Hong Kong customs has uncovered HK$85 million worth of smuggled cigarettes in the largest seizure of its kind in two decades, after authorities acted on intelligence indicating a syndicate was shipping the haul into the city in four containers.
Some 31 million cigarettes were stashed in the containers from Yokohama in Japan. They were then shipped through different ports in South Korea, Vietnam and mainland China, according to Lee Hoi-man, deputy head of the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau under customs.
He said the circuitous route was used by smugglers to avoid detection.
“The containers were shipped into three to four different ports before they came to Hong Kong,” Lee said adding that the contents listed on import documents were changed to throw off law enforcement in various jurisdictions.
Four men – one mainlander and three Hongkongers – aged between 24 and 41 were arrested in the operation on Monday. They were still being held for questioning on Tuesday evening.
Information on the containers was shared to a global database operated jointly by customs from different countries, under an anti-smuggling campaign code-named “Project Crocodile”.
A law enforcement source said the containers were left idle at another port since December, but were then suddenly moved across different countries before arriving in Hong Kong, one at a time since last Friday.
Lee said: “It is possible smugglers believed our frontline officers were tied up in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.” He added that some of the contraband items were believed to be destined for countries in eastern Europe as some cigarette brands seized in the operation were popular there.
Hong Kong customs began investigating the syndicate in mid-December before identifying the four containers.
On Monday afternoon, officers from the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau swooped into action and seized 22 million sticks of cigarettes stashed in three containers at yards in Yuen Long, Sheung Shui and Man Kam To, arresting the four men.
At the Sheung Shui site, officers also seized 3,500 bottles of duty-not-paid liquor worth HK$2.5 million.
On Tuesday, the fourth container which had arrived from Shenzhen a day before was selected for inspection. Nine million cigarettes were found in it.
Lee said the combined haul had an estimated street value of HK$85 million, and was the biggest seizure of its kind in two decades in a single operation.
He said his team was working with overseas counterparts to determine the exact origin of the shipment and track down the ring leader and core syndicate members.
In Hong Kong, importing or exporting unmanifested cargo carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$2 million fine.
To mark International Customs Day 2020 – focusing on the theme of ‘fostering Sustainability for People, Prosperity and the Planet’, the following article from the Spring 2018 edition of World Trade Matters by Jan Hoffmann, the Chief of the Trade Logistics Branch, Division on Technology and Logistics at UNCTAD, is relevant. The article discusses global trade facilitation reforms, the digitalisation of trade and measures towards ensuring long-term sustainability in the maritime industry.
Confronted with growing populism and a surge in protectionist measures recorded by the WTO, policy makers and enterprises are struggling to avoid a backlash in international trade. At UNCTAD’s Trade Logistics Branch, we support these endeavours by helping to make trade work better. Through trade facilitation reforms, the promotion of digitalisation, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of international transport, we aim at ensuring that the international movement of goods is not confronted with unnecessary obstacles and costs.
A multilateral agreement to facilitate international trade
Under the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), developing countries commit to implement a number of very practical measures that make trade easier and more transparent. Countries are obliged to publish duties and procedures on the web, traders can transmit their declarations prior to the arrival of the goods, payments can be made electronically, and fees and charges must not become hidden taxes to generate income for the government. These are but some of the 37 concrete measures grouped into 12 Articles of the TFA. They are all useful and help make trade more efficient.
However, many of these measures involve an initial investment or reforms that require human and financial resources to start with, which developing countries many not have. The good news is that the TFA also includes a novel mechanism – the so called “Special and Differential Treatment” – that helps developing countries plan and acquire the necessary capacity prior to being fully committed to comply with all 12 Articles. Concretely, the mechanism puts the developing countries in the position – and obligation – to analyse and notify their own implementation capacity. At UNCTAD, we are working closely with the developing countries to enable them to do so. Our main counterpart in this endeavour are the National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) that each country must set up under the TFA. UNCTAD’s Empowerment Programme for NTFCs includes training and knowledge development for the members of the NTFC, combined with advisory services and the development of a Roadmap of TFA implementation.
