A new instrument of the Technical Committee on Customs Valuation

wco - valuationA new instrument of the Technical Committee on Customs Valuation has recently been published. Advisory Opinion 4.15 provides guidance on a case where royalties have been paid to a third party licensor (in other words, the licensor is not the seller of the goods) and determines whether or not it is appropriate to include the royalty fee in the Customs value of the imported goods. Available from WCO Online Bookshop.

Customs and Nigeria’s Trade Hub Portal

Nigeria Trade Hub 2Anyone familiar with the import and export business in Nigeria will recall how tedious the process used to be. It could take days or even weeks to complete due to ceaseless documentation that importers, exporters and their agents had to endure with the various regulatory agencies. Now, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has developed a web-based application known as the Nigeria Trade Hub Portal, simplifying the entire process and providing information and guidance for international trade business processors in the areas of import, export and transit trade.

The www.nigeriatradehub.gov.ng portal, a non-restrictive and is an intuitive and interactive platform for classifying goods. Through it, trade processors are enabled to find exact Harmonised System Codes (HS Codes) required for related tariffs and duties.

This latest technology is expected to enhance compliance by traders and avail them the required information on tariff in areas like the prohibited items and taxes/levies due for payment upon importation. The application is also designed to touch on the aspect of trade facilitation such that trade processors can access information from all related government agencies. Guidelines and procedures for obtaining permits, licences and certificates of specified commodity and country of origin that a trade will require for business processing are also available on the portal.

The Nigeria Trade Hub portal allows traders to convert currencies to exchange rates set by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on a monthly basis, make payments, simulate tax and access the CPC Code. The application goes further to provide the tax and duties payable on any particular item, whilst presenting the user with the documents, i.e., the named permits or certificates required for the product, the issuing agency, the processing cost as well as the duration (no of days) for processing. This empowers the trader and provides them with sound information to assist them in competing on the international market.

A mobile Android App is also available on the Google Play store, and other platforms are to be rolled out soon. Source: Nigeria Trade Hub, Suleiman Uba Gaya and Valentina Minta (West Blue Consulting).

Airport Cities – a view to a different trading environment for South Africa?

ace_skyscraper_237x352aerotropolisThis past week witnessed the first Airport Cities Convention in South Africa. It came at the timely announcement of the country’s first aerotropolis earmarked for development around Oliver Tambo International airport (ORTIA) and the surrounding industrial complex. While the City of Ekurhuleni gets prized possession of the ‘aerotropolis’ (in title) by virtue of the location of ORTIA, Johannesburg is set to benefit perhaps more greatly due to it being the epi-centre of South African commerce and trade. This represents significant ‘hinterland’ development which bodes well for future multi-modal transport and shipping activity for the Gauteng region and the country as a whole.

In support of government’s National Infrastructure Plan, is Strategic Integrated Project (SIPs) 2, otherwise known as the Durban-Free State-Gauteng logistics and industrial corridor. Infrastructure upgrades are already occurring to road and rail networks linking to the key cargo and distribution hub, City Deep. While the express purpose of an inland port, terminal or logistics hub is to provide relief for congested seaports, it likewise creates possibilities and opportunities to synergise with other transport forms. This serves to maximise capacity through integration offering local suppliers and foreign customers a host of trade, shipment and logistics options.

Foremost, an inland port is a hub designed to move international shipments more efficiently and effectively from maritime ports inland for distribution throughout the heartland. Think of the logistics of inbound freight as a barbell. At one end, inbound containers flood into a seaport, spreading across local storage facilities as they are unloaded. If they aren’t moved quickly enough from the port, they create a bottleneck that bogs down the entire distribution cycle as containers wait longer to get off ships, to get into warehouses, and to get back out and onto trucks and trains for final shipment. The Emergence of the Inland Port (credit: Jones, Lang, LaSalle)

In a world of increasing global integration, focussing more on global distribution of goods and services, it behoves our country to understand the dynamics of global trade and what in fact makes commerce tick. Today’s number 1 spot is not going to remain intact without continuous re-evaluation and innovation. It would indeed be arrogant (if not suicidal) of us to think that our current prominence and strength in the sub-saharan region will remain without innovation for the future. At the same time South Africa should welcome increased competition from its neighbours, both immediate as well as further north in Africa. The latest fDI 2013 Report indicates a decrease in foreign direct investment in South Africa (-5%) and Kenya (-9%), while at the same time a significant increase in foreign investment in Nigeria (+20%) and Egypt (+20%), respectively. True, the latter countries are far removed from South Africa’s immediate ‘playing field’, however do we fully understand the drivers which cause the named countries to attract FDI at such an increasing rate – are they capitalising somehow on our deficiencies, shortcomings, or lack of opportunism?

