EU – UCC strengthens the case for AEO

AEO-LogoHere follows an appreciation of AEO within the context of the EU. According to KGH customs consultancy services, being an Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) already entails advantages for companies that have invested in doing the work to gain the AEO certification. With the new Union Customs Code (UCC), companies with an AEO permit will be able to gain additional advantages leading to more predictable and efficient logistics flows as well as an increased competitive edge.

Centralised clearance (being able to clear all customs declarations from one central location in the EU) and self-assessment (self-declaration of custom fees, similar to VAT reporting) are two new possibilities under UCC that will be implemented towards the end of the initial UCC implementation period from 1 May 2016 to 31 December 2020. To take advantage of these, AEO will be a prerequisite. AEO-ready businesses will therefore be well positioned to take advantage of these new possibilities when they become available.

Direct AEO benefits, including fewer physical and document-based controls, pre-notification in case of controls, easier access to customs simplifications and other customs authorisations, as well as access to mutual recognition with third countries, will continue to apply under UCC. The same is true of the soft benefits, such as better cross-functional communication and cooperation, improved customs knowledge and better risk management, which often outweigh the direct benefits as detailed by customs authorities.

With the UCC, AEO becomes a permit (authorisation) and all AEO certifications will have to be reviewed in line with the new UCC guidelines. Much is recognisable from before, but there is an additional competency requirement that is realised through either experience and/or professional qualifications. There is also likely to be more focus on ensuring that AEO applicants have robust routines that reflect their business, and that those routines are known in the business and used on a day-to-day basis.

Ever since the Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) certification was launched in 2008, many companies have been trying to evaluate whether to go for AEO or not. What are the benefits? How long does it take to become certified? Can we do it ourselves or do we need some help? What do we really gain by being AEO? This has sometimes stopped companies taking active steps to get ready for AEO.

Furthermore, some AEO-certified companies have felt that they have been exposed to more controls after AEO certification than before. In other instances the initial certification was fairly easy to achieve, but it then proved much harder to retain at a subsequent audit because routines were not being kept up to date or there had been insufficient internal controls and reviews performed in the business.

Our experience shows that companies that did a thorough job at the time of certification and that also afterwards had a genuine focus on maintaining knowledge, following routines and updating documentation as and when appropriate, have been able to benefit from improved customs management to a greater extent than they first envisaged.

KGH opines there are six situations where being AEO could be beneficial for a company:

  • Freight forwarder serving customers with logistics flows to and from the EU.
  • Strong business links with countries where the EU either has mutual recognition or is likely to have it in the not too distant future.
  • Businesses with many permits that will be reconsidered as part of the transition to UCC, where being AEO may facilitate the reconsideration process for other customs permits.
  • Large customs guarantee, which may be able to be reduced as a result of being an AEO.
  • Interested in centralised clearance and self-assessment that will be introduced towards the end of the UCC implementation period.
  • Interested in raising customs knowledge in a business, in order to better manage risks and be able to take advantage of business opportunities connected with international trade.

Here AEO can also be seen as a seal of quality. Source:

China Customs – New Enterprise Credit Management System

General_Administration_of_Customs_of_the_People's_Republic_of_China_logoChina Customs published Customs Interim Measures on Enterprise Credit Management (Interim Measures) on 8 October 2014. It is a part of an effort by the Chinese Government to establish a Social Credit System based on a 2014-2020 plan of the State Council. The new system will replace the existing Customs Compliance Rating Scheme and will come into effect on 1 December 2014.

The Interim Measures require China Customs to establish an enterprise credit management system to collect enterprise information, conduct credit appraisal, supervise enterprises accordingly and disclose the enterprise credit-related information to the public.

According to the Interim Measures, China Customs will place enterprises into one of three categories: the “Certified Enterprise”, the “General Enterprise” and the “Discredited Enterprise”.

