The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) administers the TIR Convention, which was established in 1959 and extensively revised in 1975 and which has, at present, 68 Contracting Parties. The TIR Convention provides for an internationally recognized procedure to facilitate the cross border transportation of goods in transit through the use of a standard, internationally recognized Customs document, the TIR Carnet, which also serves as proof of existence of an internationally valid guarantee.
For many years the TIR Convention proved to be an efficient facilitation tool. However, with the progress in technology, the use of the paper TIR Carnet is increasingly becoming archaic, in particular when it comes to linking it to the electronic procedures applied by national Customs administrations. At each border crossing, Customs officers are faced with additional work of having to key in up to 50 data elements into their national electronic Customs system. In addition, the current situation does not enable Customs authorities to effectively apply risk management procedures based on advance cargo information, as demanded by an increasingly more security-conscious environment.
The eTIR Project
The Contracting Parties to the TIR Convention launched in 2003 the so-called “eTIR Project”, aimed at providing an exchange platform for all actors (Customs authorities, holders, guarantee chains) involved in the TIR system, known as the “eTIR international system”. The eTIR international system aims to ensure the secure exchange of data between national Customs systems related to the international transit of goods, vehicles or containers according to the provisions of the TIR Convention and to allow Customs to manage the data on guarantees, issued by guarantee chains to holders authorized to use the TIR system.
Customs activities for this year are underpinned by the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) 2021 theme “Customs bolstering recovery, resilience and renewal for sustainable global supply chain”. The colossal task that lies ahead as nations look to reconstruct their global supply chain is one of the reasons that the WCO has advocated Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) programmes as a tool to promote reconstruction.
SARS, in collaboration with the Border Management Agency (BMA), is leading the process of creating a Single Government AEO (SGAEO) programme to ensure improved trade facilitation and supply chain security in South Africa, the Southern African region, the African continent and globally. The World Bank (WB) and WCO have agreed to assist SARS to create a SGAEO programme, through the WB Trade Facilitation Programme.
The agreement to conceptualise a SGAEO for South Africa culminated in agreement that SARS and the BMA would jointly host a workshop with all agencies involved in managing trade at the border. The WB and WCO have agreed to participate in the workshop on 2 March 2021. The workshop is intended to contextualise and set the scene for the creation of a SGAEO programme in South Africa and to allow for comparison of the various OGA risk management programmes for cross border trade with the SARS AEO programme.
International drivers for Single Government AEO programmes include the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Facilitation Agreement and the WCO’s SAFE Framework of Standards. South Africa’s scoring on the OECD’s Trade Facilitation Indicator is used as input into the World Bank’s (WB) Ease of Trading across Borders in its annual Doing Business Report.
For Customs Administrations, AEO programmes are vital tools for developing trust-based partnerships with economic operators who have high levels of commitment to compliance and supply chain security. Economic operators, on the other hand, are interested in the tangible benefits offered to participants, particularly, mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) with trading partners.
While several countries have adopted different OGA (Other Government Agencies)AEO models, SARS’ preferred model is a Single Government AEO Programme with one certification process and benefits granted by all agencies.
Source: South African Revenue Service, Rae Vivier, 2 March 2021
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Singapore Customs signed a historic letter of intent today that will enable closer cooperation in the areas of trade facilitation, revenue protection and risk management.
Executive Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Trade Brenda Smith signed the letter of intent in Washington, DC on behalf of CBP and Deputy Director-General Lim Teck Leong signed the letter of intent in Singapore on behalf of Singapore Customs.
The Letter of Intent to Explore Single Window Connectivity between Singapore’s Networked Trade Platform (NTP) and the U.S. Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) formalizes the United States’ and Singapore’s commitment to sharing trade data and to exploring the possible connection of the two countries’ national Single Windows for trade facilitation. Single Windows are electronic systems that automate and expedite the processing of import and export data by allowing traders to input standardized information in a single entry point to fulfill all import and export requirements. In doing so, Single Windows reduce costs, enhance accountability and improve collaboration among government agencies and the trade community.
“We value the opportunity for transparency and cooperation that a shared Single Window will bring,” said Executive Assistant Commissioner Smith. “Government-to-government data sharing is rapidly becoming an important component of efficient and secure trade, and CBP looks forward to working with Singapore Customs on this forward thinking approach to trade facilitation.”
“The signing of this letter of intent signifies the first step towards trade data connectivity between the two Customs administrations, and reinforces our commitment to maintain the security of international supply chains, while facilitating legitimate trade,” said Deputy Director-General Lim.
