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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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The WCO Policy Commission, held in Moscow, Russian Federation, from 5 to 7 December 2016 under the chairmanship of Mr. R. Davydov, brought to the fore the key role of Customs in creating a sustainable and efficient e-commerce ecosystem, reviving-up the exchange of data between stakeholders and enhancing risk-management through electronic interface. The other main topics discussed during the Commission pertained to trade facilitation, security, the enhancement of the Customs/Tax cooperation and the modernization of Customs administrations.

The newly established WCO Working Group on E-Commerce will work to tackle the different dimensions of e-commerce by collecting and exchanging best practices in the field, stocktaking and leveraging some of the ongoing work being carried out by other entities and drawing up proposals geared towards the development of practical solutions for the clearance of e-commerce shipments, including appropriate duty/tax collection mechanisms and control procedures.

Concerning the in-depth discussions on Custom /Tax cooperation, the WCO issued this year “Guidelines for strengthening cooperation and the exchange of information between Customs and Tax authorities at the national level” and will continue working on topics of common interest for Customs and Tax experts such as transfer pricing, drawback and Illicit Financial Flows (IFF).

During the Commission, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya, confirmed the WCO Theme for 2017 “Data Analysis for Effective Border Management” and stressed the impact of the digital revolution and the need to address promptly the challenges posed to the global economy. The Secretary General invited all the WCO Members to promote and share information in the coming months on how they are leveraging the potential of data to advance and achieve their objectives and respond to the expectations of traders, transport and logistic operators, and governments.

As data analysis will be emphasized in 2017 as a force multiplier for Customs administrations, it is relevant to highlight that the WCO is carrying out a Study to collect best practices among its members to assess and promote initiatives in the area of e-commerce. A previous analysis of preliminary data underscored the need for digitalization of processes, better sharing of information between e-commerce stakeholders and customs for improved risk management and the necessity for harmonization in the low-value shipment processes. Source: WCO

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!

Wco CBM & Single Window WorkshopThe World Customs Organization (WCO), with the financial support of the Customs Administration of Saudi Arabia, successfully held a Regional Workshop on Coordinated Border Management (CBM), Single Window and the WCO Data Model in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from 27 to 31 March 2016. Thirty seven middle management officials of the Customs Administrations from the MENA Region, namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates participated in the Workshop. In addition, twelve officials of Customs’ Partner Agencies and two representatives from the private sector attended the event.

Mr. Abdulah AlMogehem, the Deputy Director General of the Customs Administration of Saudi Arabia in his opening remarks highlighted the importance of Single Window development by governments to simplify cross-border trade regulatory procedures which will reduce inefficiency and redundancy of border management processes.

The event highlighted the importance of CBM principles as the basis for the development of a Single Window Environment to enable coordination and cooperation between all relevant government agencies involved in border management. The Workshop also focused on the importance of strategic planning and formal governance structures in establishing a Single Window Environment. SA Revenue Service’s Intikhab Shaik incidentally facilitated the session and discussion on Single Window.

Other important topics included Business Process Re-engineering as well as Data Harmonization, using the WCO Data Model as the inter-operability framework to lay the foundation for CBM and Single Window. Source: WCO

WCO News Feb 2016Another bumper edition of customs news, views and success stories (click here to view!). Several countries showcase their modernization and digital developments under the theme “Digital Customs” from declaration management systems, carnet systems to paperless procedures for AEO’s. Nice to see an article featuring South African Customs once again.

There’s also a section featuring articles on ‘big data’. Learn about Canada’s approach to private sector stakeholder engagement. You’ll also find some interesting points of view regarding use and misuse of valuation databases and a whole lot more.  Source WCO

WCO Data Model Workshop, Pretoria, South Africa, Dec. 2015

SARS’ EDI and Customs Business Systems representatives with WCO Data Model facilitators Mr. Giandeo Mungroo (2nd from the left) and Ms. Sue Probert (2nd from the right) [Photo – SARS]

Officials of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) last week attended a WCO workshop on the Data Model facilitated by Ms. Sue Probert and Mr. Giandeo Mungroo. The event, held in Pretoria, South Africa was sponsored by the CCF of China as part of the WCO’s Capacity Building endeavours to promote the adoption and use of customs standards and best practice amongst it’s  member states.