The National Infrastructure Plan can only be seen as a single cog in the machinery to keep South Africa competitive. And, while it is encouraging to witness these developments, a corresponding economic and commercial enterprise on both government and private sector is required to maximise these developments. Some smidgen of hope could lie in the Department of Trade and Industry’s economic principles which support Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) and Special Economic Zones (SEZs), for example, however, several business commentators have already voiced concerns on exactly how these support the Infrastructure Plan. A further question lies in our country’s ability to facilitate trade, not only at our ports, but more importantly the ‘hinterland’ of our country and the neighbouring regions. Do our existing and future laws adequately provide for expeditious and facilitative procedures in the treatment of import and export goods? Are we sure that we are addressing all real and potential trade barriers?

Anyone desiring more information on the ‘aerotropolis’ concept should find some interest at the following websites – Aerotropolis.com, and the City of Ekurhuleni

AU considers continental Customs Connectivity

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.

Nigeria – Maximizing Opportunities in Free Trade Zones

Lagos Free Trade Zone

Lagos Free Trade Zone

So how come FTZs, IDZs, EPZs, etc are working in other African countries and not here in South Africa? This Day Live (Nigeria) offers some of the critical success factors which delineate such zones from the normal economic operations in a country. Are we missing the boat? The extent of economic and incentive offering can vary substantially between the different economic and trade zone models – some extremely liberal while others tend to the conservative. Obviously the more liberal and free the regulations are the more stringent the ‘guarantees’ and controls need to be. However, in today’s e-commercial world, risk to revenue can more than adequately be mitigated and managed with through risk management systems. Manufacturing and logistical supply chain operations are likewise managed in automated fashion. I guess the real issue lies in governments appetite for risk and more particularly its willingness to relax tax and labour laws within such zones. Furthermore, a sound economic roadmap demonstrating backward linkages to the local economy and outward linkages to international markets must be defined. Herein lies some of the difficulties which have plagued South African attempts at such economic offerings – no specific economic (export specific) goals. Limited financial/tax incentives for investors, and poor cooperation between the various organs of state to bring about a favourable investment climate.

Free Trade Zones (FTZs) are at the crux of the growth attributed to emerging markets. All the BRIC nations have used the FTZs as a buffer to economic meltdown particularly in the wake of the most recent financial and economic crises. The “great recession” of 2007 – 2009 saw the BRIC nations growing at the rates of 7% to 13%. Consequently, the importance of FTZs as well as maximizing opportunities therein cannot be over-emphasized. The literature defining FTZs vary, but they all have the following characteristics in common:

  • A clearly delimited and enclosed area of a national customs territory, often at an advantageous geographical location, with an infrastructure suited to the conduct of trade and industrial operations and subject to the principle of customs and fiscal segregation.
  • A clearly delineated industrial estate, which constitutes a free trade enclave in the customs and trade regime of a country, and where foreign manufacturing firms, mainly producing for export, benefit from a certain number of fiscal and financial incentives.
  • Industrial zones with special incentives set up to attract foreign investors, in which imported materials undergo some degree of processing before being re-exported.
  • Fulfilling their roles in having a positive effect on the host economy, regulators look at FTZs from a nationalist perspective. Inevitably, they seek the following benefits:
    • Creating jobs and income: one of the foremost reasons for the establishment of FTZs is the creation of employment.
    • Generating foreign exchange earnings and attracting foreign direct investment (FDI): measures designed to influence the size, location, or industry of a FDI investment project by affecting its relative cost or by altering the risks attached to it through inducements that are not available to comparable domestic investors are incentives to promoting FDI. Implicit in this statement lies the definition of FTZ. Other traits that are recognizable when discussing FDI’s include specially negotiated fiscal derogations, grants and soft loans, free land, job training, employment and infrastructure subsidies, product enhancement, R&D support and ad hoc exceptions and derogations from regulations. In addition to FDI, by promoting non-traditional exports, increased export earnings tend to have a positive impact on the exchange rate.
    • Transfer of technology: trans-national corporations (TNCs) are a dominant source of innovation and direct investment by them is a major mode of international technology transfer, possibly contributing to local innovative activities in host countries. It is a government’s primary obligation to its citizenry to provide attractive technology, innovative capacities and mastering, upgrading, and diffusing them throughout the domestic economy. Nevertheless, through national policies, international treaty making, market-friendly approaches, a host country gravitates from providing an enabling environment to stronger pro-innovation regimes that perpetually encourage technology transfer.