By the same token, UNCTAD also supports developing countries in setting up Trade Information Portals. Under the TFA, members of the WTO are obliged to make relevant information on tariffs and trade procedures available on-line. UNCTAD’s Trade Information Portals not only help countries become compliant with this obligation, but in the process of analysing and publishing applicable trade procedures, a Trade Information Portal effectively helps countries identify the potential for the further simplification of procedures. Thanks to these new insights, NTFCs can then develop programmes and reforms that subsequently ensure the further simplification of procedures.
Technological progress will never be as slow as today
My favourite provision of the TFA is Article 10.1., as it provides for a dynamic dimension of the Agreement. According to this article, countries need to minimize “the incidence and complexity of import, export, and transit formalities”, continuously “review” requirements, keep “reducing the time and cost of compliance for traders and operators”, and always choose “the least trade restrictive measure”. As such, even if a country is compliant with all TFA provisions today, countries will need to continue monitoring if existing procedures are still appropriate in view of technological or regulatory developments.
As trade becomes increasingly digitalised, and new technologies which do not yet exist will be developed, it will be important that governments continuously revise and review the applicable rules and regulations.
Digitalisation comes in stages. First, we optimize existing procedures, making use of cargo tracking, the Internet of Things, blockchain et al. Second, new businesses are developed which could not exist without the new technologies; new platforms come into being and we see more “uberisation”. Finally, there is transformation and science fiction; still in our lifetime Artificial Intelligence will overtake human capabilities to manage international trade and its logistics.
But let us take one step at a time. At UNCTAD, we support developing countries through eTrade readiness assessments, the development and upgrade of technological solutions in Customs automation and Single Windows, and by providing a Forum for our members to analyse and discuss the challenges that come with digitalisation. We encourage the development of global standards that allow for interoperability among new systems. The challenge for policy makers it to encourage private sector investments in new technologies and solutions, while ensuring that no new monopolies emerge that might exclude smaller players.
And it has to be sustainable
While we aim at ensuring continued growth in international trade, there is a catch. The transport of this trade encompasses increasing externalities, such as pollution, green-house-gas emissions, and congestion.
Ports need to minimise social and environmental externalities. Many port cities are among the most polluted places to live, as ships burn heavy oil, and delivering trucks produce noise and cause traffic congestions. In addition, ports need to be resilient in the face of disruptions and damages caused by natural disasters and climate change impacts.
International transport, including shipping, needs to play a larger role in addressing global warming and contribute to mitigating the carbon emissions that are causing climate change. Shipping emits less carbon dioxide (CO2) per ton-mile than other modes of transport, but then due to its sheer volume it also produces many ton-miles. Would it be possible that the industry could be charged by its main regulatory body not per ship tonnage (as is currently the case), but per tonne of CO2 emission?
Currently, the International Maritime Organization is funded proportional to the tonnage registered under the members’ flags. Like this, Panama, Marshall Islands and Liberia pay for the largest share of the IMO budget – and in the end, this is passed on to the ship-owner, who in turn passes this on to the shipper, who will charge the consumer. This is a good established mechanism that could be expanded to also internalize the external costs of CO2 emissions.
Being the most globalized of all businesses, maritime transport should consider adopting a global regime that helps further internalize its environmental externalities – to ensure prosperity for all.
It is all about efficiency
Investing in trade facilitation reforms, making intelligent use of the latest technologies, and ensuring that externalities are internalized are all several sides of the same coin. Trade efficiency is necessary to promote an open international trading system. It requires a continuous effort by policy makers to continuously review current procedures, apply the most appropriate technological solutions, and support an efficient allocation of scarce resources.
Source: Jan Hoffman, UNCTAD – originally published in World Trade Matters, Spring Edition, 2018
This Friday, 20 April 2018, SARS Customs will implement its new Cargo, Conveyance and Goods Accounting solution – otherwise known as the Cargo Processing System (CPS). In recent years SARS has introduced several e-initiatives to bolster cargo reporting in support its electronic Customs Clearance Processing System (iCBS), introduced in August 2013.
