Data is King!

Two recent articles reaching my desk reiterate the importance of clean and standardised Customs data. Without this, any real benefits to be derived from the latest and future technologies will not be fully achieved. Downstream, a country’s economy depends on this data for accurate analysis, forecasting and policy-making. Similarly, the business community relies on accurate information to assist in better business and investment decisions.

During the 15th PICARD Conference held during 23-26 November 2020, ‘World Customs Journal Special Edition’ was introduced. The first paper of the special edition is based on the keynote speech which was given at the 14th PICARD Conference in October 2019 titled “Data Science: Policy Implications for Customs”.

The paper referred to is titled –

“If algorithms dream of Customs, do customs of cialsdreamofalgorithms?A manifesto for data mobilisation in Customs

The Abstract of the document reads as follows –

“Governance by data is a growing global trend, supported by strong national public policies whose foundation is open data, artificial intelligence and decision-making supported by algorithms. Despite this trend and some technical advances, Customs face obstacles in deploying ambitious data use policies. This article describes these challenges through recent experience in some Customs administrations and considers the technical and ethical issues speci c to all law enforcement agencies in the context of customs missions, to open paths for research and propose policy recommendations for a better use of customs data.”

The second matter is perhaps more directed towards Africa. TRALAC Newsletter, of October 2002 titled “Trade and Related Matters discusses the importance of data, specifically now with the introduction of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in January 2021.

The article considers more than just Customs trade data relating to goods. It envisages trade in services data as just as important to ensure a holistic approach –

“Trade-related data includes not only recorded values and volumes of goods trade among countries, but also data on services trade, non-tariff measures and barriers, tariffs, informal trade, trade restrictiveness, macro-economic conditions (like gross domestic product), micro-economic data (industry/firm-level data including employment, sales, profits and prices) and investment. This data is utilised by governments to make public policy decisions including the formulation of industrial, agriculture, trade and economic growth policies, strategies and regulations; trade negotiations strategies; merger and acquisition reviews; assessments of anti-competitive practices and determinations in trade remedy cases and applications for changes in tariffs. Businesses use trade information, such as tariffs in destination markets, applicable non-tariff measures, transportation costs and trade restrictiveness in combination with macro-economic indicators, firm-level data and market information to make investment, trade and market development decisions, and also to lodge trade remedy and tariff review applications and to inform their participation in public-private forums.”

The Newsletter continues to explain the notable improvements in data and reporting oer the last decade –

“Although trade and trade-related data has various uses, it needs to be useful, reliable and accurate information which is publicly available (except in the case of confidential information). This is the area where most African countries have historically fallen short although there has been some significant progress over the last decade. Initially, African trade data was only available on subscription databases and only for a select number of countries (like South Africa, Kenya and Egypt) and limited to trade in goods. There was a lack in published tariff schedules and data pertaining to non-tariff measures, investment, informal trade and services. In recent years, the availability of some data has improved significantly, especially for goods trade.

  • African countries are now increasingly publishing their statistics on websites of national statistics authorities and notifying their national data to the United Nations (UN). This data includes data on formal goods trade, aggregate services trade, non-tariff measures, tariffs, investment and some market information. The quality of the data has also improved as most countries now extensively verify the data prior to publication and submission. Increased access enables organisations like the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and International Trade Centre (ITC) to obtain, collate and publish trade data in databases like the ITC TradeMap and MacMap and the WTO trade portal.
  • As part of the implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, many countries are establishing trade portals. Southern and eastern African countries that already have functioning portals include Seychelles, Eswatini, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. Some portals contain detailed information on import and export requirements by specified product, sanitary and phytosanitary requirements, port of entry and applicable tariffs. The trade portals of countries in east Africa, including Uganda and Rwanda provide details of import or export processes including the trade costs such as inspection charges, and indicate the waiting time to complete the different steps.
  • Once fully operational, the African Trade Observatory (ATO) will contribute significantly to the availability of African trade data and capacity building. The ATO will collect and analyse trade and trade-related qualitative and quantitative data and information, establish a database for African trade; monitor implementation and evaluate the implementation process and impact of the AfCFTA and the Action Plan for Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT); and equip national governments and businesses to analyse and use of trade and related data.
  • There is increasing awareness of the effect of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) on intra-Africa trade. More information is available in the public domain through industry/product/sector studies, the trade cost database of the World Bank and the online non-tariff barrier mechanisms of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area, the Borderless Alliance (west Africa) and the new AfCFTA mechanism.
  • Informal trade is recognised as a major component of intra-Africa trade and this is not captured in formal trade statistics. There are a number of initiatives to gather data on informal cross-border trade (ICBT), including studies by UNECAand ongoing work by the Bank of Uganda which has been conducting surveys and reporting ICBT data since 2005.

