Parliament Postpones Customs Bills

Thaba Mufamadi, chairman of Parliament’s finance committee. Picture - Financial Mail

Thaba Mufamadi, chairman of Parliament’s finance committee. Picture – Financial Mail

Parliment’s standing committee on finance (SCoF) has decided to postpone its deliberations on two draft customs-related bills until next year to allow importers and the freight-forwarding industry more time to comment on the proposals which threaten the status of City Deep as an inland port. This followed an appeal by the South African Association of Freight Forwarders that it had had insufficient time to consider the substantially revised draft Customs Control Bill and Customs Duty Bill, which required that imported goods would have to be cleared at the first point of entry.

The association, supported by a range of other business organisations, including the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry, warned that the bills could be challenged on constitutional grounds if the process of consultation was deficient. All political parties supported the proposal by finance committee chairman Thaba Mufamadi on Wednesday that the deliberations on the bills be postponed until next year. He instructed stakeholders to make their submissions to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) by December 15.

Mr Mufamadi also took cognisance of concerns raised by Business Unity South Africa that parliamentary processes did not allow sufficient time to comment, for example, on the medium-term budget policy statement. Industry has warned of port delays and trade disruption if the proposals were to be adopted. The Customs Control Bill proposes that goods be cleared at the first port of entry into South Africa. This will mean that inland ports such as City Deep in Johannesburg would no longer be designated places of entry or exit for customs purposes. In the past, containerised cargo could move directly to inland ports on arrival in the country under cover of a manifest. A new declaration — of the nature, value, origin and duty payable on the goods — would replace the manifests.

SARS said these did not provide sufficient information to undertake a risk assessment. Another bone of contention for industry was the “extremely severe” penalties proposed in the draft Customs Duty Bill. Following the uproar about the proposals SARS offered a compromise earlier this week as a way out of the impasse. Instead of a clearance at the port of entry, a mandatory advance customs clearance of the goods three days before their arrival at the first port of entry would be required. Goods consigned to inland terminals such as City Deep would be released conditionally. The system would be tested for the whole of next year to iron out any problems.

An alternative option would be for the goods to undergo a lesser form of clearance at the first point of entry. This would still entail providing customs authorities with the same level of information on the tariff, value and origin of goods, which would be submitted by electronic data interchange. The importer would be held accountable for the information that was provided. SARS official Kosie Louw said that because this document would not have the formal status of a clearance certificate, it would not disrupt existing legal contractual arrangements, as claimed. The goods would still move CIF (cost insurance and freight) from the port to City Deep. SARS has also proposed softening the penalty provisions so that errors not resulting in any prejudice to customs revenue will be subject to penalties only after three warnings. These penalties will be discretionary and applied leniently in the first 12 months of the bill coming into force to allow business time to properly prepare for the change. An appeal process has been included. Source: Business Day Live. 

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City Deep Inland Terminal [port] to be hit hard by Customs Bill

Trucks at Transnet Freight Rail's City Deep Terminal (Engineering News)

Trucks at Transnet Freight Rail’s City Deep Terminal (Engineering News)

Following up on last year’s meeting (click here!) of the minds, convened by the JCCI, a recent meeting in Johannesburg placed fresh emphasis on the dilemma which impending changes contemplated in Customs Draft Control Bill will have for the import and logistics industry in particular. The following report carried by Engineering News highlights trade’s concerns which are by no means light weight and should be addressed with some consideration before the Bills come into effect. Gauging from the content below, there is a clear disconnect between business and policy makers.

The closure of Johannesburg’s inland port seemed to be a “done deal” as Parliament deliberated the recently tabled Customs Control Bill that would leave the City Deep container depot invalid, Chamber of Commerce and Industry Johannesburg (JCCI) former president Patrick Corbin said on Friday.

The promulgation of the South African Revenue Services’ (Sars’) newly drafted Customs Control Bill, which, in conjunction with the Customs Duty Bill, would replace the current legislation governing customs operations, would have a far-reaching impact on the cost and efficiencies of doing business in South Africa and other fellow Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) countries, he added.

