there.”

President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and other heads of state joined Ramaphosa in hailing the agreement, but a number of the businesspeople who are supposed to benefit from it are skeptical. “Many of these governments depend on that duty income. I don’t see how that’s ever going to disappear,” says Tertius Carstens, the chief executive officer of Pioneer Foods Group Ltd., a South African maker of fruit juices and cereal that’s being acquired by PepsiCo Inc. for about $1.7 billion. “Politically it sounds good; practically it’s going to be a nightmare to implement, and I expect resistance.”

Under the rules, small countries such as Malawi, whose central government gets 7.7% of its revenue from taxes on international trade and transactions, will forgo much-needed income, at least initially. By contrast, relatively industrialized nations like Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa will benefit from the outset. “AfCFTA will require huge trade-offs from political leaders,” says Ronak Gopaldas, a London-based director at Signal Risk, which advises companies in Africa. “They will need to think beyond short-term election cycles and sovereignty in policymaking.”

Taking those disparities into account, the AfCFTA may allow poorer countries such as Ethiopia 15 years to comply with the trade regime, whereas South Africa and other more developed nations must do so within five. To further soften the effects on weaker economies, Africa could follow the lead of the European Union, says Axel Pougin de La Maissoneuve, deputy head of the trade and private sector unit in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Development and International Cooperation. The EU adopted a redistribution model to offset potential losses by Greece, Portugal, and other countries.

There may be structural impediments to the AfCFTA’s ambitions. Iron ore, oil, and other raw materials headed for markets such as China make up about half of the continent’s exports. “African countries don’t produce the goods that are demanded by consumers and businesses in other African countries,” says Trudi Hartzenberg, executive director of the Tralac Trade Law Center in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Trust and tension over illicit activity are also obstacles. Beginning in August, Nigeria shut its land borders to halt a surge in the smuggling of rice and other foodstuffs. In September, South Africa drew continentwide opprobrium after a recurrence of the anti-immigrant riots that have periodically rocked the nation. This could hinder the AfCFTA’s provisions for the free movement of people.

Considering all of these roadblocks, a skeptic would be forgiven for giving the AfCFTA little chance of success. And yet there are already at least eight trade communities up and running on the continent. While these are mostly regional groupings, some countries belong to more than one bloc, creating overlap. The AfCFTA won’t immediately replace these regional blocs; rather, it’s designed to harmonize standards and rules, easing trade between them, and to eventually consolidate the smaller associations under the continent­wide agreement.

The benefits of the comprehensive agreement are plain to see. It could, for example, limit the sort of unilateral stumbling blocks Pioneer Foods’ Carstens had to deal with in 2019: Zimbabwe insisted that all duties be paid in U.S. dollars; Ghana and Kenya demanded that shippers purchase special stickers from government officials to affix to all packaging to prevent smuggling.

The African Export-Import Bank estimates intra-African trade could increase by 52% during the first year after the pact is implemented and more than double during the first decade. The AfCFTA represents a “new pan-Africanism” and is “a pragmatic realization” that African countries need to unite to achieve better deals with trading partners, says Carlos Lopes, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and one of the architects of the agreement.

From his closer-to-the-ground vantage point, Olisaemeka Anieze also sees possible benefits. He’s relocating from South Africa, where he sold secondhand clothes, to his home country of Nigeria, where he wants to farm fish and possibly export them to neighboring countries. “God willing,” he says, “if the free-trade agreement comes through, Africa can hold its own.”

In the meantime, there are those roads. About 80% of African trade travels over them, according to Tralac. The World Bank estimates the poor state of highways and other infrastructure cuts productivity by as much as 40%.

If the AfCFTA can trim the red tape, at least driving the roads will be more bearable, says David Myende, 38, a South African trucker resting after crossing the border post into South Africa on the way back from delivering a load to the Zambian mining town of Ndola. “The trip is short, the borders are long,” he says. “They’re really long when you’re laden, and customs officers can keep you waiting up to four or five days to clear your goods.” 