The collaboration between CBP and Singapore Customs complements the United States’ continued engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Single Window Steering Committee on trade facilitative data exchange and Single Window connectivity/interoperability. Singapore is an active member of ASEAN and the ASEAN Single Window.
In 2019, two-way trade in goods between the United States and Singapore totaled $57.6 billion, making Singapore the United States’ 17th largest trading partner and its second-largest trading partner in ASEAN.
Customs authorities are age-old institutions whose missions have been subject to numerous changes over time. Historically, the main role was to levy customs duties, which, in other words meant collecting resources for the benefit of local authorities. Today, customs performs many other functions, from securing national borders, recording import and export trade and prevention of fraud and illegal trade activity.
From the customs authority’s perspective, there is a constant focus on finding innovative technology and new methods and techniques to become more effective on risk assessment and inspection of the goods circulating across their borders. At the same time, customs authorities must examine the consequences these changes will have on trade, avoiding the creation of additional burden and obstacles for industries and entities involved in the exchange. Adopting flexible technology is often key for meaningful strategic transformations.
More quality data with accuracy and speed
Each country has its own policies for operating border control when goods arrive or depart from their territory. Most of these policies work from systems built off a central repository, powered by data collected from different sources. Time and effort are often spent in sorting and cleansing data from these various sources but disconsonant data can still create confusing outcomes when analyzed.
While globalization gives an incentive to operate in an open market, the increased amount of trade activity also conceals illicit activities that must be supervised by customs authorities, such as tax evasion, drug traffic or smuggling. It is in the best interest of the entire industry to cooperate, allowing data sharing to flag the early recognition of risky trade transactions.
Receiving data related to the supply chain activities prior to and during the transportation process can assist authorities, supporting them to pinpoint risky elements on international trade. Data validation across various trade and transportation documents allows authorities to manage detailed risk assessment processes and is enhanced with access to earlier and more granular information.
Providing government authorities with access to upstream transport data is one of the features of TradeLens. On the platform, customs authorities have access to data related to their countries from the moment a booking is placed with a carrier. Updates on documents from different data sources and transportation milestones are shared in near real-time.
Additional data is not only a way to make sure that accurate risk assessments are being made, but it can also help decrease the burden placed by the bureaucracy related to importing or exporting goods. Increasing the accuracy of the inspection of goods, can enable authorities to focus their resources on the most important targets and improve trade documentation processing for reliable shippers, truckers and carriers. Enhancing global trade and the upstream exchange of information can drive growth and prosperity for the entire ecosystem.
Doing more with less
While many technologies and platforms exist in the marketplace, organizations are often constrained by limited public resources that must be utilized wisely. TradeLens does not aim at replacing existing systems but enhancing them with additional data from the supply chain. The TradeLens Platform provides a forum for authorities to run pilots and test innovative solutions in a true end-to-end shipment lifecycle.
In order to contribute to the logistics operations of the entire ecosystem, customs authorities can send notifications related to their inspection and release activities to TradeLens. This information will be made available in near real-time to all the players involved in the shipment and permissioned to see the data.
As unrecognisable as the building is, the same can be said for the world of Customs today. Few contemplated a ‘Customs’ parallel at the time; but, when the Department of Homeland Security was launched, the emergence of US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) ushered in a new way of doing business. The world of Customs was literally ‘turned on its head’. Bilateral overtures seeking agreements on ‘container security’, ‘port security’ as well as an industry focussed ‘Customs and Trade Partnership Against Terrorism’ (C-TPAT) forced the World Customs Organisation (WCO) into swift action. After years of deliberation and negotiation several guidelines were released, later to be packaged as the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards. It seemed that the recent Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) on simplification and harmonisation of Customs procedures was already ‘dated’. Customs as a proud solo entity was gone for ever, as country after country seemed compelled to address border security through wholesale transformation and upheaval of their border frontier policies and structures. Thus was born ‘border security’ and ‘cooperative border management’. In a manner of speaking, 9/11 put Customs onto the global map. Along with WCO developments, the tech industries brought about several innovations for risk management and other streamlined and efficient service offerings. Prior to 9/11, only the wealthy countries could afford non-intrusive inspection capabilities. One key aspect of the SAFE Framework’s was to include a pillar on Capacity Building. Through this, the WCO and business partners are able to offer tailor-made assistance to developing countries, to uplift their Customs and border capabilities. In particular, countries in Africa now are now in a position to consider ‘automated’ capabilities in the area of Customs-2-Customs information exchange as well as establishment of national Preferred Trader and Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) schemes. At the same time a parallel industry of ‘Customs Experts’ is being developed in conjunction with the private sector. The end result is the availability of ‘standards’, ‘policies’ and ‘guidelines’ fit for Customs and Border operations, focussed on eliminating incompatibilities and barriers to trade. Where these exist, they are largely attributed to poor interpretation and application of these principles. With closer cooperation amongst various border authorities still a challenge for many countries, there are no doubt remedies available to address these needs. In gratitude, let us remember the thousands of public servants and civilians who lost their lives that we can benefit today.
