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Angola CustomsThe introduction in the coming months of a new customs tariff in Angola is feeding expectations among economic agents that replacing the current regime will be a stimulus to the country’s growth.

A new customs tariff system, submitted to the Council of Ministers and expected to be implemented this year, proposes cuts on import duties on foodstuffs such as fruit and vegetables, cooking oils and grains (including wheat flour), as well as raw materials such as iron, steel and aluminium products as well as second-hand cars, the Angolan press reported.

The aim is to replace the existing customs tariff system – introduced in 2014 before the start of the economic and financial crisis now facing the country – which is generally regarded as protectionist of local farmers and manufacturers, seeking to make imports more expensive in order to encourage diversification of an economy that is highly dependent on oil.

The current tariff has been the subject of much criticism from local and international companies as well as from the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In its most recent report on Angola, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said replacing the current tariff would likely be a positive move, as it had the effect of increasing the cost of domestic production and reducing competition in the market.

Despite tariff protection, the EIU points out that operational challenges – such as a lack of electricity, poor supply chain management and lack of human resources – have kept the country dependent on imports.

In addition to this, the fall in the price of oil following the introduction of the 2014 tariff has limited access to foreign currency for Angolan companies, making payments to suppliers abroad difficult and, as the kwanza has weakened, imports have become significantly more expensive.

“If and when (the new tariff is) applied, the cost of imports should fall and this should help fight inflation. A less protectionist customs regime should also stimulate Angola’s trade with its neighbours and can help the country finally meet the long-standing promise of joining the Southern African Development Community’s free trade zone,” the EIU said.

“A review of Angola’s current punitive customs regime should give a positive boost to the national economy. However, it is still unclear when the new tariffs will be applied,” it said.

In 2016, Angola formalised its accession to the International Convention for the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures (Kyoto Convention) of the World Customs Organisation, which aims to facilitate international trade.

Each acceding country has a deadline of 36 months to apply the general rules of this agreement, which provides for the minimisation of customs controls between members, thus facilitating and simplifying international trade. Source: macauhub

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Trade Facilitation Agreement, 22 February 2017.

A major milestone for the global trading system was reached on 22 February 2017 when the first multilateral deal concluded in the 21 year history of the World Trade Organization entered into force. In receiving four more ratifications for the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), the WTO has obtained the two-thirds acceptance of the agreement from its 164 members needed to bring the TFA into force.

Rwanda, Oman, Chad and Jordan (pictured above) submitted their instruments of acceptance to WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, bringing the total number of ratifications over the required threshold of 110. The entry into force of this agreement, which seeks to expedite the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders, launches a new phase for trade facilitation reforms all over the world and creates a significant boost for commerce and the multilateral trading system as a whole.

Full implementation of the TFA is forecast to slash members’ trade costs by an average of 14.3 per cent, with developing countries having the most to gain, according to a 2015 study carried out by WTO economists. The TFA is also likely to reduce the time needed to import goods by over a day and a half and to export goods by almost two days, representing a reduction of 47 per cent and 91 per cent respectively over the current average.

Implementing the TFA is also expected to help new firms export for the first time. Moreover, once the TFA is fully implemented, developing countries are predicted to increase the number of new products exported by as much as 20 per cent, with least developed countries (LDCs) likely to see an increase of up to 35 per cent, according to the WTO study.

At present, 10 out of 24 Members of East and Southern Africa (ESA) have ratified the TFA. These are; Mauritius, Botswana, Lesotho, Kenya, Zambia, Seychelles, Madagascar, Swaziland, Mozambique and Rwanda. So where to now South Africa?

WTO LogoThe following article is published with the kind permission of the author, Tapia Naula who is Principal Transport Economist at African Development Bank, based in the Ivory Coast. He is an international project manager and transport economist with experience in logistics business, research and trade facilitation. This article is a must for anyone associated with or working on the TFA on the African sub-continent, and a bit of a wake up call to those countries who have as yet done little or nothing to progress their participation.

In the World TFA Cup Asia is leading Africa 72 – 35. The first scores of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement are out as member countries submit their Category A notifications. Initial results of the African first series are somewhat unfulfilling. Some teams are playing defensive even if attacking tactic is the only way to win.