Source: article by Anthony Sguazzin, Prinesha Naidoo and Brian Latham, Bloomberg, 30 January 2020

SA Parliament adopts report on Border Management Authority Bill

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

Parliament adopts report on Border Management Authority Bill

Border Management Authority bill takes another step towards becoming law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For media enquiries or interviews with the Chairperson:

Committee’s Media Officer
Malatswa Molepo 
Parliamentary Communication Services

18 February 2020

WCO supports SARS with AEO programme implementation

Under the framework of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Customs Modernization Programme, funded by the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, WCO experts were invited to lead an AEO Validation Workshop for the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The Workshop was held from 10 to 14 February 2020 in Pretoria, South Africa. Mrs. Rae Vivier who is the Group Executive responsible for AEO in SARS opened the workshop and welcomed the WCO and SACU representatives with a key note address to all attendees. She gave assurance to the audience that AEO is taken seriously by SARS and is one of the organization’s key deliverables. 

During the five day Workshop, the SARS AEO validation team was given an introduction to the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards (FoS), including all its Pillars, core elements, and AEO criteria etc. This was followed by a discussion on the essential elements of the AEO Validation Guidance, the sequential steps of the AEO validation procedures and the skills required by AEO validators. 

The participants, comprised of Customs auditors, legal experts and client relationship managers, were given an opportunity to share their views on the similarities and differences between AEO validation and post-clearance audit. The core values of Customs-Business partnerships were highlighted as an important aspect towards achieving AEO programme implementation. Auditors with a Customs compliance mindset were given security validation knowledge and taught how to hold discussions with business on coordinating and enhancing international supply chain security and safety. Another important element underscored during the training was that validation of the applicant is central to accreditation, and that the applicant’s supply chain may not be tested. Accordingly, the applicant is responsible for securing its own supply chain. 

The Workshop entailed extensive discussions on the self-assessment questionnaire prepared by SARS for potential AEOs taking part in the country’s AEO pilot. While referring to the WCO self-assessment template, the WCO experts also shared questionnaires by other Customs administrations. The participants and experts discussed how to enhance the questions posed, making it simpler for business to understand and answer them. A number of recommendations were made, including adding explanatory notes to the self-assessment questionnaire to help clients provide accurate information about their security and safety protocols.

A further aim of the Workshop was to include practical sessions, such as the mock validation process held at BMW’s South African plant in Rosslyn. Participants were told how BMW guarantees supply chain safety and security. Equipped with this information, the Workshop participants were given a walk-through of BMW South Africa’s processes for receiving goods. The lessons learned were shared among the Workshop participants and SARS management during the post-validation assessment. During that session, several Mutual Recognition Arrangements/Agreements (MRAs) signed between different Customs administrations were also referenced, so as to enhance learning and information sharing. 

SARS embarked on its Preferred Traders Programme (PTP) in May 2017. The initial number of 28 accredited traders (importers/exporters) has grown to reach 119 as of 14 February 2020. Under the SARS Strategic Plan for 2023, the priority will be to focus on improving voluntary compliance and supply chain security through implementation of the standardized WCO SAFE/AEO programme. At the same time, SACU wishes to roll out PTPs for all its Members, while moving towards a full-fledged AEO programme in phases. To this end, the WCO experts discussed and shared views on the PTP compatibility assessment tool aimed at ensuring mutual recognition of Preferred Traders among SACU Members.

Source: WCO, 19 February 2020

Guide: Goods and Conveyance Reporting in South Africa

A companion guide in support of increased compliance in the reporting of goods and conveyances (RCG) to Customs, South Africa.

Necessary information for – Air, Sea and Road carriers, vessel’s agents, NVOCCs, freight forwarders, Air and Sea terminal operators, container depot operators, transit shed operators and de-grouping depots. Also, all private software service providers to the trade.

The guide offers easy navigation through –

  • registration and electronic trading with SARS Customs
  • the various electronic messages mandated by law, covering import and export movements, across all modes of permissible international transportation
  • message types for each transaction type
  • scenarios to facilitate easier understanding across operators in the supply chain on how the various electronic reports are sequenced, ensuring that Customs formulates a comprehensive end-2-end view of a international trade transaction
  • reference webpages, official notifications, Customs rules and other pertinent information concerning cargo reporting.