Followers of SARS’ New Customs Acts Programme (NCAP) will recognise that the CPS forms part of one of the three core pillars of the new legislative programme, better known as Reporting of Conveyances and Goods (RCG). The other two pillars are, Registration, Licensing and Accreditation (RLA) and Declaration Processing (DPR). More about these in future articles. In order to expedite the implementation of the new Acts, SARS deemed it necessary to introduce elements of the new functionality via a transitional manner under the current Customs and Excise (1964) Act.
Proper revenue accounting and goods statistical reporting, can only be adequately achieved if Customs knows what goods ‘actually’ arrive, transit and exit it’s borders. Many countries, since the era of heightened security (post 9/11), have invested heavily in the re-engineering of policies and systems to address the threat of terrorism. This lead to a re-focus of resources and energies to develop risk management systems based on ‘advanced information’. SARS has invested significantly in automated systems in the last decade. Shortly, SARS it will also introduce a new automated risk engine with enhanced capabilities to include post clearance audit activities.
It should also not come as a surprise to anyone conversant with Customs practice, that international Customs standards such as the WCO’s SAFE Framework of Standards, the RKC and the Data Model are prevalent in the new Customs legal dispensation and its operational business systems.
South Africa will now follow several of its trading partners with the introduction of ‘advance reporting of containerised cargo’ destined for South African sea ports. This reporting requires carriers and forwarders to submit ‘advance loading notices’ to SARS Customs at both master and house bill of lading levels, 24 hours prior to vessel departure.
The implementation of CPS is significant in terms of its scope. It comprises some 30 odd electronic cargo notices and reports across the sea, air, rail and road modalities. These reports form the ‘pipeline’ of information deemed necessary to ensure that the ‘chain of custody’ is visible and secure from point of departure to final destination. For the first time, South Africa will also require cargo reporting in the export domain.
It is no understatement that the CPS initiative is a challenge in particular to new supply chain entities who have not been required in the past to submit electronic reports. In order to meet these reporting requirements, a significant investment in systems development and training is required on the part of SARS and external trade participants. To this end, SARS intends to focus on ramping up compliance amongst all cargo reporters across all transport modalities. The first modality will be road, which is the most significantly developed and supported modality by trade since the inception of manifest reporting under the Customs Modernisation Programme. The remaining transport modalities will receive attention once road is stabilised.
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.
The Indian Customs department (CBEC) has allowed self-sealing procedure as of 1 October for containers to be exported, as it aims to move towards a ‘trust based compliance environment’ and trade facilitation for exporters.
In a circular to all Principal Chief Commissioners, the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) said exporters who were availing facility of sealing at the factory premises under the supervision of customs authorities will be automatically entitled for self-sealing facility.
It said that permission once granted for self-sealing at an approved premise will remain valid unless withdrawn. However, in case of change in the premise, a fresh approval from Customs department will be required.
“The new self-sealing procedure shall come into effect from October 1, 2017. Till then the existing procedure shall continue,” the CBEC said.
It asked field officers to notify a Superintendent-rank officer to act as the nodal officer for the self-sealing procedure.
The officer will be responsible for coordination of the arrangements for installation of reader-scanners.
Earlier in July, the CBEC had said it will introduce the system of self-sealing by 1 September , as against the practise of sealing of containers under the supervision of revenue officials.
However, the CBEC now said that exporters can self-seal containers using the tamper proof electronic seals from 1 October 2017.
Under the new procedure, the exporter will have to declare the physical serial number of the e-seal at the time of filing the online integrated shipping bill or in the case of manual shipping bill before the container is dispatched for the port.
The exporters will directly procure RFID seals from vendors.
“In case, the RFID seals of the containers are found to be tampered with, then mandatory examination would be carried out by the Customs authorities,” the CBEC said.
From October 1, the exporters will need to furnish e-seal number, date of sealing, time of sealing, destination customs station for export, container number and trailer track number to the customs authorities.
In a circular in July, the CBEC had said it endeavours to create a trust based environment where compliance with laws is ensured by strengthening risk management system and Intelligence setup of the department.
Accordingly, CBEC has decided to lay down a simplified procedure for stuffing and sealing of export goods in containers. Source: The India Times > Economic Times, 5 September 2017.