In December 2013, WTO members concluded negotiations on a Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) at the Bali Ministerial Conference, as part of a wider “Bali Package”. Among trade facilitation practitioners the Agreement was received with great enthusiasm: finally there was a legal instrument, which is concrete enough to make a difference! TFA will enter into force once two-thirds of members have completed their domestic ratification process. Section I contains substantive provisions in 12 main Articles. The members are required to categorize and notify each provision of the Agreement as either A, B or C Category. The A Category commits a country to implement the provision upon entry into force of the TFA, or one year after for LDC’s. For B-Category there will be a transitional period. C-Category provisions are allowed a transitional period, technical assistance and capacity building.

First, let it be said loud and clear: the WTO TFA is an excellent collection of modern trade and transport facilitation instruments in one folder. In developing countries its implementation would mean reforms that would save time, money and efforts for regular business people and consumers. These reforms may be painful but the countries that can do it, will be the future winners of their regional competition and they will be the ones that will most benefit from joining the global value chains. TFA is the best vehicle for poverty reduction invented so far and that is why it is so important.

In August, 2015, 14 African countries and 25 Asian countries had submitted notifications for category A provisions. Asian countries had “accepted” 72 % of all the provisions as A-Category commitments on average where the respective share of the African countries is only 35 %. On Article-level African countries lag behind on every Article except one (Table 1).

In addition to the low overall share of category A-notifications, the African notifications generally look like “random picks” of sub-paragraphs, compared to many Asian members that have commonly chosen the strategy of basically accepting the whole Agreement and making exceptions for certain few paragraphs according to their particular needs.

Were African governments well-informed of the impact and substance of each paragraph – or are they just being cautious, perhaps trying to delay the final commitment? The patterns between African and Asian countries are in any case different.

Table 1

TFA includes also “low hanging fruit” – sections that require little technical expertise to be implemented. At least some of these should have been easy for member countries to accept. “Publication and Availability of Information” is one of those sections. Access to information through internet is routine and affordable. It should not require transition periods or particular technical assistance. Donors are even competing to assist governments with such low cost and high-return activities. Still, less than one third of the African Governments notified this Article.

Here are some other peculiar findings:

  • Out of 14 African countries only Morocco accepted “Border Agency Cooperation” as A –Category provision. Three of the others countries that did not notify it are landlocked countries;
  • Only four out of 14 African countries had fully notified “Freedom of Transit.” Transit challenges in Africa are probably the single most significant source of inefficiency in trade logistics;
  • One of the foundations of modern customs management is the introduction of Risk Management. Only 3 out of 14 African countries had notified this provision;
  • Only Morocco notified Trade Facilitation Measures for Authorized Economic Operators (AEO), which gives certain privileges to traders and transport operators, who show high level of compliance to regulations. One wonders why Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania did not notify it as we know that an AEO program is being piloted in the East African Community;
  • Only Senegal notified the sub-Article on Single Window, which is probably the most important one of the whole Agreement. Senegal perhaps deserves this honor – being the first truly African-based single window country – and also representing the good practice of SW management. Yet, according to the African Alliance for e-Commerce, currently there are at least 16 other single windows either already operational or under development in Africa. Why weren’t these developments recognized?

Despite the above “peculiarities” the African situation is fortunately nowhere near as somber as the A-Category notifications indicate. There are plenty of trade and transport facilitation initiatives under implementation – and Africa is indeed “on the Move.” We should on one hand side make sure that the valuable TFA Agreement is not becoming a separate formal process alongside the practical actions on the ground, but rather a framework for coaching governments in climbing up the stairs toward greater competitiveness. On the other hand, the countries should not ignore the existing achievements. A lot has been achieved in Africa in recent years and this process should go on and gain speed. Some sub-regions, which have been less successful in this field need  benchmarks, encouraging and coaching. This is where African and international organizations can play a role.

Although the direct cost of TFA implementation is relatively low, the indirect cost may be extremely high. The indirect cost concerns existing structures, which generate income for organizations and individuals, who often greatly benefit from the status quo. Some governments have entered into concessions outsourcing critical government functions such as pre-customs clearance operations and processing and submissions of declarations to customs. Western firms have efficiently seized the opportunity and negotiated deals, which guarantee profits for in many cases for decades to come. Single Windows in certain countries are good examples for these. In an unnamed Southern African country for example, humanitarian aid is exempt from taxes and duties in import. If however a UN agency for example imports a container of pharmaceuticals worth five million USD, it will have to pay for a Single Window fee of 42,500 USD! Such Ad Valorem fee arrangements are against the TFA. Such concessions are often built inside structures, which profit from the concessions and in exchange – protects its operations and continuity. This is why they are difficult to tackle. This is an example of the problematics that African policy makers must deal with when taking a position in committing in TFA provisions. It may be a whole lot more complicated than what it looks like.