A Certified Enterprise obtains China AEO (Authorized Economic Operator) status is further classified into two groups: “General” and “Senior”. Preferential customs treatment will be provided for all Certified Enterprises, this treatment includes a lower customs goods examination rate and a simplified customs review process. For companies that qualify as a Senior Certified Enterprise, China Customs will designate a customs officer to help coordinate between the company and various functions and offices of China Customs. China Customs will publish the detailed standard for the accreditation requirement/ procedure of the Certified Enterprise separately.

While the General Enterprise is a default category, companies should try their best to avoid being categorized as a “Discredited Enterprise”.

A Discredited Enterprise is a company which has been found committing non-compliance activities within the last 12 months. Non-compliance activities include smuggling activities conducted criminally or administratively and other violations being penalized by China Customs for a cumulative amount of more than RMB1million.

A Discredited Enterprise will be subject to a higher customs goods examination rate as well as to tightened review of customs declaration documents and tightened supervision when they conduct/ engage in processing trade activities.

Another key point that companies should notice is that China Customs is going to publicly disclose the enterprise credit system information on its website/ notice board. This will include the enterprise category of a company, as well as its customs penalties that a company has been imposed for the past five years. In particular, customs penalties will also be publicly disclosed via the National Enterprise Credit Information Disclosure System.

The National Enterprise Credit Information Disclosure System is to be established by the State Administration of Industry and Commerce according to the Interim Regulation on Public Disclosure of Enterprise Information which is come into force on 1 October 2014. Based on this regulation, penalties imposed against companies by any government agencies are to be disclosed publicly via this system.

Compliance counts, and it is now even more important with China’s establishment of its Social Credit System. Customs and trade compliance is often an area that a company does not pay much attention to until a major problem appears. Now a company could suffer huge financial and reputational loss. We recommend that companies take the launch of the Interim Measures as a special opportunity to initiate a self-compliance review of its trade activities and establish or upgrade its trade-related internal controls. This will enable the company to achieve a better balance between compliance and efficiency.

The Interim Measures have yet to provide detailed guidance on a number of areas. These include issues such as what are the appraising standard for Certified Enterprise, how will a company’s rating be reconciled between the previous customs system and the new accredited categories, etc. Source: Mayer Brown Consulting (Singapore)

Rwanda Customs Process Made Easier for Tax Compliant Traders

Headquarters of the Rwanda Revenue Authority

Headquarters of the Rwanda Revenue Authority

Thirteen companies, three of them Rwandan, last week signed a Memorandum of understanding with Rwanda Revenue Authority to be accorded preferential treatment when clearing their goods at customs. The Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) is a regional trade facilitation program recommended by the world customs organization to ease trade and customs clearance for tax compliant and prominent importers and exporters.

Delay in clearing goods at customs is one of the major impediments to smooth trading within the East African Community (EAC). It also contributes to making the EAC region one of the most expensive places to do business despite being the second most growing economy in the world. The AEO creates some kind of obstacle-free zone where traders in the import or export business, known to be complaint with customs requirements, are accorded special treatment to ease the process of clearing their goods while in transit.

The pilot project will see how the system works in reality and the beneficiaries have all been informed of their rights and which ports or borders to claim them from. Rwanda customs officials issue special identifiers to the beneficiaries to help them identify the benefiting traders once their goods appear at any of the designated custom points. These identifiers will be recognizable everywhere in the five partner states of the EAC where the beneficiaries will pass and claim their privileges as AEO.

The growth of global trade and increasing security threats to the international movement of goods have forced customs administrations to shift their focus more and more to securing the international trade flow and away from the traditional task of collecting customs duties.

Recognizing these developments, the World Customs Organization (WCO) drafted the WCO Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate global trade (SAFE). In the framework, several standards are included that can assist customs administrations in meeting these new challenges and developing an Authorized Economic Operator programme is a core part of SAFE. Source:

Singapore and China’s Mutual Recognition Becomes a Reality

Director-General of Singapore Customs Fong Yong Kian and Vice Minister of the General Administration of China Customs Sun Yibiao (both seated), signed the China-Singapore MRA at the WCO Council Sessions in June 2012. The signing was witnessed by Chairperson of the WCO Council and Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners of Ireland, Josephine Feehily and WCO Secretary-General   Kunio Mikuriya.