All information is hyperlinked to SARS documentation, found on the official SARS website www.sars.gov.za

You may download the Guide below (File size: 3MB)

South African Customs – Recent Illicit Goods Busts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: South African Revenue Service [SARS]

South Africa to lose preferential access to US markets

The US has narrowed its list of countries it considers to be developing nations, including SA, to prevent them getting special trade preferences.

SA is set to lose preferential access to US markets after the Trump administration moved to change key exemptions to America’s trade-remedy laws on Monday.  

In 2019, US President Donald Trump issued an executive memo that asked US trade representative Robert Lighthizer to determine whether there has been “substantial progress” towards limiting the number of countries considered developing nations. 

“The WTO [World Trade Organisation] is BROKEN when the world’s RICHEST countries claim to be developing countries to avoid WTO rules and get special treatment. NO more!!! Today I directed the U.S. Trade Representative to take action so that countries stop CHEATING the system at the expense of the USA!” Trump said in a tweet in July.

In doing so, the US eliminated its special preferences for a list of self-declared developing countries that includes Albania; Argentina; Armenia; Brazil; Bulgaria; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Georgia; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia; Kazakhstan; the Kyrgyz Republic; Malaysia; Moldova; Montenegro; North Macedonia; Romania; Singapore; South Africa; South Korea; Thailand; Ukraine; and Vietnam.

The US trade representative said the decision to revise its developing country methodology for countervailing duty investigations is necessary because America’s previous guidance — which dates back to 1998 — “is now obsolete.”

In a separate, but related matter the US is already considering whether SA can continue to be part of its preferential trade programme.

The Trump administration wants to reconsider SA’s preferential access to its markets over concerns that the Copyright Amendment Bill will threaten intellectual property (IP) rights. Should the US decide to suspend SA from the trade programme, the country could lose as much as R34bn in export revenue. The bill, which is being opposed by several local and international lobby groups, has been on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s desk for 10 months.

The International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI), which represents US companies that produce copyright-protected material including computer software, films, television programmes, music, books, and journals (electronic and print media), is objecting to the bill because of the risk it poses to US IP rights. As a retaliatory measure, the association has been lobbying the US government to withdraw SA’s preferential trade status.

Under the US Trade Act, one of the criteria for eligibility for the generalised system of preferences (GSP) programme is that the state “provide ‘adequate and effective protection’ of American copyrighted works and sound recordings”.

Source: Article by Bekezela Phakathi, Business Day, 11 February 2020

Other useful reads

South Africa will caution Trump on ‘premature’ trade review (Tralac)

ICD 2020 – #MakeTradeWork

Picture courtesy of the WCO

To mark International Customs Day 2020 – focusing on the theme of ‘fostering Sustainability for People, Prosperity and the Planet’, the following article from the Spring 2018 edition of World Trade Matters by Jan Hoffmann, the Chief of the Trade Logistics Branch, Division on Technology and Logistics at UNCTAD, is relevant. The article discusses global trade facilitation reforms, the digitalisation of trade and measures towards ensuring long-term sustainability in the maritime industry. 

Confronted with growing populism and a surge in protectionist measures recorded by the WTO, policy makers and enterprises are struggling to avoid a backlash in international trade. At UNCTAD’s Trade Logistics Branch, we support these endeavours by helping to make trade work better. Through trade facilitation reforms, the promotion of digitalisation, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of international transport, we aim at ensuring that the international movement of goods is not confronted with unnecessary obstacles and costs. 

A multilateral agreement to facilitate international trade

Under the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), developing countries commit to implement a number of very practical measures that make trade easier and more transparent. Countries are obliged to publish duties and procedures on the web, traders can transmit their declarations prior to the arrival of the goods, payments can be made electronically, and fees and charges must not become hidden taxes to generate income for the government. These are but some of the 37 concrete measures grouped into 12 Articles of the TFA. They are all useful and help make trade more efficient. 