Association between % Share of Sub-Article Level A-Category Commitments and the Corruption Perception Index Score (CPI). Sources: WTO and transparency International.
Association between % Share of Sub-Article Level A-Category Commitments and the Corruption Perception Index Score (CPI). Sources: WTO and transparency International.

The diagram above shows the association of share of the provisions that have been covered by A-Category notifications and the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) score of the countries. For African countries the correlation is moderate (correlation co-efficient: 0.42) but for Asian countries the association is strong (correlation co-efficient: 0.73). The association of the two variables is understandable: the less corruption a country has (the higher the CPI rank is), the more reforms the government is in liberty to conduct (the higher coverage of TFA as A-category Notifications).

We need to better understand the underlying reasons why policymakers cannot let reforms take off. Traditions, corruption and outdated structures are usually the biggest obstacles. These cannot be overcome by merely providing short-term technical assistance and bench-marking the world best practices but only strong political leadership can make the change. Developing partners should raise this topic on the highest political level and “live together” through the reforms with the counterparts.

The Northern Corridor (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda) provides an encouraging example how multiple reforms can be carried out in very short time. Only two years ago it took staggering 27 days to transport a container from Mombasa Port and deliver it in Kigali, Rwanda. Today it takes only seven days. The improvement was enabled by series of reforms, which were championed by the Heads of States of the Corridor member countries. The example proves that major improvements can indeed be achieved in very short time. On the other hand, even with the most sophisticated instruments, reforms will not succeed if there the high-level ownership is not there. Author: Tapio Naula

international-trade1The role of the private sector in the implementation of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) will be the focus of the 2015 edition of the Global Facilitation Partnership for Transportation and Trade (GFP) meeting. With the world’s customs administrations currently identifying their respective TFA  implementation commitments and setting up National Trade Facilitation Committees, trade and logistics operators can learn how they can participate in such initiatives by attending these sessions.

The GFP meeting will be held at Palais des Nations, Geneva, on 22 April, and will be divided into three thematic sessions.

The first session, ‘Governments’ Priorities: Strategies for Fostering Private Sector Participation in the TFA Implementation Process’ will look at how governments are planning to implement the TFA.

It will focus on how the private sector is consulted and how an effective participation of the private sector can be facilitated to implement the Agreement.

The second session, ‘Priorities, Perspectives, and Expectations from the Private Sector on TFA Implementation’ will assess how the private sector – including large corporates and small and medium-sized enterprises – view TFA implementation. It will look at the potential benefits from a private-sector perspective, and how the sector can contribute to national and international initiatives to implement the agreement.

The third session, ‘International Organizations’ Co-ordination and Partnership for Supporting TFA Implementation’, will provide an opportunity to share information and experiences on how the TFA can be implemented with public-private partnerships in mind, as how national trade facilitation committees can better support this process.

ITC invites all interested stakeholders to join the GFP meeting at the Palais des Nations on 22 April from 9:00. Click here for link to online registration.

Source: International Trade Centre (Geneva)

WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation

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It is anticipated that most Customs and Border Authorities have at least one common item on their national capacity building agenda’s for 2014 – the Agreement on Trade Facilitation. Many countries, being members of the WCO, would have already acceded to a level of commitment to the Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC). This requires of them to introduce, at an agreed time, the principles of WCO standards and policies according to the level of their sovereign commitment.

The General Annex to the RKC is the bare minimum a country would be expected to implement in order to for it to be considered compliant with the RKC. From a trade perspective, this also indicates the extent to which your country’s leaders have committed itself towards ‘global integration’.

What the recent Trade Facilitation Agreement (ATF) in Bali does is bind member states to a compendium of requirements necessary for the enactment of certain conditions and obligations as set out in the various articles contained in the agreement. Countries should also note that certain of the ATF provisions include items under the Specific Annexes to the RKC. For a quick reference to see how the RKC and other WCO standards and conventions stack up to the ATF, refer to the WTO Trade Facilitation Toolkit by clicking the hyperlink.

In addition to this, the ATF also makes provision for ‘special and differential treatment’ in regard to developing and least developed countries (Refer to Section II to the WTO ATF).