Director-General of Singapore Customs Fong Yong Kian and Vice Minister of the General Administration of China Customs Sun Yibiao (both seated), signed the China-Singapore MRA at the WCO Council Sessions in June 2012. The signing was witnessed by Chairperson of the WCO Council and Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners of Ireland, Josephine Feehily and WCO Secretary-General Kunio Mikuriya.

General Administration of Customs of Singapore has announced that the Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA), signed with Customs of the People’s Republic of China went into effect on March 15, 2013.  Following the effective date, both Singapore’s STP-Plus companies and China’s Class AA accredited companies will be recognized as Authorized Economic Operators (AEOs) of the respective countries.

This recognition as AEOs allows Customs from both countries to grant clearance facilitation for accredited AEOs such as lower examination rates, priority inspections, and priority handling of customs clearance documents at each country’s port.  Included in the announcement were specific instructions for how importers in both Singapore and China should fill out customs forms when receiving exported goods from one of their respective AEOs.

For goods exported directly to Singapore from a Chinese Class AA company, the Chinese exporter would need to provide the Singapore importer with the 10-digit Customs Registration Code to place on their import declarations to Singapore along with inputting the “AEO code” into the portal for mutual recognition purposes and benefits of AEO.  The AEO code is comprised of “AEO”, “CN” and the 10-digit Customs Registration Code.

For goods exported to China from a Singapore STP-Plus company, the Chinese importer must fill in the “AEO code” of the Singapore’s exporter in the “remark column” in their import declarations to receive mutual recognition benefits.  The format for the AEO code is as follows:  “AEO (written in English half-width characters and capital letters)” plus “<” plus “SG” plus “12-digit AEO code” plus “>”.  For instance, if the AEO code of one Singapore STP-Plus company is AEOSG123456789012, then the remark column filled in by the Chinese importer would read as “AEO”.

The MRA signed between China and Singapore is but one example of several security programs in different countries making it easier for trusted traders to move goods through the supply chain. Other countries that also participate in MRAs include:

  • US Customs & Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) which has MRAs in place with Canada’s Partners in Protection (PIP), New Zealand’s Secure Export Scheme Program (SES), Jordan’s Golden List Program (GLP), Japan’s Authorized Economic Operator Program (AEO), Korea’s AEO, and the European Union’s ( EU) AEO
  • European Union (EU) AEO which has MRAs in place with Canada’s PIP, Japan’s AEO, Australia’s AEO, New Zealand’s SES, and US C-TPAT
  • Japan Customs has MRAs in place with New Zealand’s SES, EU’s AEO, Canada’s PIP, Korea’s AEO, and Singapore’s STP-Plus
  • Singapore Customs has signed MRAs in place with Canada’s PIP, Korea’s AEO, Japan’s AEO, and China’s Class AA

Part of participating in any security program is the ability to assess and manage risk across the supply chain.  This includes soliciting and analysing information received from every partner within the supply chain to corrective actions and best practices.  While are security programs are still voluntary in nature, companies that take advantage of them are reaping benefits such as faster customs clearance and less inspections. Source: Integration Point

EAC Traders Encouraged to Grab AEO Business Opportunities

EACThe EAC business community has been asked to take advantage of the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) scheme that seeks to cut down costs of doing business in the East African member states.

The AEO programme, launched in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday, is an entity involving importers, clearing agents, transport companies authorized to import and move cargo within the EAC region with minimal inspections and other customs interventions at checkpoints.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of East African Cooperation Dr Stergomena Tax, launching the World Customs Organisation (WCO)-AEO pilot programme said, “The AEO status can provide companies with significant competitive advantages in terms of supply chain certainty and reduced import costs and finally to the final consumer.”