The workshop was requested by SARS ahead of new technical and systems developments and requirements informed by SARS’ new Customs Control and Duty Acts. Moreover, there are also political ambition to institute a Border Management Agency for the Republic of South Africa. All of this requires that SARS Customs has a robust electronic tool to assist the organisation in mapping national data requirements according to specific needs.

Besides the use of a value added Data Model tool – GEFEG, it is imperative for the organisation to develop capacity in the knowledge and understanding of the WCO Data Model. SARS has successfully EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) for the last 15 years with various local supply chain trading partners and government agencies. Over the last few years SARS has been actively pursuing and promoting IT connectivity with regional trading partners with the express purpose to extend the benefits of eCommerce across borders.

GEFEG.FX software is used to model data formats and develop implementation guidelines for data interchange standards such as UN/EDIFACT. It is a software tool that brings together modelling, XML schema development, and editing of classic EDI standards under a unified user interface, and supports the development of multilingual implementation guidelines.

Version 3 of the WCO Data Model brought about a distinct shift towards an ‘all-of-government’ approach at international borders with the introduction of the GOVCBR (Government Cross Border Regulatory) message. The message and underlying data requirements facilitate the exchange of customs and other government regulatory information to support a Single Window environment.

WCO Data Model not only includes data sets for different customs procedures but also information needed by other Cross-border Regulatory Agencies for the cross-border release and clearance at the border. The WCO Data Model supports the implementation of a Single Window as it allows the reporting of information to all government agency through the unique way it organizes regulatory information. This instrument is already 10 years old and is seeing increased use by WCO members.

Amongst the benefits derived from the workshop, SARS staff acquired the following competencies that will not only aid their work but business user support as well –

  • Competence in operating the tool to build a source control collaborative environment to support national and regional harmonization;
  • Competence to build a base to conduct national/ regional data harmonization based on the WCO Data Model to support national Single Window implementation as well as Regional Integration;
  • Competence to build systems/ electronic interfaces between Customs and its partner government agencies including a Border Management Agency; and
  • Provide needed competence to develop, maintain and publish national and regional information packages based on the WCO Data Model.

AfricaFrom time to time it is nice to reflect on a good news story within the local customs and logistics industry. Freight & Trade Weekly’s (2015.11.06, page 4) article – “SA will be base for development of single customs platform” provides such a basis for reflection. The article reports on the recent merger of freight industry IT service providers Compu-Clearing and Core Freight and their plans to establish a robust and agile IT solution for trade on the African sub-continent.

In recent years local software development companies have facilitated most of the IT changes emerging from the Customs Modernisation Programme. Service Providers also known as computer bureaus have been in existence as far back as the early 1980’s when Customs introduced its first automated system ‘CAPE’. They have followed and influenced Customs developments that have resulted in the modern computerised and electronic communication platforms we have today. For those who do not know there are today at least 20 such service providers bringing a variety of software solutions to the market. Several of these provide a whole lot more than just customs software, offering solutions for warehousing, logistics and more. As the FTW article suggests, ongoing demands by trade customers and the ever-evolving technology space means that these software solutions will offer even greater customization, functionality, integration and ease of use for customers.

What is also clear is that these companies are no longer pure software development houses. While compliance with Customs law applies to specific parties required to registered and/or licensed for Customs purposes, the terrain on which the software company plays has become vital to enable these licensees or registrants the ‘ability to comply’ within the modern digital environment. This means that Service Providers need to have more than just IT skills, most importantly a better understanding of the laws affecting their customers – the importers, exporters, Customs brokers, freight forwarders, warehouse operators, etc.