FTZs can be both publicly (i.e. government) and or privately owned and managed. Governments own the more traditional older zones, which tend to focus more on policy goals that are primarily socio-economic. They emphasize industry diversification, attracting FDI, job creation and the like. Privately-owned FTZs have the advantage of eliminating government bureaucracy, are more flexible, and are better prepared to deal with technological changes. The global trend towards privatization has made privately-run zones more popular and a number are highly successful. The role of government in the case of privately-run zones is to provide a competitive legal framework with attractive incentive packages that meet the World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements.

FTZ Operations in Nigeria

FTZs were established in 1991 in order to diversify Nigeria’s export activity that had been dominated by the hydrocarbon sector. By 2011, there were nine operational zones; ten under construction; and three in the planning stages. The governing legislation includes the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Act (NEPZA) and the Oil and Gas Export Free Zone Act (OGEFZA). Zones may be managed by public or private entities or a combination of both under supervision of the Authority. For the full article go to – This Day Live

Enhancing South Africa’s and Africa’s development through Regional and Continental Integration

Hardly a week goes by without some or other African politician waxing lyrical about continental integration, continental trade diversification, and a wholesome analysis of the ‘barriers’ which prevent the African continent  from reaching its full economic potential. No doubt I’m a bit biased in relaying the recent ‘public lecture’ of our deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe at the University of Finlandread the full speech here! Plenty of insight clearly delineating a plethora of barriers; yet, are we African’s so naive not to have identified these barriers before? Evidently yes.

In recent weeks, on the local front, we have learnt that One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) is the solution to non-tariff barriers. This topic was drilled amongst the press till it got boring. The focus soon thereafter shifted to the implementation of a border management agency (BMA) – all of government under one roof – so simple. The reality is that there is no silver-bullet solution to African continental integration. Of this, affected business, Customs administrations and the international donor community is acutely aware. While the WTO and the multitude of trade lawyers will ‘yadder’ on about ‘diversification’ in trade, the reality is that Africa’s raw materials are even more sought after today than at an any time before. Certainly those countries which contain vast resources of oil and strategic minerals are about to reap the benefits. So why would African countries be concerned about diversification when the petro-dollars are rolling in? Perhaps greed or lack of foresight for the medium to long-term well-being of countries and their citizens? The fact remains, without homegrown industries producing goods from raw materials, most of  Africa’s eligible working class will continue to be employed by foreign mineral moguls or the public service.

Several customs and infrastructure solutions have over the last few years emerged with the usual credential of “WCO or WTO compliant”. Africa has been a guinea pig for many of these solutions – ‘experiments’ if you prefer. Literally millions of dollars are being spent every year trying out so-called ‘best-of-breed’ technology which users unfortunately accept without much questioning. The cart is being placed before the horse. Why? because the underlying route cause/s are not being identified, understood (sufficiently) and prioritized. Insofar as there exists no silver bullet solution, neither is there a single route cause in most cases. Unfortunately, donor aid often comes with its own pre-conceived outcomes which don’t necessarily tie in with those of the target country or the well-being of the continent.

While governments like to tout the ‘big-hitting’ projects, there are several ‘less exciting’ (technical) areas which countries can address to kick-start the process. One of these has even been recognised by the likes of the World Bank and OECD notwithstanding capital-intensive programs which promised much and have not delivered fully on their promise.  The issue at hand is the harmonisation of customs data. It might at first sound irrelevant or trivial, yet it is the key enabler for most Customs Modernisation initiatives. While there is still much anticipation in regard to the forthcoming deliberation and outcome of the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) initiative at June’s WCO Policy Commission session in Brussels, there is significant support for this approach on the African continent. The momentum needs to be maintained.

 Related articles

IDZs to be replaced with SEZs

Department of Trade and Industry (South Africa)Heard this before? In line with the Industrial Policy Action Plan and the New Growth Path, the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) aims to continue fostering its efforts to create employment and economic growth by establishing a strong industrial base in South Africa. The new initiative aims to improve on the concept of industrial development zones (IDZs) which have enjoyed mixed success since being introduced in December 2000 through the Manufacturing Development Act. 