However, many of these measures involve an initial investment or reforms that require human and financial resources to start with, which developing countries many not have. The good news is that the TFA also includes a novel mechanism – the so called “Special and Differential Treatment” – that helps developing countries plan and acquire the necessary capacity prior to being fully committed to comply with all 12 Articles. Concretely, the mechanism puts the developing countries in the position – and obligation – to analyse and notify their own implementation capacity. At UNCTAD, we are working closely with the developing countries to enable them to do so. Our main counterpart in this endeavour are the National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) that each country must set up under the TFA. UNCTAD’s Empowerment Programme for NTFCs includes training and knowledge development for the members of the NTFC, combined with advisory services and the development of a Roadmap of TFA implementation. 

By the same token, UNCTAD also supports developing countries in setting up Trade Information Portals. Under the TFA, members of the WTO are obliged to make relevant information on tariffs and trade procedures available on-line. UNCTAD’s Trade Information Portals not only help countries become compliant with this obligation, but in the process of analysing and publishing applicable trade procedures, a Trade Information Portal effectively helps countries identify the potential for the further simplification of procedures. Thanks to these new insights, NTFCs can then develop programmes and reforms that subsequently ensure the further simplification of procedures. 

Technological progress will never be as slow as today

My favourite provision of the TFA is Article 10.1., as it provides for a dynamic dimension of the Agreement. According to this article, countries need to minimize “the incidence and complexity of import, export, and transit formalities”, continuously “review” requirements, keep “reducing the time and cost of compliance for traders and operators”, and always choose “the least trade restrictive measure”. As such, even if a country is compliant with all TFA provisions today, countries will need to continue monitoring if existing procedures are still appropriate in view of technological or regulatory developments. 

As trade becomes increasingly digitalised, and new technologies which do not yet exist will be developed, it will be important that governments continuously revise and review the applicable rules and regulations. 

Digitalisation comes in stages. First, we optimize existing procedures, making use of cargo tracking, the Internet of Things, blockchain et al. Second, new businesses are developed which could not exist without the new technologies; new platforms come into being and we see more “uberisation”. Finally, there is transformation and science fiction; still in our lifetime Artificial Intelligence will overtake human capabilities to manage international trade and its logistics. 

But let us take one step at a time. At UNCTAD, we support developing countries through eTrade readiness assessments, the development and upgrade of technological solutions in Customs automation and Single Windows, and by providing a Forum for our members to analyse and discuss the challenges that come with digitalisation. We encourage the development of global standards that allow for interoperability among new systems. The challenge for policy makers it to encourage private sector investments in new technologies and solutions, while ensuring that no new monopolies emerge that might exclude smaller players.  

And it has to be sustainable

While we aim at ensuring continued growth in international trade, there is a catch. The transport of this trade encompasses increasing externalities, such as pollution, green-house-gas emissions, and congestion. 

Ports need to minimise social and environmental externalities. Many port cities are among the most polluted places to live, as ships burn heavy oil, and delivering trucks produce noise and cause traffic congestions. In addition, ports need to be resilient in the face of disruptions and damages caused by natural disasters and climate change impacts. 

International transport, including shipping, needs to play a larger role in addressing global warming and contribute to mitigating the carbon emissions that are causing climate change. Shipping emits less carbon dioxide (CO2) per ton-mile than other modes of transport, but then due to its sheer volume it also produces many ton-miles. Would it be possible that the industry could be charged by its main regulatory body not per ship tonnage (as is currently the case), but per tonne of CO2 emission? 

Currently, the International Maritime Organization is funded proportional to the tonnage registered under the members’ flags. Like this, Panama, Marshall Islands and Liberia pay for the largest share of the IMO budget – and in the end, this is passed on to the ship-owner, who in turn passes this on to the shipper, who will charge the consumer. This is a good established mechanism that could be expanded to also internalize the external costs of CO2 emissions. 

Being the most globalized of all businesses, maritime transport should consider adopting a global regime that helps further internalize its environmental externalities – to ensure prosperity for all.  

It is all about efficiency

Investing in trade facilitation reforms, making intelligent use of the latest technologies, and ensuring that externalities are internalized are all several sides of the same coin. Trade efficiency is necessary to promote an open international trading system. It requires a continuous effort by policy makers to continuously review current procedures, apply the most appropriate technological solutions, and support an efficient allocation of scarce resources. 