Under the new Customs Control Act, for instance, the sheer level of compliance – subject to punitive measures in the fullness of time – will compel Service Providers to have a keen understanding of both the ‘letter of the law’ as well as the ability to translate this into user-friendly solutions that will provide comfort to their customers. Comfort to the extent that Customs registrants and licensees will have confidence that their preferred software solutions not only provide the tools for trading, but also the means for compliance of the law. Then, there is also the matter of scalability of these solutions to keep pace with ongoing local, regional and global supply chain demands.

The recent Customs Modernisation Programme realised significant technological advances with associated benefits for both SARS and trade alike. For the customs and shipping industry quantification of these benefits probably lies more in ‘improved convenience’ and ‘speed’ of the customer’s interaction with SARS than cost-savings itself. My next installment on this subject will consider the question of cross-border trade and how modern customs systems can influence and lead to increased regional trade.

WCO Capacity Building Magazine 3rd Edition.ashxThe WCO – Sub – Saharan African Customs Modernization Programme funded by the government of Sweden comprises four projects, namely the WCO- EAC CREATe , the WCO– SACU Connect, the WCO– WACAM and the WCO– INAMA Projects. In their totality, the projects support regional Customs Unions in Africa in their mission to facilitate trade without compromising the security of their country and the safety of their citizens. The newsletter will appear quarterly and will inform on ongoing tasks as well as give an overview of future activities. Source: WCO

Sost_Pakistan_Customs_and_Chinese_TrucksPakistan Customs’ experts are in China to make further progress on the establishment of direct Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) with the trusted and neighbouring country to reduce the incidences of revenue losses.

The sources told Customs Today that Chief Customs Automation Abdul Qadir, Director Majid Yousfani, Riaz Chaudhary and Azeem from PRAL flew to China on August 9 to hold series of meetings with the Chinese counterparts to make further progress on the EDI.

The sources said, that the EDI will help access trade documents on real time basis from computers of cross-border customs stations. The directorate had exchanged the technical documents with China for EDI, the sources said, adding that the Chinese Customs had given feedback and counter proposal on the technical documents.

In order to expedite finalisation of the EDI arrangement, earlier a meeting with the Chinese Customs for exchange of data relating to the certificate of origin between the two countries was held on February 2 to 4, 2015 in Beijing. And, this is the second meeting of Pakistan Customs officers with the Chinese Customs, sources added.

It is recalled here, that Federal Board of Revenue had issued an alert regarding mis-declaration in imports from China under 50 HS Codes. The Board also showed concerns on the un-warranted concessions granted under various SROs covering preferential or free trade agreements.

The Board had advised verification of suspected Certificates of Origin directly through the commercial missions of Pakistan abroad, discouraging mis-classification of goods to obtain concessions and extending benefits only to goods which strictly matched the description provided in respective SROs.

It may be mentioned, that the export data of China customs for CY 2013 was cross matched with the import data of Pakistan Customs for same period and it transpired that in respect of 376 tariff lines the import value declared before Pakistan Customs was short by $2.437 billion recorded by China Customs as export value to Pakistan.

Moreover, in respect of 13 tariff lines the import value declared before Pakistan Customs was in excess of $829 million that that recorded by China Customs as export value to Pakistan. This is indicative of possible mis-classification of those goods which attract higher rates of duty but are cleared as goods attracting lower rates. Source: CustomsToday

SACU IT Connectivity ConferenceRepresentatives from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa recently to refine requirements towards the development IT connectivity and electronic data exchange to facilitate cross-border customs clearance in the region. The workshop was convened by the SACU Secretariat under the sponsorship of the Swedish government and technical support from the World Customs Organisation.

Work already commenced way back in 2012 on this initiative. Progress in the main has been hampered by the legal agreement which to date not all members of the Customs Union have ratified. One of the features of this initiative, however, has been the continuity of support rendered by the WCO.

This event was indeed fortunate to secure – once again – the services of S.P. Sahu, former head of Information Technology at the WCO. After his secondment to the WCO he is now back in his home country where he is the Commissioner for Single Window based in Delhi, India.

S.P’s years of experience in both the technical and operational spheres of customs and the international supply chain enable him to articulate concepts and solutions in a manner which are practical and simple to understand. The workshop recognised the need to accelerate border processes and to this end the border process should be limited to physical examination, inspection, release; declaration processes should be done away from borders.