Apart from reduced transport costs, Dr Tax said the programme would also pull down storage charges because of minimal customs border inspections as well as few checkpoints or road blocks for transit goods.

The Swedish Ambassador to Tanzania Mr Lennarth Hjelmåker said the AEO scheme is a broader compliance strategy to reward compliant traders with simplification benefits which are concrete and predictable.

“Regional integration and cooperation are factors which are important for development, including creation of favourable conditions under which private sector can operate and provide for economic growth with focus on sustainability,” he said.

Sweden, through the Swedish International Development Cooperation (SIDA), has been supporting the work carried out by the WCO-EAC-AEO programme since 2008. Speaking on behalf of the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) Commissioner General Mr Saleh Mshoro, the revenues body’s Finance Director said efficiency and effectiveness of customs procedures can significantly boost the nation’s economic competitiveness.

The launching of AEO programme marks the beginning of a journey between the region’s revenues authorities and the business communities in facilitating smooth and win win trading activities. Source: Tanzania Daily News

Economic sanctions and international trade

Despite global automation and harmonisation of trade, customs operations and procedures, the following article exemplifies the continued need and importance of knowledgeable trade practitioners and customs specialists. Human intellect and ‘expertise’ will forever play a critical role in the interpretation international trade law and national customs procedure.

Long used by governments to punish rogue countries, regimes, entities and individuals, trade and economic sanctions impact an ever-widening range of goods, technology and services. Recent developments in Iran, Syria and Libya, for example, resulted in far-reaching sanctions by Australia, Canada, the European Union and its 27 Member States, the United Nations, the United States and others. The complexity of sanctions and the speed with which governments implement them to address rapidly changing political situations create serious compliance challenges.

Companies are therefore well advised to implement compliance from management through all levels of sales, logistics and finance. The stakes are extremely high because compliance failures—even unintentional ones—can result in the imposition of substantial fines, debarment from government contracts, damage to public reputation and even imprisonment. Recent penalties illustrate the risks and the high governmental enforcement priority for trade sanctions. These include fines of up to US$536 million imposed by US and UK regulators against financial institutions and major businesses. Individuals may also be subject to prison sentences of up to 10 years in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Anyone involved in cross-border transactions therefore needs to determine if their conduct and that of persons acting on their behalf is regulated by trade sanctions. At a minimum, businesses must understand: which countries, regimes and individuals are targeted by trade sanctions; who is obliged to comply; which transactions are prohibited or restricted; and which authorisations may be available or required for any restricted action.

Businesses should also consider the long reach of US and EU sanctions. US sanctions generally apply to “US persons” wherever they are located in the world and to anyone located in the United States. Similarly, EU sanctions apply to “EU persons” wherever they are located in the world and to anyone located in the European Union. Adding to the breadth of coverage, US rules prohibit “facilitation”, which means neither persons nor companies subject to the rules may support a transaction undertaken by another party, including a foreign affiliate, from which a US person would be prohibited from engaging in directly. EU rules likewise prohibit covered persons from infringing sanctions rules indirectly – so much for economic freedom!

Law firm McDermott Will & Emery recommends that companies should take appropriate steps to minimise the risk of infringing trade sanctions by introducing the following safeguards:

  • Require due diligence in connection with all transactions. This should involve at least the screening of all counterparties against the ever-changing sanctions lists that identify the countries, regimes, entities and persons blacklisted. Trade sanctions can apply to goods, technology licensing and the provision of technical assistance, and to ancillary services such as financing, insurance and transport.
  • Establish internal procedures to ensure prompt legal review in the event a transaction with a sanctioned party is identified.
  • Check that the due diligence checklist for merger or acquisition transactions includes an assessment for compliance with trade sanctions.

Source: McDermott Will & Emery 

Where Does the Chain of Custody Begin?