This edition of WCO News features a special dossier on the theme chosen by the WCO for 2018, namely “A secure business environment for economic development”, with articles presenting initiatives and related projects that contribute to creating such an environment. The articles touch on authorized economic operators, national committees on trade facilitation, coordinated border management, performance measurement, e-commerce, data analysis, and partnerships with the private sector.
For sub-Saharan African readers, look out for the write up of the Customs systems interconnectivity and the challenges and opportunities for Customs administrations in the SACU region.
Other highlights include articles on Customs systems interconnectivity in the Southern African Customs Union, on the experience of a young Nigerian Customs officer who participated in the Strategic Management and Intellectual Property Rights Programme at Tokyo’s Aoyama Gakuin University, on how the WCO West and Central Africa region is using data to monitor Customs modernization in the region, and on the benefits that can be derived by facilitating transit procedures.
Yes, the info junkie I am – this is what I was really after! The WCO chose to delay the real stuff. The WCO has published its Transit Guidelines, and a substantial compendium its is. Click here to access/download the file (5,4MB)! The WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, has noted the possibility of developing a separate publication on transit encompassing national or regional best practices.
At the recent conference on transit, particular attention was given to the difficulties faced by landlocked developing countries. During a special session on the issue, the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), several concrete suggestions were made on how to turn land-lockedness into land-linkedness. The Director General of Paraguay Customs indicated that trade transactions in his country incur 30% additional costs due to Paraguay’s geographical limitations. The Representative from UN-OHRLLS confirmed that on average, LLDCs bear up to 40 % additional costs on trade transactions. The investment being made in hard infrastructure, such as roads, rail infrastructure, intermodal logistical hubs and dry inland ports, remains one of the main priorities in order to improve the situation. Participants confirmed the need for harmonization and simplification of border control procedures, as well as the promotion of ICT for the management of transit systems. This is of significant importance to LLDCs in Africa of which there are eight!.
Representatives from several of Africa’s Regional Economic Communities present at the Conference, such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), also highlighted the need to ensure that establishment functioning legal frameworks are in place to address the main challenges of regional transit regimes.
The use of existing information and communication technology (ICT) solutions was also raised at the Conference. Today, numerous technologies are available to secure the movement of goods, such as electronic Customs seals which are actively used on containers transported from China to Europe and have proved to be reliable and efficient. The regional electronic tracking system used for goods transiting between Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda was also mentioned as a successful project resulting from cooperation between neighbouring Customs administrations. The Representative from ECOWAS informed participants that work has started to connect the IT systems of ECOWAS Members. Regarding the challenges related to interconnectivity, the benefits of global implementation of the WCO Data Model were pointed out.
Railway transport is playing an increasingly important role in moving goods between countries in Eurasia, as explained by the Representatives from China and Russia Customs as well as the Representative from the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF). It was pointed out that block trains now bring goods from China to Europe through Russia and Central Asian countries within a fortnight; four times faster than via maritime routes. It is worth nothing that in the absence of a global instrument regulating the movement of trains across borders, which would obviously be of benefit to transit operations, bilateral agreements are the norm.
Transit systems, such as the European Union’s New Computerised Transit System (NCTS), the Convention on International Transport of Goods Under Cover of TIR Carnets (TIR Convention) and relatively new transit facilitation initiatives in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), were also discussed in detail. Turkey, a user of two transit systems – NCTS and TIR – highlighted the importance of digitalization of the transit processes and explained its involvement in the e-TIR project aimed at providing an exchange platform for all actors (Customs authorities, holders and guarantee chains) involved in the TIR system. In this regard, Turkey has participated in two pilot projects with two neighbouring countries, namely Georgia and Iran. Source: the WCO
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.
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 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.
The 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
Pakistan 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
Representatives 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.
In the past, nations with the best ships and ports were able to establish global trade leadership and the growth that came along with it. Today, global trade has gone digital.
In the digital economy software-enabled products and services such as cloud computing and data analytics are the key drivers of growth and competitiveness. In fact, the world now invests more than $3.7 trillion (R40 trillion) on information and communications technologies a year.
In South Africa, we spend $26 billion a year and the total for the Middle East/Africa region is $228bn. However, to maximise our return on that investment, it is important for policymakers to eliminate barriers that could inhibit the continued expansion of digital trade.