While simple enough in theory, the notion of clearance away from borders could pose challenges. Many of Africa’s borders – including those of a ‘One Stop’ kind – have not fully embraced the need to integrate processing and synchronize Customs activities. The challenge posed by ‘regional integration’ is one of surrendering national imperatives for a common regional good. It imposes a co-ordination of and development towards ‘regional objectives’ with the same level of purpose as national states do for their domestic agenda’s. In the case of SACU, it challenges member state’s stance on what real benefits the customs union should aspire to, beyond the mere sharing of the common revenue pool.

The outcome of the workshop resulted in a more refined, do-able scope and objective. With Mr. Sahu’s experience and guidance, the revised Utility Block (UB) speaks to all facets (legal, operational and technical) of the ‘regional agreement’ to the extent it specifies in the required detail the programme of action required on the part of the member stats as well as the SACU Secretariat. Refinement of the UB includes the removal from scope of the Release Message, Manifest Information and bond/guarantee message for the purpose of simplification of customs processes.

What remains are –

  • An Export & Transit Message – which includes the Unique Consignment Reference (UCR) validated and approved by the Export/Exit country.
  • An Arrival Confirmation/Notification Message – where the arrival date time would be when the import country recognises goods as received and places the goods under its customs procedure.
  • A Control Results Message – which includes the results of data matching, inspection and risk assessment based on agreed business rules.

In support of the above, SACU recently agreed on a framework of a UCR which must be further discussed and agreed upon by the respective member states. The UCR is a structured reference number which will be used by customs administrations of the respective member states to ‘link up’ import declaration data with the corresponding ‘export declaration’ data electronically exchanged by the export country.

Regional traders who have electronic clearance and forwarding capability will also play a role in the exchange of data through the exchange of the UCR on export and transit information with their counterparts or clients in the destination country. Once the exchange of data is operational between member states, it will be imperative for the importer to receive/obtain the UCR from the exporting country and apply it to his/her import declaration when making clearance with Customs.

The SACU Utility block will be tabled at a future Permanent Technical Committee meeting of the WCO for consideration and approval. A Utility Block is a concept structure which is proposed under the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) initiative which seeks to aid and assist its members in the operationalisation of Mutual Administrative Assistance agreements.

Guilherma Mambo presenting the Mozambique Single Electronic Window at the SADC ICT Conference, in Mauritius, 2012.

Guilherma Mambo presenting the Mozambique Single Electronic Window at the SADC ICT Conference, in Mauritius, 2012.

Guilherme Mambo has just been appointed Director General Mozambique Customs on the 10th May 2013. Until then he was Board Director of MCNet – Mozambique Community Network the PPP responsibly for implementation of Electronic Single Window for customs clearance in Mozambique where he were responsible for implementation and operations. In recent months he has lead Mozambique’s bi-lateral engagement on IT-Connectivity and Data Exchange with his counterparts at the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

For the past 10 years Mambo served as director IT Mozambique Customs and then for Mozambique Revenue Authority. On this role he participated in various modernization projects aimed at improving the business environment in Mozambique through improvement of public services particularly the complete organizational transformation of customs and internal tax areas.

Prior to working with customs and MRA, he worked in aviation industry and a UN lead project in Chechnya, Liberia, Angola were he was exposed multifaceted international experience.

As Director General – Mozambique Customs his responsibility is to manage the General Directorate of Customs (DGA) a paramilitary organization with around 2000 staff, one of the two major collectors of government revenue derived from external trade largely from customs duty, excise duty and the Value Added Tax (IVA).  DGA is also a law enforcement agency that undertakes the control of imports and exports for the protection of revenue to prevent evasion of duties and taxes and assists in the promotion of the community’s well-being to prevent the smuggling of controlled, prohibited and restricted goods (such as illicit narcotic drugs and firearms). The Director General heads the DGA and his assisted by three Deputy Director General each of one have a specific area of responsibility.