Source: Jan Hoffman, UNCTAD – originally published in World Trade Matters, Spring Edition, 2018

South Korea – aiming to become a Global Customs Services Leader

South Korea hopes to be a leader in global customs services by offering solutions to complex international clearance procedures.

South Korea Customs Service (KCS) chief Kim Yung Moon said the agency hopes it can help foster trade relations between local businesses and partner nations worldwide.

In an interview with the Korea Times, he said the agency would continue to devote its manpower and resources to provide full support for export firms, especially the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that were the foundations of the South Korean economy.

The agency’s commitment was well-illustrated as the KCS under his leadership helped limit the fallout following the ongoing South Korea – Japan trade war that has led to major losses for South Korean exporters.

Since March, KCS officials have been dispatched to 30 customs offices nationwide to offer various forms of support, including consulting, technical aid and trade statistics data management.

The support has helped 2,189 SMEs log a combined US$2.4 billion (RM10 billion) in exports in the March-October period, up 2.2 per cent from US$2.3 billion (RM9.8 billion) the year before.

“We tried to identify what the firms needed most and came up with ideas on how we could be of assistance. I am glad we were able to fulfil our public duty,” Kim said.

In July, the KCS saved a local zinc coated steelmaker 1.3 billion won (RM4.5 million) in tariffs imposed by Taiwanese customs authorities after they accepted KCS opinion asking them to reclassify the item as a tariff-exempt product.

Similarly, a team of KCS officials was able to have the Indian customs authorities in March rescind a 10 per cent tariff imposed on Korea-made copy papers categorised as a no-tariff item under the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), a free trade agreement between South Korea and India.

This helped a local paper maker not only avoid what could have been an annual tariff of 200 million won (RM700,000), but also cleared the way for similar businesses to enter the market without the uncertainty of hefty, unexpected tariffs.

Most significant is that the agency was able to finalise the international standards on display modules, Korea’s key export item.

This allowed them to be classified as LCD modules exempt from tariffs in line with the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), a multilateral agreement enforced by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The process required painstaking efforts to persuade members of the World Customs Organization (WCO) and it proved South Korea’s “soft power” with the international customs body comprised of 183 countries representing over 98 percent of international trade.

A senior KCS official Kang Tae Il has also been elected a director of the Capacity Building Directorate at the WCO, whose members look to South Korea for training, consulting and multilateral aid utilising official development assistance funds and Customs Cooperation Fund-Korea.

Since 2009, 3,727 customs officials from around the world have undergone training offered by the KCS.

The appointment of Kang has also boosted KCS’ standing on the global stage, coupled with its artificial intelligence-based block chain customs services in a country recognized for its high-tech infrastructure and ICT expertise.

The agency’s key achievement is UNI-PASS, a KCS-developed electronic clearance system designed to enhance swift customs clearance and logistics service convenience.

The e-clearance system highly regarded by the KCS’s global peers increases work efficiency by minimizing manual errors and improving input accuracy by auto-generation of trade records.

“We will continue our efforts to strengthen influence and boost our say in the international customs circle. We will also become a leading standard setter involving the implementation and revision of related customs practices concerning e-commerce and risk management. This will boost the standing of Korea on the global stage,” Kim said.

Source: New Straits Times – December 11, 2019 

India – Introducing New Customs IT Solutions Monitoring Trade and Travellers

Finance Minister has launched two new IT Initiatives – ICEDASH and ATITHI for improved monitoring and pace of Customs clearance of imported goods and facilitating arriving international passengers.

ICEDASH

ICEDASH is an Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) monitoring dashboard of the Indian Customs helping the public see the daily Customs clearance times of import cargo at various ports and airports. 

With ICEDASH, Indian Customs has taken a lead globally to provide an effective tool that helps businesses compare clearance times across ports and plan their logistics accordingly. 

The dashboard has been developed by CBIC in collaboration with NIC. ICEDASH can be accessed through the CBIC website.

ATITHI

With ATITHI, CBIC has introduced an easy to use mobile app for international travelers to file the Customs declaration in advance. 