Although there have been improvements in intra-Africa trade data, there is room for improvement.”

Harmonised Message Structures for International Forwarding and Transport Messages on the way

NEWS From the GEFEG Blog

UN COVID-19 project to support data exchange for international supply chain processes

The emergence of COVID-19 has shown an increased demand for coordination, efficient planning, modelling and risk control in many areas. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and its trade related United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) are strongly supporting multilateral engagement for interoperable cross-border standards, such as UN/CEFACT Data exchange Standards.

Multi-Model Transport Reference Data Model Ready for use

Many current regulations, standards, instructions and business capacity-building measures are available already. The comprehensive Multi-modal Transport Reference Data Model (MMT RDM) covers the requirements of international forwarding and transport, including related trade, insurance, customs and other regulatory documentary requirements based on the integration of trade facilitation best practices, developed by UN/CEFACT.

COVID-19 Project lead by GEFEG: Development of a standardised data set for the Transport sector

On behalf of the UN, GEFEG provides the project lead for the COVID 19 project. The project concentrates on ensuring the flow of goods and the transport across the various transport modes. Its overall objective is to set up a multi-modal harmonized set of mainly transport documents as a profile of the UN/CEFACT Multi-modal Transport Reference Data Model (MMT RDM).

The data sets developed include seven electronic exchange messages such as Booking Instruction, Shipping Instruction, Waybill, Bill of Lading, Packing List, Status Messages, Rapid Alert Security Food and Feed (RASFF) and their Business Requirement Specifications (BRSs). It has been checked that every data element with the same name also has the same semantic meaning.

The new profile of the MMT RDM will build a bridge to the already existing electronic exchange formats and allow a better use of state-of-the-art technologies such as block chain and APIs regarding the different transport modes.

Focusing on the different transport modes in the next phase

Additional information will be collected in the next phase, with a stronger focus on the different modes of transport. Results will be reported back to the Multi-modal Transport RDM and change processes initiated regarding relevant yet missing information in the MMT RDM. And last but not least, profiles of the MMT for the different modes of transport, such as air, rail, road, and maritime will be published.

Michael Dill, CEO of GEFEG is looking forward to welcome further participants in the project: It will be important to get advice and hints on any missing data requirements across the various modes of transport! I would like to encourage colleagues involved in transport processes to join the next phase of the project. Your valuable input and expert knowledge would be very much appreciated.”

Interested parties wishing to participate in the project should contact info@gefeg.com with subject detail: New Participant in COVID-19 project.

Source: GEFEG News Blog, dated 16 September 2020

WCO News – June 2020

As the title suggests, the latest edition of WCO News contains a variety of articles concerning Customs approach to COVID-19 and even one article relating to Customs Brokers on COVID-19. Other features include C-2-C cooperation and information exchange, Risk Management and the future invisible supply chain and Secure Border . Of interest for Customs Policy are articles on improvements to simplification and harmonisation of components to the Revised Kyoto Convention; WCO’s development of draft “Practical Guidance on Free Zones” as well as Internet domain name ownership data – understanding changes and useful suggestions for Customs. All in all another great read!