Here follows an article, published by Dr. James Giermanski, an internationally renowned expert in container and supply chain security, international transportation and trade issues. It deals with a crucial but mostly forgotten/unknown aspect of international supply chains – who packed the cargo?

Tracking, tracing, and custody are all generally accepted concepts involving the control of movement. All these concepts have in their fundamental cognitive structure the idea of path, corridor, multiple parts, flow, and coordination.

However, what is often omitted or overlooked is the fundamental sine qua non core principle of “beginning”. What is the beginning of a chain of custody? This article focuses on this core concept and the role it plays as the beginning of the connective custody and control process. Specifically, it addresses the significance of cargo stuffing, the concept of authorized or trusted agent, the means of connectivity, the legal role of the authorized agent, and the consequences of a connected and visible supply chain.

Cargo stuffing

Establishing and maintaining cargo integrity begins with stuffing the container at origin. A chain of custody – chronological documentation or paper trail – involves “the movement and location of physical evidence from the time it is obtained until the time it is presented in court.” As in a criminal case comparison, a supply chain “chain of custody” needs three types of essential assertions:

  1. That the cargo is what it purports to be and in the quantity stated;
  2. That the cargo was in the continuous possession or control by the carrier who took charge of the cargo from the time it was loaded in the container at origin until the time it is delivered at final destination; and
  3. That there is evidence of the identify of each person or entity who had access to it during its movement, and that the cargo remained in the same condition from the moment it was sealed in the container for transfer to the carrier that controlled possession until the moment it released the cargo into the receipted custody of another.
Trusted partner

It is imperative that the initial point of a connectivity process begins at the beginning! Loading cannot take place without a human agent. The agent could be the company’s forklift driver, the dispatcher, the loading dock supervisor, or even an authorizing manager who has a specific duty to verify the cargo and its quantity. It could even be a third party hired by the shipper, for instance, companies that currently provide inspection services around the world.

Various Customs programs discuss, in one way or the other, the concept that supply chain security begins at “stuffing”: the Secure Export Scheme Program (New Zealand); the Partners in Protection Program (Canada); the Golden List Program (Jordan); the Authorized Economic Operator Program (Japan); the Authorized Economic Operator Program (Korea); the Secure Trade Partnership Plus Program (Singapore); and the Authorized Economic Operator.

Establishing ‘connectivity’

Maintaining connectivity depends on the security program, software and hardware utilized. While no system is 100% effective, and one cannot depend on technology alone, there are ‘off-the-shelf’ container security devices (CSDs) that provide connectivity through a sophisticated, comprehensive chain of custody system that begins with loading the container at origin, monitoring it, and reporting on its integrity at the end of the global supply chain path, i.e. at final destination.

CSDs can include the identity of the trusted agent verifying the cargo at loading and the agent’s counterpart at destination. Both parties are electronically connected by a unique identifier to the smart container system along with bill of lading or booking information, or data needed by Customs authorities. Therefore, when the CSD is activated, the accountable party becomes the initiating element in the smart container security system.

Consequences of chain of custody – standards, laws and litigation

If a smart container is opened at destination by an equally accountable person and cargo is missing, and there were no breaches detected, recorded or reported, the accountable person at origin can face either disciplinary, or worse, criminal action by appropriate authorities.

This ESI becomes a source of evidence, should legal action follow. The concept of custody and control from origin to destination also supports Incoterms 2010, a publication of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) which provides the playbook of international rules involving international sales of goods. These new terms now contain security requirements for the shipper, making a chain of custody system essential for compliance. There are also changes coming for shippers, consignees, and vessel carriers with respect to carriage of goods by sea: the new Rotterdam Rules.

According to the UN General Assembly, the Rotterdam Rules are a “…uniform and modern global legal regime governing the rights and obligations of stakeholders in the maritime transport industry under a single contract for door-to-door carriage” (cf. American Shipper). The new door-to-door liability places the vessel carrier directly in a chain of custody. Instead of the vessel carrier filing what the shipper said is in the container, the vessel carrier will be automatically and really responsible for knowing what is in the container.