In essence this allows those countries and opportunity of identifying their (capacity building) needs and setting themselves realistic targets for implementation and compliance to the ATF. To this end 3 Categories are identified for national states to consider in the event they are not at present in a position to accede to some or all of the ATF conditions.

The WCO has also prepared various tools which aim at assisting its members in assessing their national position in regard to the ATF. Members are likewise encouraged to regularly visit the WCO website for updates in this regard.

The following working papers are available from the WCO website and, for ease of access, are listed below together with their hyperlink to the WCO site –

Other related Trade Facilitation documentation can be found at the following link – WTO Trade Facilitation Negotiations

Text of the WTO Free Trade Agreement

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi (left) and the ITC"s Executive Director Arancha González, shake hands upon signing the Memorandum of Understanding. (UNCTAD)

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi (left) and the ITC”s Executive Director Arancha González, shake hands upon signing the Memorandum of Understanding. (UNCTAD)

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) have joined forces to assist developing countries in the implementation of the recent WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement reached in Bali, Indonesia. The two agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding 4 March reaffirming this collaboration.

“The Trade Facilitation Agreement is a real opportunity for developing countries, but only if they can put its provisions into practice,” said Arancha González, ITC’s Executive Director.

“The two agencies complement each other very well and can offer meaningful support to developing countries together,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi. UNCTAD already has a successful programme in building institutional capacity around effective trade facilitation, while ITC has experience in building the capacity of the private sector and increasing their export competitiveness”, he added.

The programme which the agencies will develop will focus particularly on Least Developed Countries.

Initially, the cooperation will concentrate on helping countries to identify and categorise the commitments under the Agreement in categories A, B and C and ensuring support for implementing the transparency provisions of the Agreement. These include ensuring better and easier access to information for traders; helping to develop advance rulings and rights of appeal legislation; facilitating greater predictability and reliability of procedures through simplified formalities and documentation and the use of international standards; and the adoption of single windows for traders.

“These are just some of the areas where the ITC and UNCTAD have identified clear needs in developing countries based on UNCTAD”s needs assessment programmes and the surveys undertaken by the ITC of its SME clients,” Mr. Kituyi said.

“In some cases we will need to ensure better cooperation between the public and private sector,” Ms. González said. “This is the ITC”s bread and butter: supporting a trade dialogue between business and policy makers.”

The collaboration between the two agencies is in response to a critical issue identified by developing countries in the lead-up to December’s WTO conference: whether there was enough financing and to support the necessary reforms, particularly in LDCs. This partnership will provide an opportunity to donors and other development partners to demonstrate their commitment to the implementation of global trade facilitation reform by working with UNCTAD and ITC. The agencies will collaborate with other organisations and the private sector to advance implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.

“The hope is that donors will see this collaborative venture between the ITC and UNCTAD, as an effective and efficient platform for helping developing countries, especially LDCs, to take advantage of the benefits an effective facilitating architecture can bring,” Mr. Kituyi said.

The private sector is also urged to explore ways that they can partner with the ITC and UNCTAD to provide their expertise to SMEs in developing countries. “Making the process of trade easier in developing countries is a plus for the global trade reality,” concluded Ms. Gonzalez, “It is a win-win situation”. Source: UNCTAD

City Deep Container Terminal (Transport World Africa)

City Deep Container Terminal (Transport World Africa)

The controversial Customs Control Bill adopted by Parliament’s finance committee on Wednesday includes a “fallback” provision allowing for a return to the current customs control system should the new one fail.

A similar clause was included in the law that introduced value-added tax in 1991, allowing for a legal alternative to be implemented quickly if things do not work out as planned.

The committee also adopted the Customs Duty Bill and the Customs and Excise Amendment Bill as part of a total revamp by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) of the customs system. Visit this link for access to the Bills and submissions to the parliamentary committee.

The Customs Control Bill has been highly contentious as it will fundamentally change the way imported goods are cleared and released. The Democratic Alliance and Business Unity SA (Busa) opposed the original proposals on the grounds that doing away with manifests in the operations of City Deep would threaten the inland terminal in Johannesburg. SARS disputed this but nevertheless amended the bill.

Busa’s Laurraine Lotter yesterday welcomed the inclusion of the fallback clause but said she would have to see the details of the amendments introduced by SARS before commenting.

