Customs Bill gets escape clause – fallback to old system

City Deep Container Terminal (Transport World Africa)

City Deep Container Terminal (Transport World Africa)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SA Government to Prioritise and Pass Customs Bills

Parliment, Cape Town (Eye Witness News)

Parliament, Cape Town (Eye Witness News)

Government has decided to prioritise the passage of eight bills through Parliament. The bills deal with land restitution, labour relations, and customs and excise.

There are currently 42 bills before the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. With the fourth Parliament set to be dissolved ahead of looming general elections, Members of Parliament (MPs) are unlikely to deal with all 42 bills.

A statement just released by the ANC’s office in Parliament to the media states –

“The African National Congress in Parliament has taken note of the huge parliamentary workload which the institution has to process in the next few months before the expiry of the current five-year term of parliament. In terms of the Constitution, the current term of Parliament is set to end ahead of the 2014 national elections. The workload confronting the institution includes committee oversights, constituency programmes, adoption of committee reports, debates on the state of the nation address and the budget, and finalisation and adoption of Bills.”

“Currently, there are 24 Bills before the National Assembly (NA) and 18 currently before the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) – which is a total of 42 Bills the institution must pass before the elections. Our view is that all these Bills are important and therefore the institution should spare neither strength nor effort in ensuring they are processed qualitatively and thoroughly to ensure that they are converted into laws within the stipulated period. We are however alive to the possibility that not all these Bills may be passed in the next few remaining months of parliament.”

“We have therefore sought to prioritise the following Bills, which we believe Parliament should give special attention to ensure they are passed into laws. In terms of the rules of Parliament, Bills that are not passed within the current term of Parliament may be resuscitated in the next parliamentary term. This will be done for those Bills that might not be passed during this term.”

“In determining priority Bills, we have looked at criteria such as complexity, contentiousness, technicality, effect on provinces, and requirement for exhaustive consultation. [Three of the eight bills relate to Customs and Excise]

  1. Customs Control Bill of 2013 – The Customs Control Bill is intended to replace certain provisions of the Customs and Excise Act of 1964 relating to customs control of all means of transport, goods and persons entering or leaving South Africa. The Bills aims to ensure that taxes imposed by various other laws on imported or exported goods are collected and that various other laws regulating imports and exports of goods are complied with. To ensure effective implementation of customs control, the Bill provides for elaborate systems for customs processing of goods at places of entry and exit such as seaports, airports and land border posts;
  2. Customs Duty Bill of 2013 – The Customs Duty Bill is intended to replace certain provisions of the Customs and Excise Act of 1964 which relates to the imposition and collection of imports and export duties. The Bill primarily aims to provide for the levying, payment and recovery of import and export duties on goods imported or exported from South Africa. The Bill will be dealt with in terms of Section 77 of the Constitution; and
  3. Customs and Excise Amendment Bill of 2013 – The Customs and Excise Amendment Bill seeks to amend the provisions of the Customs and Excise Act of 1964 and to remove from the Act all the provisions that have now been incorporated into both the Customs Control Bill and the Customs Duty Bill. Essentially, because the Customs and Excise Amendment Act of 1964 strongly reflected rigidity reminiscent of the apartheid era controls, which are unsuitable to the current modern control systems, it has been split into both the Customs Control Bill and the Customs Duty Bill. The Customs and Excise Amendment Act of 1964 will for now be retained in an amended form for the continued administration of excise duties and relevant levies until it is completely replaced with a new law in future (i.e. Excise Duty Bill).”

Source: Excerpt of a press statement of the Office of the Chief Whip of the ANC, Parliament.

Latest SA Cabinet decisions affecting Customs

Coat_of_arms_of_South_Africa_svgGovernment Communication and Information (GCIS) has published a statement on Cabinet’s recent meeting (26 June 2013) revealing at least three key aspects affecting SARS as well as external stakeholders involved in or impacted by Customs business. An excerpt of the statement follows below.

Cabinet approved the submission of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Trade in Services to Parliament for ratification, in accordance with section 231 of the Constitution. The objectives of the Protocol are to liberalise intra-regional trade in services on the basis of equity, balance and mutual benefit. This Protocol also sets out a framework for the liberalisation of trade in services between SADC member states and serves as a basis for negotiations.

Cabinet approved the implementation steps proposed for the establishment of a Border Management Agency (BMA).  The BMA would manage migration, customs and land border line control services and efficiently coordinate the service of all departments in ports of entry. The Department of Home Affairs will be the lead Department in establishing the BMA.

Finally, and for some a contentious issue, Cabinet also approved the Customs Control Bill (CCB), the Customs Duty Bill, 2013 (CDB) and the Customs and Excise Amendment Act, 2013 (CEAA) for submission to Parliment.  The Bills provide a foundation for the facilitation of international trade and protection of the economy and society, thereby creating a balance between customs control and trade facilitation. Source: GCIS