Historically, a customs officer’s “intuition” backed up by his/her knowledge and experience served as the means for effective risk management. In the old days (20 years ago and back) there wasn’t any need for all this ‘Big Data’ mumbo jumbo as the customs officer learnt his/her skill through painful, but real-life experience, often under bad and inhospitable conditions.
Today we are a lot more softer. The age of technology has superseded, rightly or wrongly, the human brain. Nonetheless, governments thrive on their big-spend technology budgets to ensure the safety of their economies and supply chains.
No less, the big multinational corporations whose ‘in-house’ business is no longer confined by national boundaries or continents are responsible for the generation of huge amounts of data which need to extend to the limits of their operations. When the products of such business are required to traverse national boundaries and continents, their logistics and transport intermediaries, financiers, and insurers become themselves tied up in the vicious cycle of data generation and transfer, also spanning national boundaries to ensure those products arrive at their intended destinations – intact, in time and fit for purpose. Hence we have what as become known as the international supply chain.
It does not end there. Besides the Customs authorities, what about the myriad of other government regulatory authorities who themselves have a plethora of forms and information requirements which must be administered and approved prior to departure and upon arrival of goods at their destination.
Inefficiencies along the supply chain culminate in delays with added cost which dictates the viability for sale and use of the product during delivery. These may constitute what is called non-tariff barriers (or NTBs) which negatively impact the suppliers credibility in international trade.
The bulk of this information is nowadays digitised in some for or other. It is obviously not all standardised and structured which makes it difficult to align, compare or assimilate. For Customs it poses a significant opportunity to tap into and utilise for verification or risk management purposes.
The term ‘Big Data’ embraces a broad category of data or datasets that, in order to be fully exploited, require advanced technologies to be used in parallel. Many big data applications have the potential to optimize organizations’ performance, (and here we have it) the optimal allocation of human or financial resources in a manner that maximizes outputs.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss the implications of the aforementioned big data for Customs, particularly in terms of risk management. To ensure that better informed and smarter decisions are taken, some Customs administrations have already embarked on big data initiatives, leveraging the power of analytics, ensuring the quality of data (regarding cargos, shipments and conveyances), and widening the scope of data they could use for analytical purposes. This paper illustrates these initiatives based on the information shared by five Customs administrations: Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA); Customs and Excise Department, Hong Kong, China (‘Hong Kong China Customs); New Zealand Customs Service (‘New Zealand Customs’); Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the United Kingdom; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP). Source: WCO
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
Photograph: (left to right) Philip Hague, Craig Chitty and Brian Cotton from New Zealand Customs Service’s Integrated Targeting Operations Centre (ITOC) are joined by the WCO’s Cristian Moldovan and Robert White for the launch of the WCO CTS air cargo pilot.
New Zealand Customs Service (NZCS) is assisting the WCO by conducting a pilot of the newly developed air cargo capability for the WCO Cargo Targeting System (WCO CTS). NZCS has extensive experience and expertise in cargo risk assessment and targeting and will be fully testing and evaluating the WCO CTS during a 3 month trial.
The WCO travelled to New Zealand during week commencing 10 October 2016 to launch the pilot and conduct training with NZCS personnel who will be using the WCO CTS. The findings of the pilot will be incorporated into the system before existing WCO CTS deployments are upgraded and the new capability becomes available to all WCO Members.
The enhancement of the WCO CTS to include conventional air cargo and express consignments comes 3 years after the WCO first launched the system for maritime containers. During that time the WCO CTS has been deployed to a number of WCO Members with more scheduled in the coming months
The WCO CTS is a cargo manifest risk assessment and targeting solution developed by the WCO for Customs administrations across the globe that require such capability. It allows those adopting the solution to implement international best practice cargo risk assessment including key pillars of the WCO’s SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade.
For more information on the WCO CTS project please contact – firstname.lastname@example.org
Senior Claims Executive at the TT Club in Sydney, Kate Hollis, sheds some light on the risks faced by licenced customs brokers and mitigation steps to take:
“As the international trade regulatory landscape continues to change and the commercial environment becomes increasingly competitive, the balancing act for forwarders and customs brokers between providing services to clients and complying with obligations to customs becomes more complicated.