The fallback provision — which will automatically lapse five years after the effective date of the legislation — was included to be on the safe side, although SARS does not expect the proposed system to fail. It consulted widely on the bill, sought legal opinions about the legality of its amended proposals and ultimately secured the support of ship operators and agents, freight forwarders and Transnet for the amendments.

Implementation could be delayed by 12 months to allow the trade sufficient time to prepare.

SARS chief legal and policy officer Kosie Louw assured the committee this week the existence of City Deep would not be jeopardised. He urged adoption of the new system of customs control, saying the authorities needed more detailed information about incoming cargo to clamp down on fraud and illegal imports.

In terms of the bill, the submission by shipping lines of a manifest that provides only a general description of cargo will be replaced by a clearance declaration. This must contain information on the tariff, value and origin of the goods, and be submitted by the importer (which can be held accountable for its veracity) three calendar days before arrival at the first place of entry into South Africa.

Penalties will be levied only if the clearance is not submitted within three working days after the arrival of the goods. Containers will be provisionally released before arrival of the goods at the first place of entry and finally released at the first point of entry. To allow for seamless movement of goods, shipping lines will still issue multimodal contracts and through bills of lading.

“The revised proposal provides certainty and predictability to role players in the supply chain regarding the movement of goods,” Mr Louw said.

He said the new system would allow customs officials to undertake documentary inspections earlier, mitigating delays. High-risk containers would be identified before arrival, detained on arrival and held at the inland terminal for inspection. Containers with no risk would be able to move “seamlessly” to the inland terminals.

Mr Louw submitted that the objections to the proposal — that it would require traders to change their sale contracts; that sellers would be reluctant to sell under the new terms; that importers would be affected; that carriers would no longer issue a bill of lading to internal terminals; and that it would give rise to delays and congestion at ports — were found to lack foundation by international trade law expert Prof Sieg Eiselen and two advocates.

He said the proposed system would lay a solid and predictable framework for a modernised system of customs control that balanced the need for trade facilitation with the need to prevent imports of illicit goods. The current system was governed by an outdated, 1960s law. Source: Business Day

Related articles

WCO and WTO leaders meet in Geneva (WCO)

WCO and WTO leaders meet in Geneva (WCO)

At the invitation of WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya met with Mr. Azevedo at WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on 20 January 2014. They agreed that close cooperation between the two organizations is vital for successful implementation of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation (ATF).

Secretary General Mikuriya emphasized the consistent and complementary nature between the ATF and the WCO Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC). He also described how the WCO Economic Competitiveness Package, that includes the RKC and all other Customs trade facilitation instruments, guidelines and best practices, will support implementation of ATF. Mr. Mikuriya also confirmed his readiness to involve other international organizations, development banks, donors and other stakeholders at a WCO forum to contribute to cooperation in support of the ATF.

Director General Azevedo was pleased to hear that the WCO was planning to publish an implementation tool to connect each provision of the ATF to WCO tools as well as a briefing document enabling Customs administrations to communicate with trade ministries. He expressed his willingness to leverage WCO expertise and experts for the WTO Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation as well as ATF needs assessment and implementation. Mr. Azevedo also suggested that the ATF provides another opportunity for the two organizations to enhance the good working relations that already exist in many areas beyond trade facilitation.

The two leaders also discussed how multilateral institutions could work on regional integration matters and agreed on the importance of adopting global standards and best practices to ensure connectivity at borders. Source: WCO

Picture2The International Trade Centre has prepared a guide to help businesses take advantage of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. The agreement simplifies customs procedures, allowing businesses to become more competitive. This jargon-free guide explains the provisions with a focus on what businesses need to know to take advantage of the agreement. It will also help policy makers identify their needs for technical assistance to implement and monitor it. To download the guide – click the following link: http://www.intracen.org/wto-trade-facilitation-agreement-business-guide-for-developing-countries/.

For instance, the guide explains how the article on ‘Advance rulings’ aims to address problems with inconsistent classification of goods by customs officials and the uncertainty it creates for traders. ‘Advance rulings are binding decisions by customs…on the classification and origin of the goods in preparation for importation or exportation. Advance rulings facilitate the declaration and consequently the release and clearance process, as the classification has already been determined in the advance ruling and is binding to all customs officers for a period of time,’ the guide explains. It goes on to list in jargon-free language the obligations and the procedure imposed on customs authorities related to advance rulings.