What are the benefits?

The shipper, the consignee, the carrier, and control and regulatory authorities all benefit from a chain of custody system that begins with the loading of the container at origin. CSDs incorporating the identity of the trusted agent at stuffing would assist law enforcement officials to comply with international security and trade standards, solve transhipment problems, impair illegal access to the cargo conveyance, improve supply chain efficiencies, aid in securing hazardous materials and other dangerous cargo movement, reduce counterfeiting, eliminate the in-bond problem of unauthorized container access, and improve bottom line revenue generation for the firms using them. Source: Supply Chain Digest.

SARS “Trusted Trader” programme under the spotlight

With the implementation of the SARS Customs Modernization Program, accreditation has been revisited and SARS has taken a more robust approach.

South Africa is currently focusing on accreditation for customs procedures only. The Self-assessment Questionnaire was reworked and sent to a number of large importers, inviting them to participate in the “Preferred Trader Pilot Program.” Now more customs accreditation initiatives are underway.

In terms of a future focus on mutual recognition, bilateral discussion between EU and South Africa has commenced. The parties recently agreed to launch a customs project, financed under the Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement (TDCA) facility, covering the implementation of the WCO SAFE Framework in South Africa. South Africa intends to align its Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) strategy with that of the EU to ensure that standards for both compliance and security match those of the EU.

The EU is South Africa’s main trading partner. The TDCA is the legal basis for relations between the EU and South Africa and provides the framework for cooperation in the social, economic, political and cultural field. Please click here for the full report – refer to  pages 32 -33 for South African AEO article. Source: Ernst & Young

WCO Remembers September 11

Picture of Kunio Mikuriya at the World Customs...

WCO's Kunio Mikuriya

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11, WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya stated that “security, in particular global trade security, became a priority policy objective and is now part of Customs’ existing border protection portfolio to prevent such attacks from re-occurring”.

“Customs administrations across the globe have made considerable efforts to counter security threats,” stressed the Secretary General. “It is therefore fitting that as we commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, we renew our firm commitment to continue to take speedy action against terrorism and other forms of organized crime,” he concluded.

In response to 9/11, over the last 10 years the WCO has developed many international standards including the renowned SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade, and further supported national Customs administrations to implement the Framework through a vigorous and highly successful capacity building programme.

This Framework promotes supply chain security through the submission of advance cargo information, the application of risk management, the use of non-intrusive cargo scanning equipment, the development of Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) programmes, and partnerships between Customs administrations and between Customs and their trade stakeholders.

To further assist its Members and others who play a role in global trade security, the WCO has published a Research Paper – The Customs Supply Chain Security Paradigm and 9/11: Ten Years On and Beyond. Source WCO.

What is an Authorised Economic Operator (AEO)?

WCO LogoAlthough in its infancy here in South Africa, I thought I should share an interesting research paper on AEO developments across the globe. First, let’s define what it means to have AEO status? AEO status is given to a company who is considered to be reliable in their Customs-related operations. This includes customs compliance, appropriate record-keeping, proven financial solvency and security and safety standards. In principle, there are 3 types of AEO certificates — security and safety, customs simplifications, and full which includes customs simplifications/security and safety.

If you’re curious about which countries currently have AEO programs, the WCO has put together a compendium of 30 programmes currently operating in 56 countries.

The list has been divided into three areas — operational AEO programmes, AEO programmes to be launched in the near future, and Customs compliance programmes. While technically not AEOs, Customs compliance programmes can be regarded as an initial step towards the establishment of an AEO programme. Besides providing basic information on AEO and Customs compliance programmes, the Compendium also includes a short overview of AEO authorization procedures and benefits offered by programmes. The latter should be useful to South African traders participating in SARS’ “Trusted Trader” programme. Click here to access the WCO AEO Compendium