The Bill, which was the product of a three-year development process within the National Economic Development and Labour Council, declared that all imported goods be cleared and released at first port of entry. This was part of efforts by customs officials and government to root out any diversion and smuggling of goods, ensure greater control of goods moving across borders and eliminate risks to national security.

Speaking at the City Deep Forum, held at the JCCI’s offices in Johannesburg, Corbin noted, however, that City Deep had operated as an inland port for the past 35 years, easing the load on the country’s coastal ports, which were already strained to capacity. Despite customs officials assuring the chamber that the operations and facilities in City Deep/Kaserne would retain its licence as a container depot, he believed customs had failed to recognise the critical role City Deep had played in lowering the cost of business, easing the burden on South Africa’s ports and ensuring ease of movement of goods to neighbouring countries. As customs moved full responsibility of container clearances to the ports, port congestion, inefficiencies, shipping delays and costs would rise, and jobs would be lost and import rail volumes decreased, he noted.

Economist Mike Schussler added that the closure of the City Deep inland port operations would add costs, increase unreliability and induce “hassles”, as the Durban port did not have the capacity to handle the extra volumes and its productivity and efficiencies were “questionable” compared with other ports.

“The volume of containers going to overstay or being stopped for examination in City Deep [will] need to be handled by [the coastal] ports. If they can’t cope with the volume at the moment, how are they going to handle increased volumes,” Iprop director Dennis Trotter questioned. He noted that only the containers cleared 72 hours prior to arrival would be allocated to rail transport. Those not cleared three days before arrival would be pushed onto road transport to prevent blocking and delaying rail operations.

This, Schussler said, would also contribute – along with port tariffs and the cost of delays – to higher costs, as road transport was more expensive than rail.

He pointed out that South Africa was deemed third-highest globally in terms of transport pricing. It would also result in less rail capacity returning for export from Johannesburg, further leading to increased volumes moving by road from City Deep to Durban.

Sacu countries, such as Botswana, would also be burdened with higher costs as they relied on City Deep as an inland port. Trotter noted that the region would experience loss of revenue and resultant job losses. Over 50% of South Africa’s economy was located closer to Gauteng than the coastal ports. Johannesburg alone accounted for 34% of the economy, said Schussler, questioning the viability of removing the option of City Deep as a dry port.

However, unfazed by the impending regulations, Transnet continued to inject over R1-billion into expansion and development opportunities at City Deep/Kaserne. Corbin commented that Transnet had accepted the assurances from customs that “nothing would change and the boxes would still be able to move seamlessly once cleared.” The City of Johannesburg’s manager of transport planning Daisy Dwango said the State-owned freight group was ramping up to meet forecast demand of the City Deep/Kaserne depot.

The terminal’s capacity would be increased from the current 280 000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) a year, to 400 000 TEUs a year by 2016, increasing to 700 000 TEUs a year by 2019. Transnet aimed to eventually move to “overcapacity” of up to 1.2-million TEUs a year. Dwango said projections have indicated that by 2021, the City Deep/Kaserne terminals would handle between 900 000 and one-million TEUs a year. Source: Engineering News

Customs Modernisation – some benefits in the offing

 

Its been a while since I penned some comment on the customs modernisation programme in South Africa. Amongst the anxiety and confusion there are a few genuine ‘nuggets’ which I would hope will not go unnoticed by the business community. With stakes high in the area of business opportunity and competitiveness, such ‘nuggets’ must be adopted and utilised to their fullest extent. Lets consider two such facilities.

The widespread implementation and adoption of electronic customs clearance has allowed brokers to file declarations for any customs port from the comfort of their desks. Brokers can now consider centralised operations especially for customs clearance purposes. Likewise the withdrawal of the annoying goodwill bond should also come as a welcome decision. Hopefully this may translate into cost-savings over time.