“Customs brokers assume responsibility for acting correctly between cargo interests and customs. As a result, there is the potential to provide advice to customers or carry out actions that result in the cargo interest suffering financial loss, for which you can be alleged to have been negligent. Closely related to the liability exposure of your customer is the potential for customs to levy fines or penalties through infringement notices.
“Identity fraud is perhaps a less obvious area of risk. In some cases authorities find that brokers have committed an offence where checks on the identity of clients have not been performed and that simple verification of the identity would have alerted the broker to the fraud. Consistent with previous advice, we recommend dealing with your clients directly (rather than through an intermediary) and always perform your own background checks, both in regard to the entity itself as well as the statements being made to customs.
“One recent incident saw rice wine being imported into Australia from Korea, but it was declared as apple cider vinegar. This directly resulted in extra costs for handling the container and for storage costs under the customs bond. Following the inspection, duty was charged at the rate for rice wine – not cider – which the freight forwarder pre-paid on behalf of the importer. It proved impossible to reclaim the duty and additional costs because it transpired that the consignee company no longer existed. There have also been cases of people fabricating an identity in an attempt to import goods without paying the full amount of duty. When the companies were not successful, they simply disappeared.
“Customs brokers also need to be aware of the risk of identity theft. While the variety of scams is broad, TT Club has identified three areas that require particular attention for Customs Brokers:
Piggybacking – where an unscrupulous entity uses the identifying details of a legitimate entity on a Cargo Report or Import Declaration, generally with the aim of importing consignments containing illicit substances or smuggled goods.
User access security – the nature of access to customs entry systems and digital certificates means that individual login details need to be carefully guarded to avoid misuse and illegal activity.
Mandate fraud – where fraudulent diversion of payments occurs. It is primarily the responsibility of the party making a payment to ensure that the bank details are correct.
“Customs Brokers should be aware that their licence might be at risk in a situation where the authorities consider that the broker has intentionally or recklessly facilitated a fraud. Such situations can also lead to fines being imposed on the Customs Broker as an individual, as well as actions against the forwarding business as a company.
“Mitigation of these risks is possible. In the first instance, it is important to review your own internal processes and systems. Recognise that the risk exposures are business critical and implement robust technology systems and standard operating procedures accordingly, particularly considering access rights and controls.
“Secondly, ensure that well drafted standard trading conditions are properly incorporated into your interactions with all clients. Many national trade associations provide ideal models You should seek legal advice to ensure that contracts are appropriate for your specific business. A third obvious mitigation is to purchase adequate and appropriate insurance. You should discuss this with your broker to ensure that your specific needs are properly covered.” Source: TT Club
A new regulation adopted by the European Parliament and the Council will allow customs to access information to track the origins and routes of cargo containers arriving in the EU to support the fight against customs fraud both at EU and national level. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) has been instrumental in the conception and adoption of this legislation as it provided the scientific evidence on the importance of analysing the electronic records on cargo container traffic.
The EU customs authorities have been long aware that information on the logistics and actual routes of cargo containers arriving in Europe is valuable for the fight against customs fraud. However, they had very limited ways to obtain such information and no means to systematically analyse cargo container traffic both for fraud investigations as well as for risk analysis. On the other hand, the ocean carriers that transport the cargo containers, as well as their partners and clients, have easy on-line access to the so-called Container Status Messages (CSM): electronic records which describe the logistics and the routes followed by cargo containers.
In collaboration with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the JRC has worked extensively on how to exploit CSM data for customs anti-fraud purposes. The JRC proposed techniques, developed the necessary technology, and ran long-term experiments involving hundreds of EU customs officers to validate the usefulness of using CSM data. The results of this research led the Commission to bring forward a legislative proposal that would enable Member States and OLAF to systematically use CSM data for these anti-fraud purposes. It also served to convince Member States of the value of the proposed provisions.
The financial gains from the avoidance of duties, taxes, rates and quantitative limits constitute an incentive to commit fraud and allow the capacity to properly investigate in cases, such as mis-declaration of the origin of imported goods. The information extracted from the CSM data can facilitate the investigation of some types of false origin-declarations. With the new legislation an importer will no longer be able to declare – without raising suspicions – country X as dispatch/origin of goods if these were transported in a cargo container that started in country Z (as indicated by the CSM data).
