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At least 30 representatives of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recently met in Maseru – capital of the ‘Mountain Kingdom’ – Lesotho, to undertake a 5-day training workshop on the WCO Data Model, between 29 May to 2 June.

The training formed part of capacity building support to Member States to implement IT connectivity and information exchange between SACU Customs Administration. The training was facilitated by WCO Data Model Expert, Mr Carl Wilbers from South African Revenue Service (SARS) and GEFEG.FX software tool Expert, Mr. Martin Krusch from GEFEG, Germany.

The recent ratification of Annex E to the SACU agreement – on the use of Customs-2-Customs (C-2-C) Data Exchange between member states – paves the way for participating countries to exchange data within the terms of the agreement on the basis of the GNC Utility Block, also greed to by the respective member states. It also coincides with recent work on the establishment of a SACU Unique Consignment Reference (UCR) which must be implemented by the SACU countries in all export and transit data exchanges between themselves, respectively.

Just recently, in May 2017, the heads of SACU Customs administrations were presented a prototype demonstration of data exchange between the respective systems of the South African Revenue Service and the Swaziland Revenue Authority.

The WCO Data Model provides a maximum framework of standardized and harmonized sets of data and standard electronic messages (XML and EDIFACT) to be submitted by Trade for Cross-Border Regulatory Agencies such as Customs to accomplish formalities for the arrival, departure, transit and release of goods, means of transport and persons in international cross border trade.

The course was extremely comprehensive, providing SACU customs users the full spectrum of the power and capability which the GEFEG.FX software tool brings to the WCO’s Data Model. GEFEG is also the de facto Customs data modelling and data mapping tool for several customs and border authorities worldwide. It significantly enhances what was once very tedious work and simplifies the process of mapping data, ensuring that the user maintains alignment and consistency with the most up-to-date version of WCO data model. One of the more significant capabilities of the GEFEG.FX software is its reporting and publishing capability. For examples of this please visit the CITES electronic permitting toolkit and the EU Customs Data Model webpages, respectively. Pretty awesome indeed!

Users had the opportunity of mapping the SACU agreed data fields both manually as well as using the tool. The SACU group was able to add additional enhancements to its agreed data model, providing an added benefit of the work session.

sars-edi-user-manualSARS has been operating Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) with its external stakeholders since 2001. More than 98% of all customs declaration (CUSDEC) transactions are today submitted electronically to Customs and the electronic submission of multimodal cargo reports (CUSCAR) is steadily increasing. Today, declaration processing is fully electronic end-to-end thanks to the availability of highly established EDI and Customs software service providers supporting the local customs and logistics community. SARS has also recently introduced a benefit for compliant cargo reporters who will be absolved of certain manual (paper) submission requirements once they attain an acceptable level of electronic submission compliance and data accuracy.

The ultimate objective is to ensure that all Customs-to-Business (C2B) transactions are electronic to enable full supply chain connectivity between the South African business community and Customs. This in turn enables the possibility of SARS accrediting or approving ‘supply chains’ as opposed to just individual trader segments (importers and exporters). The extent of electronic compliance is also a pivotal requirement for traders operating under the new Customs Control Act, to be enacted in the future.

SARS overall EDI capability extends further than declarations and cargo reports. In recent years Customs-to-Government (C2G) messaging has also been successfully established between SARS and the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) as well as the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). SARS is also engaging other government stakeholders concerning IT connectivity and data exchange.

Moreover, developments for cross-border Customs-to-Customs (C2C) data exchange are also in the pipeline and could come to fruition with the partner administrations in Mozambique and Swaziland in the foreseeable future. These initiatives will usher in increased supply chain connectivity through active use of the Unique Consignment Reference (UCR) between participating customs administrations. The ultimate objective here is the creation of mutual recognition benefits for local and cross-border traders based on their accreditation status agreed between the participating customs administrations.

The SARS Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Manual (which can be downloaded from the SARS EDI webpage) has been updated with the latest versions of SARS Edifact Data Mapping Guides as well as improved diagrams explaining the functional composition of the various electronic messages specified for Customs processing. Also included are the requirements for registering as an EDI user with SARS.

The manual includes recent updates relating to cargo reporting (manifests) as well as the updated customs declaration message incorporating recent inclusion of customs surety, penalty and forfeiture requirements. The latter enhancement removes another document based requirement (the Form DA70 Provisional Payment) for Customs Brokers with the view streamlining data requirements, enhancing customs billing and customs status reporting with the trade and logistics community. This EDI Manual will be an important document over the coming months and years in that it will feature updated electronic requirements in support of the new Customs Control Act. Watch this space!

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

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

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

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

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

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

What remains are –

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

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

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

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