500px-Emblem_of_the_African_Union_svgThe African Union (AU) Technical Working Group on Interconnectivity has developed a ‘draft’ Strategy and Roadmap for Customs-2-Customs IT Connectivity on the continent. This strategy will effectively guide the process of the continental Interconnectivity of Computerized Customs Clearance and Information Systems in Africa. The ‘draft’ Roadmap envisages that the process of interconnectivity will take a period of 11 years with a total of four stages.

Stage 1 – by 2014, National states should have engaged one another (within their respective regions) on the matter of Customs connectivity.

Stage 2 – between 2013 and 2017, the AU has an extremely ambitious expectation that national Customs Administrations would have (at least commenced) if not completed Customs ‘connectivity’ within the various Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa.

Stage 3 – between 2017 and 2020, the suggestion that Customs interconnectivity will be occurring between RECs across the African continent – North Africa: AMU; West Africa: ECOWAS and UEMOA; Central Africa: ECCAS and CEMAC; East Africa: COMESA, EAC, IGAD; and South Africa: SADC and SACU.

Stage 4 – between 2020 and 2025, consolidation of Customs IT-Connectivity across the RECs.

The ‘draft’ Strategy spells out the strategic objectives and activities at the national, regional and continental level that will need to be taken for this to be realized. The strategy also indicates the roles of all the major stake holders in the process.  This comes in the wake of several regional and bi-lateral initiatives to bridge the ‘cross-border divide’ through electronic exchange of structured customs information.

All in all an ambitious plan structured to meet the equally ambitious deadlines of the coming into being of an African Union. The real challenge in all of this lies with the Member States in being able to set aside and commit to regional and continental ambitions, over and above the already pressing and complex national agenda’s of their respective sovereign countries. In context of the African Union, the multiplicity of RECs in themselves add a layer of duplication…..is an “integrated Customs Union” in Africa going to continue to permit the existence of the respective RECs or will they be absorbed into the African Union? Member states need to begin speaking up on this issue otherwise accept being swamped by onerous commitments. No doubt the ‘international donor agencies’ wait eagerly in the wings to capitalise on Africa’s deficiencies.

Australian Customs hosted visits from three international experts on trade data harmonisation - Bill Nolle, Dietmar Jost and Eric Sunstrum.

Australian Customs hosted visits from three international experts on trade data harmonisation – Bill Nolle, flanked by Dietmar Jost and Eric Sunstrum of the WCO.

It is with sadness we [WCO] learnt that our former colleague, the former Chairperson of the DMPT passed away on 29 December 2012 after a brief period of illness. He was fighting a very aggressive cancer.

Bill Nolle was a fabulous contributor to our [WCO] area of work and he has left his imprint in many aspects of our work at the Data Model Project Team and the Information Management Sub Committee. Version 3.0 of the WCO Data Model owes its richness and quality thanks to Bill’s splendid contribution. Bill authored the WCO Single Window Data Harmonization Guidelines/ UN/CEFACT Recommendation 34.  We [WCO] owe it to Bill the methodology of Gather-Define-Analyze-Reconcile for data simplification and harmonization. Bill brought passion to his work. His speeches and interventions were always intense and engaging and he will be missed in his professional environment.

His legacy includes an eLearning module in which you can hear him explain how data harmonization was carried out in Jordan. The module remains a favorite for the professional users and trainers alike.

Bill retired from US Customs and Border Protection where he worked for 30 years. He and his wife moved to the Outer Banks from Frederick, MD in 2009, to be near the beach that he loved. At the time of his death he was employed by Nathan Associates Incorporated and Crown Agents as a consultant. Bill travelled extensively during his tenures with US Customs and Border Protection, Nathan Incorporated, and Crown Agents, making friends on each continent in the world.

The following obituary was posted by a colleague in Jordan –

Bill has been a breath of fresh air that visited our country (Jordan), every once in a while as Customs Consultant. He was an inspiration and a driving force to all,  giving advice when needed, and always willing to help. A proud husband, father and (Opa), that we felt his family was our own, Not to forget, a professional Pita Bread baker,  we were hoping to someday try. One would think, God loved him so,  and wanted him closer more. Bill will always be in our hearts,  a father figure, a teacher, and a colleague holding one of the greatest hearts I’ve known. My deepest condolences to his loving family, and may he rest in peace.   Posted by: Juliette Najjar – Amman – Jordan – Friend / Colleague   Jan 17, 2013.