An IDZ is a purpose-built industrial estate linked to an international airport or seaport which is tailored for the manufacturing and storage of goods. It offers investors certain rights within the zone, in addition to incentives such as customs duty and VAT relief. One important priority of the IDZs is to boost job creation and skills in underdeveloped regions. The IDZ programme led to the establishment of five zones – Mafikeng, OR Tambo International Airport, Richards Bay, East London and Coega. The Richard’s Bay IDZ only commenced its first phase of development in September last year while OR Tambo International Airport is not yet fully operational.  The Industrial Policy Action Plan, issued by the Department of Trade and Industry in February 2011, has also identified, as a key milestone, the establishment of an additional IDZ at Saldanha Bay. 

The Special Economic Zones (SEZs) programme is one of the most critical instruments that can be used to advance government’s strategic objectives of industrialisation, regional development and job creation. Moreover, the programme can assist in improving the attractiveness of South Africa as a destination for foreign direct investment.

In order to ensure that the SEZ programme is an effective instrument for industrial development, the dti has developed the SEZ Policy and Bill. Through the Bill there will be a dedicated legislative framework for special economic zones.

The main objectives of the SEZ Bill are to provide for the designation, development, promotion, operation and management of Special Economic Zones; to provide for the establishment of the Special Economic Zones Board; to regulate the application and issuing of Special Economic Zones operator permits; to provide for the establishment of the Special Economic Zones Fund; and to provide for matters incidental thereto.

Furthermore, the SEZ Bill will enable government to move towards a broader Special Economic Zones Programme, through which a variety of special economic zones can be designated in order to address the economic development challenges of each region and address spatial development inequalities.

Although national laws may be suspended inside industrial zones, government is currently not offering regulatory incentives to derogate from labour rules, a concession which is seen by some as crucial to stimulate investment in special zones. It is however unlikely that a relaxation of labour laws will be considered under the SEZ initiative. Benefits are rather expected to come in the form of enhanced incentives for labour intensive projects and additional tax relief for investors. A further question arises – just how flexible an inventive will the customs and VAT requirements be allowed to be?

The key provisions include the establishment of a Special Economic Zones Board to advise the Minister of Trade and Industry on the policy, strategy and other related matters; establishment of the Special Economic Zones Fund to provide for a more coherent and predictable funding framework that enables long-term planning; strengthening of governance arrangements including clarification of roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders. Source: Department of Trade and Industry.

Greetings for 2012

العربية: الخريطة الهجائية لأفريقيا English: Or...

As my leave break draws to a close I thought it opportune for ‘Africans’ to maintain a positive view on developments on the continent, not that international affairs elsewhere on the globe give any cause for joy. To this I append an article “Its time for Africa” that will hopefully reinforce sentiment in both government and trade quarters on the ‘attractive’ or ‘potential’ opportunities which our continent has to offer. I look forward to a new year of interesting times and challenges. Enjoy the read.

Draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill, 2011 – Impact on Customs

As if the myriad of changes affecting the Customs industry are not enough, there’s some more important considerations for customs traders and practitioners, soon, posed by the Draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill [2011].

Goods Sold in Bond. For the purposes of the VAT Act, the Bill proposes that ‘the value to be placed on the importation of goods into the Republic which have been imported and entered for storage in a licensed Customs and Excise storage warehouse but have not been entered for home consumption shall be deemed to be the greater of the value determined in terms of subsection (2)(a) or the value of acquisition determined under section 10(3) if those goods while stored in that storage warehouse are supplied to any person before being entered for home consumption.’

Duty free goods imported on a temporary basis. Goods imported in terms of Rebate Item 470.03, which are duty free, will in future have to be declared under a specific rebate sub-item for duty free goods. In addition, provision is also to be made for the importer of duty free goods, where the importer is contractually entitled to keep a portion of the goods manufactured, processed, finished, equipped or packed in lieu of payment for the operations carried out, that importer must:
a) export those goods within the 12 month period, or
b) process a goods declaration for payment of the VAT on the goods retained and pass a voucher of correction amending the quantity and value of the original declaration.

New tax incentives for Industrial Development Zones. Government is seeking to renew its efforts to enhance the Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) regime to encourage industrial development within certain geographical areas. The main focus of the incentive is to promote capital expenditure. Greenfield projects receive an additional 55% allowance and brownfield projects receive a further 35% additional allowance. The additional allowance for greenfield projects located in IDZ’s will be increased to 100% (instead of the current 55%) and to 75% for brownfield projects (instead of the current 35%).This change will be welcomed by IDZ Operators that are constantly looking for ways to make IDZ’s more attractive. In terms of the Customs and Excise Act, it should be noted that duty rebate and VAT dispensations ONLY apply to entities establishing licensed premises within the customs controlled area of an IDZ.

For more information on the above please click here!

The Draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill, 2011 is available on the SARS website.