Reducing the on-the-spot decision making authority of individual customs agents thanks to advance rulings will also reduce bribery, the guide says. Corruption continues to be a key problem for developing-country exporters, who identified it as a major constraint on exports in a recent survey conducted by ITC.

The last chapter of the guide describes how the agreement will be implemented, including the special and differential treatment provisions that developing countries may invoke. Developing countries will be able to link the implementation of the commitments to technical assistance and support from donors. WTO member states will have to explicitly apply for delays for each commitment, which will need to be approved by the WTO and the implementation schedule published.

Source: International Trade Centre

Cahir Castle Portcullis by Kevin King

Cahir Castle Portcullis by Kevin King

The traditional symbol of customs and borders services is the portcullis – the fortification through which a ship used to enter a port. But as developing countries are increasingly asked to recognise the benefits of liberalised trade to the detriment of their import duty revenue, how can they be helped to raise the portcullis? And is it really in their interests to do so?

With world trade growth expanding more than twice as rapidly as gross domestic product (GDP) over the past decade, says Steve Brady, director, Customs and Trade Facilitation for development consultancy Crown Agents, the potential rewards from participating in world trade are significant. “According to figures from WTO, in 2011 world merchandise exports and imports in real terms grew by over 5%. As a result, each reached over $1.8tn, the highest level in history.”

The major players working with developing country governments to help them benefit from this increase in trade include the World Bank, ICC, World Customs Organisation (WCO), IMF, UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), development banks and specialist intermediaries such as Crown Agents.

A number of countries have improved their capacity as a result of international and domestic efforts, yet some are still hesitant to do so. The Centre for Customs and Excise Studies (CCES) at the University of Canberra finds that many developing country governments are heavily dependent on the revenue from import duties – in some cases this can be as high as 70% of a country’s total revenue base. The desire to protect this is understandably strong. Yet this same desire can be used to drive forward modernisation efforts, explains Professor David Widdowson, CEO of CCES. “Revenue leakage resulting from commercial fraud, poor customs and border procedures and corruption represents a major impediment to poverty reduction.”

Similarly time-consuming manual processing systems, over-regulation, or outright corruption, will discourage trade and investment and further undermine a country’s development. “In the worst cases up to 20 signatures are required to obtain customs clearance of goods, all of which require ‘informal payments’,” says Widdowson. “I have also seen examples of 15 different government agencies playing some role at the border, all acting independently.”

Guidelines or blueprints to modernise such customs and borders processes are available, for example, via the revised Kyoto convention (extolling the basic principles of automation, simplification, responsiveness to the regulation, consistency and co-ordination); the “Framework of standards to secure and facilitate global trade” developed by the WCO; and its “Columbus programme.”

Turkey is cited by Sandeep Raj Jain, economic affairs officer at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), as a case study for the successful modernisation of customs systems, having consolidated 18 previously autonomous border gates and introduced a single IT clearance system, leading to an increase in tax revenues and a decrease in clearance time to the benefit of incoming and outgoing trade. Angola increased receipts sixteen-fold from $215.45m in 2000 (£148m) to $3,352m in 2011 through an improved National Customs Service and the introduction of an automated entry processing system and customs clearance Single Administrative Document.

The African Development Bank also supported post-conflict Liberia with the extension of an automated system for customs data, helping to reduce the time to clear goods at the port from 60 days to less than 10 days and increase revenue collection at three ports from about $4m a month to $10m-$12m. This, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia has said, given the government additional scarce revenues to invest in the projects to improve the livelihoods of people.

Horror stories also abound of revenue loss, acting as a cautionary tale for leaving outdated customs processes untouched. A World Bank report, for example, finds that in Algeria smuggling caused a loss to the public exchequer rising from DA18bn in 2006 ($237m) to over DA61bn in 2011.

The message from the international community is that improved, automated and transparent customs services not only help eradicate theft and corruption, but also increase revenue through increased trade. Any fall in revenue from import tariffs due to signing up to bilateral free trade agreements can also be offset, says Bijal Tanna of Ernst & Young LLP: “One only has to look at the take-up of VAT by countries since the 1980s to understand that there is a consumer tax outlet to offset any loss of revenue from customs duty reductions. Back in the late 1980s, approximately 50 countries had VAT, now it is in place in over 150 countries.”