The technologies, know-how and experience in handling CSM data, developed by the JRC through its experimental ConTraffic platform, will be used by OLAF to set up the system needed to implement this new legislation applicable as from 1 September 2016. The JRC will continue to analyse large datasets of CSM records (hundreds of millions per year) as these are expected to be made available through the new legislation and will continue to support not only this new regulation but to exploit the further uses of this data notably for security and safety and real-time operations. Its focus will be on data mining, new automated analysis techniques and domain-specific visual analytics methods. Source and Images: EU Commission
The 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.
Organized by the International Trade Centre (ITC) in partnership with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the World Bank, the event will bring together representatives of the private sector, WTO member states and international organizations to discuss how best support trade facilitation implementation.
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.
To fix the Bureau of Customs, President Benigno S. Aquino III needed a numbers guy, someone who could make sense of the thousands of shipments and billions of pesos passing daily through the Philippines’ ports. He turned to John P. Sevilla. Three months after taking over as commissioner in December, Mr. Sevilla told The Wall Street Journal he had been “shocked” by the Bureau’s failure to analyze the rich data it received, information that held vital clues to its endemic corruption problems.
“I’m amazed that nobody bothered to put the data together until about a month ago,” Mr. Sevilla said. “But we found out that we open up less than 1% of [shipping] containers, but of the containers that we open, 90% have problems.”
He was also incredulous that Customs lacked a single reference source to help examiners make complex calculations about duties and fees incurred by traders. One is now being compiled, Mr. Sevilla said, “to make it easier for people to do their jobs…so that they have no excuse” for undercharging importers, a common practice rewarded with illegal payments.
Customs is tasked with collecting revenue at the nation’s 17 major and 43 minor ports. But it has a history of missing targets: It pulled in 304.5 billion pesos ($6.8 billion) in 2013 — over a fifth of all government revenue, but still 35 billion shy of its goal. The under-invoicing of traded goods has cost the country $23 billion in lost tax revenue since 1990, according to a February report by Global Financial Integrity, a U.S. research firm. The Aquino administration’s keynote policy of improving governance thus made Customs a prime target for reform. A far-reaching overhaul was ordered last October, and Mr. Sevilla, a former finance undersecretary, was parachuted in soon after.
Before entering government in 2006, Mr. Sevilla held directorships at investment bank Goldman Sachs and ratings agency Standard & Poor’s, having earned degrees at Cornell and Princeton. His boss, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, hailed him as the right person to untangle the mess, “someone who is results-oriented.”
Not everyone was convinced: In January, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile said Mr. Sevilla was “in the dark” about how turn Customs around. Undeterred, the studious-looking commissioner has spent the last three months poring over reams of customs data in which the dealings of smugglers and corrupt officials have long lain hidden.
All import-export transactions were now being published online for public scrutiny, Mr. Sevilla said, “I think we’ve turned from being the most secretive government agency to being by far the most transparent.”
At the Port of Manila, one of three ports in the capital, importers and brokers crowded around glass service windows, an innovation from before Mr. Sevilla’s time designed to block access to officials and make them harder to bribe. Inside, on computers surrounded by mountains of paperwork in what remains a semi-automated operation, customs examiners placed their electronic signature on each shipment after calculating the requisite duties and fees.
The electronic signature system also predates Mr. Sevilla. The difference now, he said, is that he is actively policing it, cross-referencing signatures against undervalued shipments, and punishing the officials responsible. He said the threat of being caught was critical when front-line staff are offered bribes equivalent to their monthly salaries “a couple of times a day.”
Likewise, the credible threat that your container might be physically inspected is the best deterrent against false import declaration, Mr. Sevilla argued. But with 18,000 containers piled up at Manila International Container Port alone, the challenge is to open the right ones.
The Bureau has 3,600 staff, but aims to hire nearly 3,000 more, partly to increase the inspection rate. Around a fifth of shipments are flagged for further examination. Some of these are X-rayed and, if necessary, physically inspected.