Passengers can use this app to file a declaration of dutiable items and currency with the Indian Customs even before boarding the flight to India.  ATITHI is available on both, iOS and Android.

Key-Benefits of the Initiative

  • Improving Global Ranking – the reform carried out by the CBIC will increase India’s global ranking in the Trading Across Border.
  • Increase Transparency –  both ICEDASH and ATITHI would be key drivers for further improvement especially as they reduce interface and increase the transparency of Customs functioning. 
  • Encouraging Tourism –  ATITHI would, in particular, create a tech-savvy image of India Customs and would encourage tourism and business travel to India.  
  • Better International Tourist Experience – the ATITHI app will facilitate hassle-free and faster clearance by Customs at the airports and enhance the experience of international tourists and other visitors at our airports.

Source: Press Information Bureau Government of India Ministry of Finance, 4 November 2019

Latest WCO News – October 2019

Read about –

  • Council 2019;
  • Botswana’s perspective on ensuring business continuity when transitioning from its Customs IT system to a more comprehensive national trade platform;
  • WCO Data Model: understanding the WCO’s key data harmonization and standardization tool for cross-border regulatory processes;
  • UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme: 15 years old and still going strong;
  • From the WCO drawing board to Customs strategic plans: is the nCENProgramme taking Customs by storm? 
  • and a whole more…

Source: WCO

SA Customs Procedure Guideline and Chart – 2019

SARS Customs clearance has operated under a Customs Procedure Code (CPC) regime for almost 10 years now. To commemorate the 10-year anniversary, the accompanying CPC Chart and External User Guideline is intended for expert users and newcomers to Customs clearance, alike. In particular, it is important for cross-border traders to understand that the CPC combinations cannot be used indiscriminately; but, have specific meanings and associations with various other Customs rules for the electronic processing of goods for import, transit and export. Attempts to ‘fudge’ a CPC for any particular purpose or reason, may lead to a negative result downstream. Accuracy in the use and application of CPCs results in improved trade compliance, more accurate trade statistical data and fewer declaration amendments hence less penalties and lost time. Over the last decade, it is certain that most international freight forwarders and tertiary Customs training institutes and universities have introduced some or other CPC methodology into their curricula. Feel free to use this guide in support of such curricula. I do however, request that in so doing, the attached material – made freely available to you – will be delivered ‘intact’ in the form as compiled and presented here.

The files can be dowloaded below –

External CPC Tutorial & Self-Assessment Guide 2019

CPC Chart October 2019

Coming soon – A CPC Tutorial on South African Customs Clearance Procedures

A Tutorial and Self Assessment Guide on the application and use of Customs Procedures Codes, for external stakeholders involved in the clearance of goods in South Africa, will shortly be uploaded to this site.

Watch this space!

SA Customs launches AEO Programme

Customs stakeholders with members of the SARS Preferred Trader team 

The stakeholders – from various business associations and Customs umbrella bodies – were very positive after the engagement and were open to form part of an AEO Working Group going forward. The idea is to have representatives from the public and private sectors who would discuss and examine the various issues related to the design and roll-out of the future AEO programme.

An engagement with various key Customs stakeholders was held on 25 September to share Customs’ plans to introduce an Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) programme in South Africa.

The AEO programme follows in the footsteps of Customs’ Preferred Trader programme which offers various benefits to compliant Customs clients. The SARS’ Preferred Trader programme, which was officially launched in May 2017, currently has 105 accredited clients who have been awarded Preferred Trader status. 

The AEO programme – based on the World Customs Organisation’s SAFE Framework of Standards – requires an extra level of safety and security compliance from traders and offers additional benefits, compared to the Preferred Trader programme. It is also open to the entire Customs value-chain, as opposed to only local importers and exporters.

SARS Customs intends to pilot the AEO programme in South Africa before the end of 2019. Clients in the motor vehicle manufacturing industry – representing big businesses have been earmarked to participate in the pilot, as well as SMMEs in the Clothing and Textile Industry. SARS is also in the planning stage of engagements with its major trading partners within BRICS and the EU for the purpose of establishing Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) for its AEO Programme and intends to commence engagements within Africa as well.