Source : World Customs Organisation

Weight or number? Indian Customs seeks to bring uniformity to measurement of goods

Customs_&_Central_Excise_DKB

Are toilet seats bought by the kilogram or on a per piece basis? Should tableware or porcelain be measured by weight or as a unit? Likewise with a coffee table — weight or number? The answers may seem obvious but they’re not. Differences in commercial practices and customs guidelines on the measurement of some goods may have wreaked havoc with the country’s trade statistics, not to mention sparking a plethora of disputes and delays in the clearance of consignments.

The Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC), India has now begun a review of standard unit quantity codes (UQC) to address the issue and help improve the ease of doing business while reducing the scope for disputes. India has already identified ‘trade across borders’ as one of the areas where it can show substantial improvement in ease of doing business.

India is ranked 119 on this count in the World Bank’s latest rankings.

“There are issues particularly in some tariff lines… We are now looking at how we can bring about uniformity,” said a government official. For instance, UQC for products under Heading 6911— tableware, kitchenware and other household articles, and toilet articles of porcelain or china—is in kilogram.

However, the trade transacts in units or by number of pieces. Moreover, there is no uniformity in UQC declarations by traders. These are not the same for a particular item at different customs locations. The World Customs Organization has prescribed standard UQCs that are used internationally. India implemented mandatory standard UQCs from 2013 as part of export-import declarations.

There are inconsistencies in the way these have been applied. Variance in codes is approved by field officials, which makes the system subject to discretion and interpretation. CBEC has reached out to the industry to arrive at ways in which the matter can be addressed.

“Use of standardised UQC as prescribed in Customs Tariff Act, 1975, is a challenge at times faced by trade due to different market practices,” said Rahul Shukla, executive director, PwC.

“The same has been recognized by the customs authorities and they have supported the trade in resolving it as well on case-to-case basis. Shukla said the proposed move by CBEC to take another look at UQCs prescribed in the Customs Tariff Act and align them with practice was a positive move and in line with the continued commitment to trade facilitation.

“It will help if CBEC can consider allowing multiple UQCs for the same commodity or adopting a particular UQC which is used more frequently by trade,” he said. India jumped 30 places to 100 in World Bank’s overall ease of doing business rankings in the latest listing released in October after undertaking various reforms to improve the environment. Source: By Deepshikha Sikarwar, The Economic Times, India, 8 January 2018.

Chamber of Mines goes after UNCTAD over faulty trade misinvoicing report

Chamber of Mines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copy of Enhancing Images

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.

Essential Download for shippers and freight buyers

American Shipper

This year’s American Shipper’s benchmark report examines the extent to which freight buyers rely on the art of negotiation versus the technological tools to refine the procurement process. It also looks at the background dynamics confronting procurement professionals to show why investment in technology is so important. Visit AmericanShipper.com – requires registration to download!

It’s not an option for shippers and 3PLs to ignore the data that’s washing over the logistics industry anymore. And respondents to American Shipper’s most recent Transportation Procurement Benchmark Study, The Art and Science of Buying Freight, recognize that as much as anyone.

Only one quarter of freight buyers feel their organizations are above average when it comes to procurement technology. Nearly half admit they are still using predominantly spreadsheets and email to conduct procurement across modes and regions. Two-thirds are still reliant on EDI. Source: americanshipper.com

Big Data – Mining Vessel History to Combat Smuggling

For thousands of years, maritime authorities have relied on tip-offs, patrols, investigations and random inspections to find smuggled goods. Today they have a variety of additional methods at their disposal, and one of the most promising is also the most intuitive: looking at every vessel’s historical behavior.

Israeli firm Windward was founded to collect, vet and analyze AIS, along with a variety of other commercial data sources on maritime traffic. Just having access to the massive quantity of data that the world’s fleet generates is not sufficient: it could take weeks for a human operator to sift through the records of just a few hundred ships, and law enforcement agencies need actionable intelligence in real time.