Mr. Sevilla said he is seeking an extra 250 million pesos for more inspections after figuring out that Customs collects an average of 125,000 pesos per opened container, against a cost of 10,000 pesos for conducting the inspection — making the process “a no-brainer.”
The Bureau also regularly auctions off seized items to further boost revenues. At one such auction in mid-February, buyers snapped up everything from a smuggled Harley Davidson to batches of animal feed. Other illegal shipments are sent straight back to their point of origin, such as the 50 containers of rotting garbage — declared as “recyclable plastic” -from Canada last month.
The new regime is already producing results, Mr. Sevilla said, citing a 19.3% year-over-year increase in collections to 81.3 billion pesos in November to January. Further improvements will be needed: Customs has been tasked with collecting 408.1 billion pesos this year, far more than it has ever managed before. The true test of the Bureau’s progress under Mr. Sevilla will lie, fittingly, in the numbers. Source: The Wall Street Journal
The powers of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to gather information were extended significantly in Chapters 4 and 5 of the Tax Administration Act, No 28 of 2011 (TAA) that took effect on 1 October 2012.
Greater powers were deemed necessary because “… too many requests for information by SARS result in protracted debates as to SARS’s entitlement to certain information.” (SARS Short Guide to the TAA, at p23)
Clearly information is central to the SARS business model: “By increasing and integrating data from multiple sources, SARS will increasingly be able to gain a complete economic understanding of the taxpayer and trader across all tax types and all areas of economic activity.” (SARS Strategic Plan 2013/14 – 2017/18, at p25) Information-gathering under the applicable TAA provisions is a costly exercise for SARS, taxpayers (both corporate and individuals) as well as for advisers. The cost-aspect is usually not addressed in legislation empowering information-gathering by revenue authorities.
Despite this there is a strong need for ‘cost-consciousness’ relating to information requests – simply because of the compliance cost impact.
The SARS Strategic Plan specifically states, in order to achieve the objectives of the National Development Plan, SARS will promote effective government by “Reducing the cost of compliance and the cost of doing business in South Africa” (at p13). Hence, one of SARS’s future initiatives would be to “Continue to implement the principles of a cooperative compliance approach to reduce compliance costs…” (at p34). SARS also acknowledges under “Small business and Cost of Compliance” that the “relatively high cost of compliance” might be a reason for non-compliance by small business (see at p43).
So how does a revenue authority inculcate a culture of “cost-consciousness” when it comes to information-requests by its officials? The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has gone down this road in its Access and Information Gathering Manual: Said Manual explains the law relating to the ATO’s statutory information-gathering powers and indicates how ATO officials should exercise such powers. [The Manual is available on the ATO website].
The following reflects the ATO’s philosophy on information gathering (as communicated by the then Commissioner): “These guidelines are to assist my staff and ensure we apply a professional and, as far as possible, open approach to the exercise of our access and notice powers. These powers must be used with the utmost care and we aim only to fulfil my obligations under the legislation. A consultative approach to obtaining the information should be the norm. Consultation generally involves advance notice and flexibility in meeting reasonable requests.”
It is, furthermore, important to the ATO that costs associated with information-gathering should be curtailed: “In deciding whether to seek access, and in determining how much detail to seek, officers should always try to minimise the cost to the recipient of meeting access requests. Particularly in cases of seeking bulk data, request should be made only if there is a reasonable chance that there will be a substantial compliance impact relative to cost. On occasions sampling may be required to determine the benefits of obtaining bulk data. Also where bulk data is requested, officers should try to fit in with the custodian’s circumstances (for example seeking information from the custodian’s IT systems at times when it will not disrupt operations) and recognise the time and cost of obtaining such information.” (emphasis added)
The ATO then provides practical guidance to its officials considering an information request, alternatively where they intend accessing premises to obtain information/documentation. The ATO official is instructed to ask certain questions before requesting the information/accessing any premises. [The following is a summary of the guidance from the ATO Manual]:
For what purpose and under which law do you require information?
The access provisions can only be used for the purposes of the Act. You must be clear on your reasons for seeking particular documents. You should be able to show a clear connection between the use of the access power and one of the purposes of the Acts. Like all statutory powers, you must exercise the right of access in good faith for the purposes for which it was conferred.