It is clear that software-driven technology is transforming every sector of the global economy. For example, thanks to unprecedented processing power and vast data storage capabilities, banks can detect and prevent fraud by analyzing large numbers of transactions; doctors are now able to study historical trends in medical records to find more effective treatments; and manufacturers can pinpoint the sources of delays in global supply chains.
Against the backdrop of this kind of innovation, any country that wants to compete in today’s international marketplace must have a comprehensive digital agenda at the core of its growth and development strategy. In addition to domestic initiatives such as investment in education and skills training, or development of information technology infrastructure, policymakers can succeed in laying the groundwork for broad-based growth in the digital age if they focus on three big priorities.
First, any bilateral or multilateral trade agreement needs to facilitate the growth of innovative services such as cloud computing. As part of this, there should be clear rules that allow information to move securely across borders and prevent governments from mandating where servers must be located except in very specific situations.
Second, to promote innovation and foreign investment, continued intellectual property protection is vital and the use of voluntary, market-led technology standards – instead of country-specific criteria that force firms to jump through different technical hoops every time they enter a new local market – should be encouraged.
Third, all governments should ensure there are level playing fields for all competitors so customers have access to the best products and services the world has to offer.
At the same time, disclosures about government surveillance programmes in the US and other countries have sparked a renewed focus on data protection and personal privacy. Those concerns are worthy of debate and careful reform. But it is critically important not to conflate separate issues: We can’t let national security concerns derail digital trade.
There is precedent for navigating periods of change such as this in the global trade arena. Policymakers stood at a similar inflection point in the 1980s when they recognised the keys to growth in the coming decades would be intellectual property, services and foreign direct investment.
With foresight and hard work, they updated trade rules in the Uruguay Round of multilateral negotiations to ensure commitments were in place to provide a check against protectionist impulses. Now, as governments pursue robust growth agendas for the digital economy, it is critical we modernise trade rules again. Source: The Software Alliance (South Africa).
Delegates attending the WCO/SACU IT Connectivity Conference – May 2013
Representatives of the SACU member states recently met in Johannesburg to progress developments concerning IT Connectivity and Customs-to-Customs data exchange in the region. The session served as a follow up to the session held last year in February 2012 in Pretoria. The conference was convened by the SACU secretariat under the sponsorship of the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), and was once again pleased to have SP Sahu, senior technical expert from the World Customs Organisation, to facilitate the work session over 3 days. Representatives of UNCTAD ASYCUDA were also in attendance to observe developments. UNCTAD currently supports three (soon to be four) of the five SACU Customs administrations. The session provided an opportunity for delegates to progress this work as well as develop a terms of reference for an independent assessment of the two connectivity pilot projects that are currently being pursued between Botswana-Namibia and South Africa-Swaziland, respectively.
IT Connectivity serves as a catalyst for various customs-to-customs cooperation initiatives seeking to bring about a seamless end-to-end flow of information between point of departure and destination. Some examples include export/transit data exchange, approved economic operator, commercial fraud, eATA and at least 5 other key areas of customs mutual exchange. The concept is driven out of the newly establish WCO model known as Globally Networked Customs (GNC). GNC was formally adopted by the WCO Council in June 2012 where a capacity building approach based on protocols, standards and guidelines (PSG) using utility blocks was recognised to provide the most realistic means to achieve efficiency gains, and a more effective way to manage the negotiation of international agreements between customs administrations.
There exist several pilot projects across the globe wherein customs agreements are being piloted under the GNC approach. Development of a Utility Block and supporting data clusters for interconnectivity within SACU and the broader Southern Africa sub-region already commenced at last year’s session. The concept gained sufficient traction and was soon adopted by both SACU and SADC member states as the means to implementing IT connectivity within the respective regions.
A review of the Utility Block and data clusters was conducted to ensure alignment of customs data requirements across the member states. The resulting product now provides a standard ‘data set’ which members agree as the minimum data required to facilitate data exchange and advance risk management needs. It covers export and transit declaration requirements. Two important criteria exist for successful data exchange and data matching. The first being the availability of appropriate legal provision for two countries to exchange data. The second requires the use of an agreed unique identifier. The identifier is important for Customs as well as the trade community.
Delegates were also presented with current and future developments occurring at the WCO, in particular the on-going work being done to formalise standards for the “My Information Package” concept as well as the WCO Data Model, currently at version 3.3. Another interesting on-going development involves a unique Trader ID.
Member states involved in respective pilot programmes are now preparing themselves for an up-coming evaluation, later this year.