Sources: WCO, Gallup Funeral Services, and www.tributes.com

I post this article given it ties together many of the initiatives which I have described in previous articles. The appears to be an urgency to implement these initiatives, but the real question concerns the sub-continent’s ability to entrench the principles and maintain continuity. At regional fora its too easy for foreign ministers, trade practitioners and the various global and financial lobbies to wax lyrical on these subjects. True there is an enormous amount of interest and ‘money’ waiting to be ploughed into such programs, yet sovereign states battle with dwindling skills levels and expertise. Its going to take a lot more than talk and money to bring this about.

South Africa is championing an ambitious integration and development agenda in Southern Africa in an attempt to advance what Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies describes as trade and customs cooperation within the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other regional trade organisations.

Central to pursuing this intra-regional trade aspiration are a series of mechanisms to combine market integration and liberalisation efforts with physical cross-border infrastructure and spatial-development initiatives. Also envisaged is greater policy coordination to advance regional industrial value chains. “Trade facilitation can be broadly construed as interventions that include the provision of hard and soft infrastructure to facilitate the movement of goods, services and people across borders, with SACU remaining the anchor for wider integration in the region,” Davies explains.

This approach is also receiving support from the US Agency for International Development (USAid), which recently hosted the Southern African Trade Facilitation Conference, held in Johannesburg.

Trade programme manager Rick Gurley says that virtually every study on trade in sub- Saharan Africa identifies time and cost factors of exporting and importing as the most significant constraints to regional trade potential. Limited progress has been made by SADC member States and SACU partners to tackle the factors undermining trade-based growth, limiting product diversification and increasing the price of consumer goods, including of foodstuffs. However, far more would need to be done to realise the full potential of intra-regional trade.

Regional Alliance
One high-profile effort currently under way is the Tripartite Free Trade Area (T-FTA), which seeks to facilitate greater trade and investment harmonisation across the three existing regional economic communities of the SADC, the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa and the East African Community.

The existing SADC FTA should be fully implemented by the end of the year, with almost all tariff lines traded duty-free and, if established, the T-FTA will intergrate the markets of 26 countries with a combined population of nearly 600-million people and a collective gross domestic product (GDP) of $1-trillion. At that size and scale, the market would be more attractive to investors and could launch the continent on a development trajectory, Davies avers. It could also form the basis for a later Africa-wide FTA and a market of some $2.6-trillion.

However, as things stand today, intra- regional trade remains constrained not merely by trade restrictions but by a lack of cross-border infrastructure, as well as poor coordination and information sharing among border management agencies such as immigration, customs, police and agriculture.Cross-national connectivity between the customs management systems is also rare, often requiring the identical re-entry of customs declarations data at both sides of the border, causing costly and frustrating delays.

USAid’s regional economic growth project, the Southern African Trade Hub, is a strong proponent of the introduction of several modern trade-facilitation tools throughout the SADC – a number of which have already been successfully pioneered. These tools, endorsed by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) Framework of Standards, which offers international best-practice guidelines, are aimed at tackling the high costs of exporting and importing goods to, from, and within Southern Africa, which has become a feature of regional trade and discouraged international investment.

Bringing up the Rear
A country’s competitiveness and the effec- tiveness of its trade facilitation regime are measured by its ranking on World Bank indices and, with the exception of Mozambique, Southern African States perform poorly – with most in the region settling into the lowest global quartile of between 136 and 164, out of a total of 183. “Our transaction costs in Africa across its borders are unacceptably high and inhibit trade by our partners in the private sector,” says WCO capacity building director Erich Kieck. “We need our States to develop good ideas and policies, but the true test lies in their ability to implement them,” he notes.