However, these arguments don’t always reach an appreciative audience. “In my experience”, says Widdowson, “economies may give lip service to the trade facilitation agenda, including entering into free trade agreements, but still expect their customs administration to collect traditional levels of duty. For example, with the introduction of free trade arrangements – hence falling duty rates – and a downturn in international trade, the Philippines continues to increase the ‘revenue targets’ of its bureau of customs, the derivation of which appears to be devoid of any analytical rigour.” (emphasis – mine)

Tanna also points to the collapse of the Doha round of the WTO negotiations heralding a breakdown in efforts to find a single global platform to drive a uniform approach to trade liberalisation. Perhaps it is the obligation of the international community to renew such efforts, alongside projects to improve customs systems in-country. Source: Original article by Tim Smedley of The Guardian

Thaba Mufamadi, chairman of Parliament’s finance committee. Picture - Financial Mail

Thaba Mufamadi, chairman of Parliament’s finance committee. Picture – Financial Mail

Parliment’s standing committee on finance (SCoF) has decided to postpone its deliberations on two draft customs-related bills until next year to allow importers and the freight-forwarding industry more time to comment on the proposals which threaten the status of City Deep as an inland port. This followed an appeal by the South African Association of Freight Forwarders that it had had insufficient time to consider the substantially revised draft Customs Control Bill and Customs Duty Bill, which required that imported goods would have to be cleared at the first point of entry.

The association, supported by a range of other business organisations, including the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry, warned that the bills could be challenged on constitutional grounds if the process of consultation was deficient. All political parties supported the proposal by finance committee chairman Thaba Mufamadi on Wednesday that the deliberations on the bills be postponed until next year. He instructed stakeholders to make their submissions to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) by December 15.

Mr Mufamadi also took cognisance of concerns raised by Business Unity South Africa that parliamentary processes did not allow sufficient time to comment, for example, on the medium-term budget policy statement. Industry has warned of port delays and trade disruption if the proposals were to be adopted. The Customs Control Bill proposes that goods be cleared at the first port of entry into South Africa. This will mean that inland ports such as City Deep in Johannesburg would no longer be designated places of entry or exit for customs purposes. In the past, containerised cargo could move directly to inland ports on arrival in the country under cover of a manifest. A new declaration — of the nature, value, origin and duty payable on the goods — would replace the manifests.

SARS said these did not provide sufficient information to undertake a risk assessment. Another bone of contention for industry was the “extremely severe” penalties proposed in the draft Customs Duty Bill. Following the uproar about the proposals SARS offered a compromise earlier this week as a way out of the impasse. Instead of a clearance at the port of entry, a mandatory advance customs clearance of the goods three days before their arrival at the first port of entry would be required. Goods consigned to inland terminals such as City Deep would be released conditionally. The system would be tested for the whole of next year to iron out any problems.

An alternative option would be for the goods to undergo a lesser form of clearance at the first point of entry. This would still entail providing customs authorities with the same level of information on the tariff, value and origin of goods, which would be submitted by electronic data interchange. The importer would be held accountable for the information that was provided. SARS official Kosie Louw said that because this document would not have the formal status of a clearance certificate, it would not disrupt existing legal contractual arrangements, as claimed. The goods would still move CIF (cost insurance and freight) from the port to City Deep. SARS has also proposed softening the penalty provisions so that errors not resulting in any prejudice to customs revenue will be subject to penalties only after three warnings. These penalties will be discretionary and applied leniently in the first 12 months of the bill coming into force to allow business time to properly prepare for the change. An appeal process has been included. Source: Business Day Live. 

Trucks at Transnet Freight Rail's City Deep Terminal (Engineering News)

Trucks at Transnet Freight Rail’s City Deep Terminal (Engineering News)

Following up on last year’s meeting (click here!) of the minds, convened by the JCCI, a recent meeting in Johannesburg placed fresh emphasis on the dilemma which impending changes contemplated in Customs Draft Control Bill will have for the import and logistics industry in particular. The following report carried by Engineering News highlights trade’s concerns which are by no means light weight and should be addressed with some consideration before the Bills come into effect. Gauging from the content below, there is a clear disconnect between business and policy makers.

The closure of Johannesburg’s inland port seemed to be a “done deal” as Parliament deliberated the recently tabled Customs Control Bill that would leave the City Deep container depot invalid, Chamber of Commerce and Industry Johannesburg (JCCI) former president Patrick Corbin said on Friday.

The promulgation of the South African Revenue Services’ (Sars’) newly drafted Customs Control Bill, which, in conjunction with the Customs Duty Bill, would replace the current legislation governing customs operations, would have a far-reaching impact on the cost and efficiencies of doing business in South Africa and other fellow Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) countries, he added.

