What is clear in regard to modern day business is the fact that ‘harmonisation’ in the international supply chain is essentially built around ‘data’. E-commerce has been around for decades, plagued by incompatibilities in messaging standards, and computer software, network and hardware architecture. However, one of the key inhibitors has been organisations and administrations having to adhere to domestic ‘dated’ legislation and so-called standard operating procedures – seemingly difficult to change, and worst of all suggesting that law has to adapt!
A lot has had to do with the means of information presentation (format) and conveyance (physical versus electronic) rather than the actual information itself. Standards such as the UN Layout key sought to standardise or align international trade and customs documentation with the view to simplifying cross-border trade and regulatory requirements. In other words, each international trade document being a logical ‘copy and augmentation’ of a preceding document. This argument is still indeed valid. The generally accepted principle of Customs Administrations is to maximise its leverage of latent information in the supply chain and augment this with national (domestic) regulatory requirements – within a structured format.
The Single Administrative Document (SAD) was itself borne out of this need. The layout found acceptance with UNCTAD’s ASYCUDA which used it as a marketing tool (in the 1990’s) in promoting ‘What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get’ (WYSIWYG). It certainly provided a compelling argument for under-developed countries seeking first-time customs automation. Yet, the promise of compatibility with other systems and neighbouring customs administrations has not lived up to this promise.
Simultaneous to document harmonisation, we find development of the Customs data model, initially the work of the Group of 7 (G7) nations at the United Nations. Its mandate was to simplify and standardize Customs procedures Customs procedures. In 2002, the WCO took over this responsibility and after further refinement the G7 version became version 1 of the WCO Customs Data Model. Once more a logical progression lead to the inclusion of security and other government regulatory requirements. This has culminated in the recent release of WCO Data Model 3. Take note the word “Customs” is missing from the title, indicating that Version 3 gives effect to its culminating EDI message standard – Government Cross Border Regulatory (GOVCBR) message – an all inclusive message standard which proposes to accommodate ALL government regulatory reporting requirements.
Big deal! So what does this mean? The WCO’s intent behind GOVCBR is as follows –
- Promoting safe and secure borders by establishing a common platform for regulatory data exchange enabling early sharing of information.
- Helping co-operating export and import Customs to offer authorized traders end end-to to- end premium procedures and simple integrated treatment of the total transaction.
- Contributing to rapid release.
- Elimination redundant and repetitive data submitted by the carrier and the importer.
- Reducing the amount of data required to be presented at time of release.
- Reducing compliance costs.
- Promoting greater Customs Co-operation.
Undertaking such development is no simple matter, although a decision in this direction is a no brainer! Over a decade’s work in the EDI space in South Africa is certainly not lost. Most of the trade’s electronic goods declaration and cargo reporting requirements remain intact, all be they require re-alignment to meet Data Model 3 standard. Over and above this, the matter of government regulatory requirements (permits, certificates, prohibitions and restrictions, letters of authority, etc.) will require more ‘political will’ to ensure that all authorities administering regulations over the importation and exportation of goods are brought into the ‘electronic space’. Some traction is already evident here largely thanks to ITAC and SA Reserve Bank willingness and capability to collaborate. In time all remaining authorities will be brought on board to ensure a true ‘paperless’ clearance process.
So, I digress somewhat from the discussion on the SAD. However, the bottom line for all customs and border authorities, traders and intermediaries is that ‘harmonisation’ of the supply chain operation follows the principal and secondary data required to administer ALL controls via a process of risk assessment, to facilitate release including any intervention required to ensure the compliance of import and export goods. As such even legislative requirements need to enable ‘harmonisation’ to occur otherwise we end up with a non-tariff barrier, uncertainty in decision-making, and a business community unable to capitalise on regional and international market opportunities. Positively, the draft SA Customs Control Bill makes abundant reference to reporting – of the electronic kind.
In Part 3, I will discuss regional ‘integration’ and the desire for end-to-end transit clearance harmonisation.