He adds that not only does trade facilitation require efficient customs-to-customs connectivity, but also demands effective customs-to-business engagement, adding that, while customs units are responsible for international trade administration, they are not responsible for international trade. “The private sector is the driver of economic activity and international trade, and government’s responsibility is to understand the challenges faced by the business community and develop symbiotic solutions,” Kieck notes.

Despite the establishment of regional trade agreements and regional economic communities in Southern Africa, many partner- ships have failed to deliver on their full potential to increase domestic competitiveness.

In a report, African Development Bank (AfDB) senior planning economist Habiba Ben Barka observes that, despite the continent’s positive GDP growth record – averaging 5.4% a year between 2005 and 2010 – it has failed to improve its trading position or integration into world markets. In 2009, Africa’s contribution to global trade stood at just under 3%, compared with nearly 6% for Latin America and a significant 28% for Asia.

“Since 2000, a new pattern of trade for the continent has begun to take centre stage, as Africa has witnessed an upsurge in its trade with the emerging Brazil, Russia, India and China economies. Overall, Africa is trading more today than in the past, but that trade is more with the outside world than internally,” says Ben Barka. She adds that while many African regional economic communities have made some progress in the area of trade facilitation, much greater effort is required to harmonise and integrate sub-regional markets.

To address enduring trade barriers, consensus among business, government and trade regulators appears to lean towards the adoption of one or a combination of five facilitation tools. These include the National Single Window (NSW), the One-Stop Border Post (OSBP), cloud-based Customs Connectivity, Coordinated Border Management (CBM) and Customs Modernisation Tools.

A National Single Window
NSWs connect trade-related stakeholders within a country through a single electronic-data information-exchange platform, related to cross-border trade, where parties involved in trade and transport lodge standardised trade-related information or documents to be submitted once at a single entry point to fulfil all import, export and transit-related regulatory requirements.Mauritius was the first SADC country to implement the NSW and consequently improved its ranking on the ‘Trading Across Borders Index’ to 21 – the highest in Africa. It was closely followed by Ghana and Mozambique, which have also reported strong improvements.

Developed in Singapore, the benefits of government adoption include the reduction of delays, the accelerated clearance and release of goods, predictable application, improved application of resources and improved transparency, with several countries reporting marked improvement in trade facilitation indicators following the NSW implementation.

In South Africa, the work on trade facili-tation is led by the South African Revenue Service (SARS), which focuses on building information technology (IT) connectivity among the SACU member States, and strengthen- ing risk-management and enforcement measures. However, SARS’ approach to the NSW concept remains cautious, Davies explains. “SARS has considered the viability of this option as a possible technological support for measures to facilitate regional trade, but considers that this would fall outside the scope of its current approach and priorities in the region,” he said.

One-Stop Border Posts
As reported by Engineering News in December last year, effective OSBPs integrate the data, processes and workflows of all relevant border agencies of one country with those of another, which culminates in a standardised operating model that is predictable, trans- parent and convenient. An OSBD success story in Southern Africa is the Chirundu border post, where a collaboration between the Zambia and Zimbabwe governments has culminated in a single structure, allowing officers from both States to operate at the same location, while conducting exit and entry procedures for both countries.

Launched in 2009, this OSBP model is a hybrid of total separation, joint border operations and shared facilities in a common control zone. Implementation of the model has reduced clearance times to less than 24 hours, significantly reduced fraudulent and illegal cross-border activity, enabled increased information sharing between border agencies and reduced the overall cost of export and import activities in the area.

Earlier this year, former South African Transport Minister Sibusisu Ndebele indicated that Cabinet was looking into establishing a mechanism that would bring all border entities under a single command and control structure to address the fragmentation in the country’s border operations, particularly at the high-traffic Beitbridge post between South Africa and Zimbabwe. “The ultimate vision is to create one-stop border operations to facilitate legitimate trade and travel across the borders,” he said.

Customs Connectivity and Data Exchange
Improved connectivity between customs limbs in sub-Saharan Africa has perhaps made the most indelible strides in the region, with improved IT connectivity between States identified as a priority by Sacu.