The Bill, which was the product of a three-year development process within the National Economic Development and Labour Council, declared that all imported goods be cleared and released at first port of entry. This was part of efforts by customs officials and government to root out any diversion and smuggling of goods, ensure greater control of goods moving across borders and eliminate risks to national security.

Speaking at the City Deep Forum, held at the JCCI’s offices in Johannesburg, Corbin noted, however, that City Deep had operated as an inland port for the past 35 years, easing the load on the country’s coastal ports, which were already strained to capacity. Despite customs officials assuring the chamber that the operations and facilities in City Deep/Kaserne would retain its licence as a container depot, he believed customs had failed to recognise the critical role City Deep had played in lowering the cost of business, easing the burden on South Africa’s ports and ensuring ease of movement of goods to neighbouring countries. As customs moved full responsibility of container clearances to the ports, port congestion, inefficiencies, shipping delays and costs would rise, and jobs would be lost and import rail volumes decreased, he noted.

Economist Mike Schussler added that the closure of the City Deep inland port operations would add costs, increase unreliability and induce “hassles”, as the Durban port did not have the capacity to handle the extra volumes and its productivity and efficiencies were “questionable” compared with other ports.

“The volume of containers going to overstay or being stopped for examination in City Deep [will] need to be handled by [the coastal] ports. If they can’t cope with the volume at the moment, how are they going to handle increased volumes,” Iprop director Dennis Trotter questioned. He noted that only the containers cleared 72 hours prior to arrival would be allocated to rail transport. Those not cleared three days before arrival would be pushed onto road transport to prevent blocking and delaying rail operations.

This, Schussler said, would also contribute – along with port tariffs and the cost of delays – to higher costs, as road transport was more expensive than rail.

He pointed out that South Africa was deemed third-highest globally in terms of transport pricing. It would also result in less rail capacity returning for export from Johannesburg, further leading to increased volumes moving by road from City Deep to Durban.

Sacu countries, such as Botswana, would also be burdened with higher costs as they relied on City Deep as an inland port. Trotter noted that the region would experience loss of revenue and resultant job losses. Over 50% of South Africa’s economy was located closer to Gauteng than the coastal ports. Johannesburg alone accounted for 34% of the economy, said Schussler, questioning the viability of removing the option of City Deep as a dry port.

However, unfazed by the impending regulations, Transnet continued to inject over R1-billion into expansion and development opportunities at City Deep/Kaserne. Corbin commented that Transnet had accepted the assurances from customs that “nothing would change and the boxes would still be able to move seamlessly once cleared.” The City of Johannesburg’s manager of transport planning Daisy Dwango said the State-owned freight group was ramping up to meet forecast demand of the City Deep/Kaserne depot.

The terminal’s capacity would be increased from the current 280 000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) a year, to 400 000 TEUs a year by 2016, increasing to 700 000 TEUs a year by 2019. Transnet aimed to eventually move to “overcapacity” of up to 1.2-million TEUs a year. Dwango said projections have indicated that by 2021, the City Deep/Kaserne terminals would handle between 900 000 and one-million TEUs a year. Source: Engineering News

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.

2012 in review

December 31, 2012 — Leave a comment

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for “What Happened to the Portcullis?“. A special thanks to everyone who has browsed regularly, commented or contributed to this blog. I am deeply grateful and appreciative! Mike

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 52,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 12 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Swaziland accedes to WCO RKC

The Ambassador of the Kingdom of Swaziland, H.E. Joel Nhleko, deposited his country’s instrument of accession to the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures (Revised Kyoto Convention) with the World Customs Organization on 31 October 2012.

“The WCO is delighted that the number of Contracting Parties to the Revised Kyoto Convention continues to show an upward trend,” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya. “I would therefore strongly encourage other WCO Members to accede to this important Customs instrument as soon as possible,” he added.

Some of the Convention’s key elements include the application of simplified Customs procedures in a predictable and transparent environment, the maximum use of information technology, the utilization of risk management, a strong partnership with the trade and other stakeholders, and a readily accessible system of appeals.

Having entered into force on 3 February 2006, the Revised Kyoto Convention now has 84 Contracting Parties, and is regarded as a blueprint for effective and modern Customs procedures. Swaziland has been a Member of the WCO since 15 May 1981. Source: WCO