At the recent stakeholder engagement session, Customs and Excise Group Executive, Rae Vivier, indicated that the AEO programme was being designed for Customs to partner with the private and public sector to improve voluntary compliance and trade facilitation in the country. She mentioned a few key points that SARS was looking at when it came to AEO, including Mutual Recognition Agreements with SACU/SADC trading partners, close cooperation with Other Government Agencies (OGAs) in South Africa to ensure the programme is recognised by all government departments, exploring modern technology such as block chain and augmenting AEO benefits in order to design a programme that would be beneficial for trade. 

She also mentioned that C&E Trade Services would soon be sending a survey to Customs traders to find out what clients’ requirements are, from a trade facilitation point of view. “We need to collaborate with each other to ensure we design something for the future,” she said. 

Source: South African Revenue Service

WCO – Free Zones and the Necessity for Enhanced Customs Involvement

Coega SEZ, South Africa

The expansion of Free Zones has been mainly driven by political decisions closely affiliated with national economic development strategies. In some countries Customs is the primary governmental authority that regulates and governs Free Zones, while in others Free Zones are governed by other authorities, with less involvement from Customs. Depending on the institutional set-up, the scope and degree of Customs control in Free Zones and the economic operations carried out there varies considerably from one Free Zone to another. 

Existing literature reveals that Free Zones attract not only legitimate business but also illicit trade or other illicit activities that take advantage of the regulatory exemptions of Free Zones. 

Numerous papers have outlined the risks associated with Free Zones, along with economic benefits. Most of them deal with the legality of Free Zones policies, particularly in relation to export subsidies as governed by the WTO Agreement. Several other papers have dealt with illicit activities that have been perpetrated by exploiting characteristics of Free Zones. Such illicit activities include money laundering, tax-evasion and trade in counterfeit goods or other illicit goods. 

The WCO research paper deals with Customs-related aspects of Free Zones, considering both the associated benefits and risks. The risks primarily concern illicit trade that exploits key aspects of Free Zones. 

Literature that focuses on risks associated with Free Zones, particularly illicit trade or other illicit activities, have several things in common. They tend to highlight the fact that supervision over cargoes/companies in Free Zones is somewhat relaxed in comparison with other parts of the national territory. The following factors have been pointed out or quoted, although details are rarely provided due to the technical nature of the topic. 

  • Relaxed controls inside Free Zones 
  • Insufficient Customs’ involvement in the operation of Free Zones 
  • Ease in setting up companies inside Free Zones 
  • Insufficient integration of Information Technology(IT) systems by governmental agencies inside Free Zones 

The WCO research paper’s key observations fall in line with those outlined above. It describes the low-level involvement of Customs in monitoring cargo movement and companies’ activities inside Free Zones. This includes Customs’ low-level involvement at the establishment phase of Free Zones, at the approving companies permitted to operate in Free Zones pahse, and during the day-to-day monitoring of cargoes in Free Zones. Limited Customs’ authority inside Free Zones is also mentioned. This paper touches upon relaxed Customs procedures/controls related to Free Zones and observes that they stem from Customs’ limited involvement and limited authority inside Free Zones. These limitations, combined with insufficient integration and utilization of IT, result in a lack of the requisite data concerning cargoes inside Free Zones, and render Customs’ risk-management-based controls – conducted for the purpose of preserving security and compliance without hindering legitimate cargo flows – virtually useless. 

The research paper considers the concept of ‘extraterritoriality’ concerning Free Zones, stemming from a misinterpretation of the definition of Free Zones contained in the WCO Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC), to be behind the aforementioned limited involvement by and limited authority of Customs. The definition within Annex D, Chapter 2 of the RKC does not state that Free Zones are geographically outside the Customs territory. The definition means that the Free Zone itself falls within the Customs territory. ‘Goods’ located in Free Zones are considered as being outside the Customs territory for duty/tax purposes only. 

WCO Research Paper No. 47 – ‘Extraterritoriality’ of Free Zones: The Necessity for Enhanced Customs Involvement

Source: WCO, Kenji Omi, September, 2019