This includes customs-to-customs inter- connectivity, customs-to-business inter- connectivity and interconnectivity between customs and other government agencies. SACU members have agreed to pursue the automation and interconnectivity of their customs IT systems to enable the timely electronic exchange of data between administrations in respect of cross-border movement of goods. “As a consequence of this acquiescence, we have identified two existing bilateral connectivity programmes as pilot projects to assess SACU’s preferred connectivity approach, cloud computing between Botswana and Namibia and IT connectivity between South Africa and Swaziland,” says SACU deputy director for trade facilitation Yusuf Daya. He adds that a regional workshop was recently convened to explore business processes, functions, data clusters and the application of infrastructure at national level to improve and develop intra-regional links.

Coordinated Border Management
The SADC has been a strong proponent of CBM efforts in the region, which promotes coordination and cooperation among relevant authorities and agencies involved in, specifically, the protection of interests of the State at borders. “The union has drafted CBM guidelines for its members on implementation, based on international best practice, and has received indications of interest from several member States,” explains SADC Customs Unit senior programme officer Willie Shumba.He adds that CBM is a key objective of regional integration, enabling the transition from an FTA to a customs union and, eventually, to a common market, through effective controls of the internal borders.

Customs Modernisation
South Africa’s customs modernisation initiative is well advanced and came about following Sars’ accession to the WCO’s revised Kyoto Convention in 2004, which required customs agencies to make significant changes to it business and processing models. These changes included the introduction of simplified procedures, which would have fundamental effects on and benefits for trade and would require a modern IT solution.

Since its inception, the SARS Customs Modernisation Programme has gained tremendous momentum, with amendments to the Passenger Processing System and the replacement of SARS’s Manifest Acquittal System in the Automated Cargo Management system. Further adjustments were made to enable greater ease of movement of goods, faster turnaround times and cost savings, as well as increased efficiency for SARS. This phase included the introduction of an electronic case-management system, electronic submission of supporting documents, the centralisation of back-end processing in four hubs and an electronic release system and measures to enhance the flow of trucks through borders – in particular at the Lebombo and Beitbridge borders.

Proper Planning
AfDB’s Ben Barka warns that, prior to the implementation of any border improvement efforts by countries in Southern Africa, a thorough analysis and mapping of each agency’s existing procedures, mandate and operations should be undertaken.“Based on these findings, a new set of joint operational procedures need to be agreed upon by all involved agencies and must comply with the highest international standards,” she says.

Development coordination between States is essential, as the largest disparity among regional groupings, in terms of intra-regional trade, is clearly attributable to their differentiated levels of progress in various areas, including the removal of tariffs and non-tariff barriers, the freedom of movement of persons across borders and the development of efficient infrastructure. Source: Engineering News.

WCO - Globally Networked Customs

With the WCO Council Sessions later in June this year, it is opportune to discuss perhaps one of the single most important developments in Customs Inc, the “Globally Networked Customs (GNC)” concept which aims to realize connectivity, data exchange, and cooperative work amongst the world’s customs administrations.

GNC is set to play a very important role in promoting trade facilitation, enhancing trade efficiency and safeguarding trade security; it will also greatly influence international rules and the development of the customs end-to-end operational process. By and large the SAFE Framework, WCO Data Model and the Revised Kyoto Convention provide specific standards for the development and implementation of national customs legal, procedural and automated systems. It is the GNC that will in future “industrialise” and harmonise Customs-2-Customs (C2C) information exchange requirements which underpin a country’s bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

Briefly the need for GNC arises from the exchanges of information underpinning International Agreements in the commercial domain. These take time and are costly to implement. They are all different from each other creating diversity both for Members and trade. This is because each one of these agreements is built anew, handcrafted and tailor-made to meet the needs at hand. This approach will not scale up and countries broking an increasing number of International Customs Agreements are already encountering difficulty to maintain their delivery plan in line with their international policy ambitions. Below you will find links to 2 documents explaining the GNC. More information on the GNC will be provided once approved by the WCO’s Policy Commission later on in June 2012. Source: WCO.

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