What information do you already have?
You should ensure that the taxpayer or the third party has not already provided the documents to the ATO, eg in support of a request for a private ruling.
What information do you need?
You should establish, as far as possible, what particular books, documents and papers are needed and whether the information they might contain is necessary for the purposes for which you are seeking access. Is it likely that the information will be located at the premises you propose to access or from the person you propose to give a notice to?
Can you obtain relevant information from another source?
Before using access powers, be reasonably sure that you are approaching the right person. If the information is available from more than one source, you should consider the cost to each party and who might be the appropriate party to bear the cost. In the majority of cases, tax officers should try and obtain the information and documents from the taxpayer prior to contacting third parties, such as advisers and banks. The cost to the ATO, and whether the exercise if cost-effective, should also be considered.
Are you authorised to seek access?
You must be properly authorised to exercise access powers.
Can you obtain access to the relevant information on an informal/cooperative basis?
If you think you can obtain the information by making telephone contact, sending an informal letter or searching other sources, the access powers should not be used. However, it is not necessary for all other avenues of enquiry to have been exhausted or to have used the notice powers before resorting to the access powers. You should be able to conclude that the occasion is one that reasonably requires you to enter premises and inspect documents.
Is it necessary to exercise formal access powers?
In circumstances in which privacy or confidentiality require that the formal access powers are used, consultation beforehand should encourage cooperation. Consultative procedures may include: giving the custodian reasonable notice of your intention to obtain access; liaising with the custodian about a convenient time to seek access, taking into account the workflow demands on the custodian; giving adequate information to ensure that custodians are fully aware of their rights and obligations in relation to access requests and so on.
Minister Gordhan, in his foreword to the SARS Strategic Plan (at p6), anticipates that over the next four years “… the demands on revenue collection growth will be between 10% and 11% per annum”. For example, SARS would need to collect R1.09 trillion in revenue by 2015/16. To achieve those kinds of revenue targets probably means increasing levels of information-gathering. Seeking to reduce the cost of compliance requires that locally ‘cost-consciousness’ must become part of the information-gathering equation – and that a way is found to limit, and hopefully reduce, the costs associated with information-gathering under the TAA. Source:Written by Johan van der Walt, Director, Tax, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr – sourced from www.polity.org.
US Customs CSI Inspection in the Port of Durban, South Africa
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not assessed risks at select foreign ports with U.S.-bound shipments since 2005, part of a string of failures that has left key ports without a CBP presence, the Government Accountability Office says. (Hmm, never mind the impact caused to Customs administration in the host countries……)
In examining CBP’s Container Security Initiative program, GAO found that the agency developed a model for ranking additional seaports according to risk in 2009, but never implemented it because of budget cuts, according to the report.
GAO applied that risk model to 2012 cargo shipment data and found that the CSI program had no presence at about half the ports CSP found high risk. Meanwhile, 20 percent of existing CSI program ports were at lower-risk locations, according to the findings (.pdf).
Although GAO acknowledged host countries are not always willing to accommodate a CSI presence, and that removal of a CSI presence can negatively affect diplomatic relations, auditors said periodic assessments of cargo shipped from foreign ports could help CBP better guard against terror-related shipments.
Although there have been no known incidents of cargo containers being used to transport WMD, the maritime supply chain remains vulnerable to attacks. We recognize that it may not be possible to include all of the higher-risk ports in CSI because CSI requires the cooperation of sovereign foreign governments.
To better ensure the effectiveness of the CSI program, GAO recommends that the Secretary of Homeland Security direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to periodically assess the supply chain security risks from all foreign ports that ship cargo to the United States and use the results of these risk assessments to (1) inform any future expansion of CSI to additional locations and (2) determine whether changes need to be made to existing CSI ports and make adjustments as appropriate and feasible.
Such assessments “would help ensure that CBP is allocating its resources to provide the greatest possible coverage of high-risk cargo to best mitigate the risk of importing weapons of mass destruction or other terrorist contraband into the United States through the maritime supply chain,” GAO said.