This is where Windward excels. Its system uses proprietary algorithms to find specific ships that may be involved in illicit activity based on a number of “red flag” behaviors. Loitering just off of a village or an uninhabited bay may be a sign that a vessel is engaged in tendering goods or passengers from shore. Similarly, when a ship turns off its AIS transmitter or changes its AIS reporting name near smuggling hotspots, it may be taking on contraband. And a ship with a well-established trading pattern that suddenly heads to a troubled region may be engaged in a new (and not entirely legitimate) line of business.

These behaviors are obvious when Ami Daniel, Windward’s CEO and co-founder, walks through a few examples in a live presentation. The novel development isn’t the signal pattern – it is the fact that his firm can automatically find it, without knowing which ships to examine in advance. It doesn’t matter if a vessel is operated by a reputable company or a known North Korean front – Windward’s system analyzes records for the entire fleet, and if a vessel looks suspicious, it gets flagged.

A few cases illustrate the potential of this approach. In Windward’s best-known example, a Cyprus-flagged reefer with a history of trading between Northern Europe and West Africa headed to a port in Ukraine – well outside its normal pattern. It returned towards the Strait of Gibraltar, but before passing through to the Atlantic, it lingered off of Algeria and Morocco for 12 days. It turned its AIS on and off multiple times in busy shipping lanes during this loitering period. Windward notes that this region is at high risk for the smuggling of arms and narcotics.

After passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, the vessel headed north towards Scotland, where it arrived on January 14. It loitered again for half a day in a small bay off the isle of Islay – an area without a port for a 4,200 dwt ship. Windward’s system flagged this behavior as a potential sign of a smuggling drop-off, though it is also possible that the ship anchored up to wait out foul weather or to time its arrival.

This particular case made headlines in the UK when Windward told media that hundreds of vessels with suspicious records entered British waters in the first two months of 2017. The story was picked up by the Global Mail, Sky News and the Daily Record, and Scottish politicians called on the authorities to look into the matter: “This requires investigation, certainly by the police and, I suspect, by the security authorities to clarify what’s going on,” said member of Scottish Parliament Mike Russell.

These results capture attention, and Daniel says that the firm is marketing the system’s abilities to multiple government agencies. The kind of smuggling/trafficking behavior that it can identify is often associated with organized crime and the financing of terrorism, so it has a great deal of appeal for intelligence applications as well as maritime security / maritime domain awareness. He suggests that for now, commercial users (traders, brokers and others) are not a target market, nor does he foresee branching out into similar offerings for trucking or air freight. Windward does one thing well – very well – and Daniel expects that it will invest in its core strength for some time to come. Original article published in The Maritime Executive.

WCO News – February 2017 Edition

teaser_wconews_82

Predictably, the first edition of WCO News 2017 provides a spectrum of insight on this year’s Customs theme – “Data Analysis”. Here’s a preview:

  • Data analysis: seizing opportunities for effective border management – By Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary General, World Customs Organisation.
  • Data analysis for effective border management – the Canadian experience By Charles Slowey, Director General, Global Border Management and Data Analytics, Canada Border Services Agency.
  • Border management modernization in New Zealand forges ahead – By Murray Young, Chief Information Officer, New Zealand Customs Service.
  • Mirror analysis, a risk analysis support tool for Customs administrations – By Roger-Claver Victorien Gnogoue, Financial Services Director, Côte d’Ivoire Customs
  • Data analysis in risk management: Singapore Customs’ perspective – By Singapore Customs
  • API-PNR: an overview of the French system and the challenges faced – By Christophe Hypolite, PNR Mission, France
  • Developing data analyst skills: how the WCO contributes to expanding this specialized area of work By Tsendsuren Davaa, Ph.D., Professional Associate, Compliance and Facilitation Directorate, WCO
  • Cognitive computing for Customs agencies: improving compliance and facilitation by enabling Customs officers to make better decisions – By Stewart Jeacocke, Global Customs Expert, IBM, and Norbert Kouwenhoven, EU Customs Leader, IBM European Union Team

Nice to also see a contribution from one of SARS’ own titled “Customs and the environment: bringing about a better future for all” – By Roux Raath, Environmental Programme Manager, WCO. You can access and download the magazine by clicking here!