As of 11 August 2012, the business community will also be glad to learn that imported goods which do not fully meet all national regulatory requirements can be entered into bond on a warehouse for export (WE) basis. While this may not sound like anything new, the provisions which come into effect, will accord the identical treatment of such goods as if they were being entered for warehousing. In short the new provisions will allow more flexibility with the ability to re-warehouse WE goods; the ability to change ownership on WE goods; and the ability to declare WE goods for another customs procedure.These provisions can be considered a relaxing of the original approach which mandated compulsory exportation. All government regulatory requirements (i.e. permits, certificates, etc.) will however be strictly enforced upon clearance of WE goods for home use or another customs procedure. The apparent relaxation forms part of ongoing alignment of customs procedures with the Customs Control Bills, which are in the process of finalisation.

For those who have enquired about the followup to the national transit procedure, I have not forgotten about it. The ‘touchy’ nature of the subject requires a mature and fair response. Please bear with me.

 

Revisiting the national transit procedure – Part 1

FTW Online last week ran an interesting article in response to a proposed change in Customs’ policy concerning the national transit movement of containers from coastal ports to inland container terminals and depots. In February 2011, I ran an article Customs Bill – Poser for Cargo Carriers, Handlers and Reporters alluding to some of the challenges posed by this approach. The following article goes a step further, providing a trade reaction which prompts a valid question concerning the practicality and viability of the proposed change given logistical concerns. I believe that there is sufficient merit in the issues being raised which must prompt closer collaboration between the South African Revenue Service and trade entities. For now it is sufficient to present the context of the argument – for which purpose the full text of the FTW article is presented below. In Part 2, I will follow-up with SARS’ response (published in this week’s edition of the FTW) and elaborate on both view points; as well as consider the matter  on ‘raw’ analysis of the ‘cargo’ and ‘goods declaration’ elements which influence this matter. Furthermore, one needs to consider in more detail what the Revised Kyoto Convention has to say on the matter, as well as how other global agencies are dealing and treating the matter of ‘security versus facilitation’.

Customs’ determination to have all goods cleared at the coast does not bode well for the South African trade environment, Pat Corbin, past president of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), said. Speaking at the Transport forum in Johannesburg Corbin said the Customs Bills have been on the cards for several years now and while consensus had been reached on most issues in the Nedlac process, the determination of Customs to not allow for any clearing to take place at inland ports will only add more pressure to the already overburdened ports in the country. “Customs maintains that despite the changes they propose it will be business as usual. We disagree. We have severe reservations about their intention to terminate vessel manifests at the coastal ports in all cases and have called for further research to be undertaken in this regard,” said Corbin. “By terminating the manifest at the coast it has severe ramifications for moving goods from road to rail. International experience has shown when you have an inland port and you have an adequate rail service where the vessel manifest only terminates at the inland port, up to 80% of the boxes for inland regions are put on rail while only 12% land on rail if the manifest terminates at the coastal port.” Corbin said the congestion at both the port and on the road would continue and have an adverse impact on quick trade flows. “It also raises issues around the levels of custom security and control at inland ports and then the general implications on the modernisation project.” According to Corbin, government’s continued response has been that no provision exists for inland ports and that goods must be cleared at the first port of entry. “They maintain that it is about controlling goods moving across our borders and thus the requirement that all goods must be cleared at the first port of entry. The security of the supply chain plays an important role to avoid diversion or smuggling of goods,” said Corbin. “Government says that the policy change will not clog up the ports or prohibit the seamless movement of trade. Labour organizations and unions seem to agree with them.” But, Corbin said, the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce differs and is worried about the ramifications of this dramatic change to the 35-year-old option of clearing goods at an inland port or terminal. “With this policy change all containers will have to be reconsigned after not only Customs clearance on copy documents but also critically, completion of shipping lines’ requirements ie, payment of freight, original bill of lading presentation and receiving delivery instructions prior to their issuing a delivery order.” Corbin said the issue had been addressed directly with Transnet CEO Brian Molefe on two occasions, but that he had said he accepted Customs’ assurance that nothing would change and the boxes would still be able to move seamlessly once cleared. “It is not understood that the manifest will terminate at the coast where all boxes will dwell until they can be reconsigned,” said Corbin. Source: FTW Online – “New Customs Bill ruling will put pressure on port efficiency.”