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HS_30_GalleryThe Harmonized System (HS) allows a world of many languages to speak with one. A multipurpose nomenclature for trade, the HS is one of the most successful instruments developed by the World Customs Organization. Its Convention has 156 Contracting Parties and the HS is used by more than 200 countries, territories and Customs or Economic Unions. It forms the basis for Customs tariffs and statistical nomenclatures around the world, and is used for around 98% of world trade. The year 2018 marks the 30thAnniversary of the HS which came into effect on 1stJanuary, 1988.

As an international standard with global application, the HS plays a key role in facilitating world trade. The HS is used as the basis for:

  • Customs tariffs;
  • Trade policies and quota controls;
  • Collection of international trade statistics and data exchange;
  • Rules of origin;
  • Trade negotiations such as the WTO Information Technology Agreement and Free Trade Agreements;
  • Monitoring of controlled goods, for example, chemical weapons precursors, hazardous wastes and persistent organic pollutants, ozone depleting substances and endangered species;
  • Many Customs controls and procedures, including risk assessments and profiling, electronic data input and matching and compliance activities; and Economic research and analysis..

The HS is crucial to the development of global trade. It is also fundamental to achieving fair, efficient, and effective revenue collection, a primary Strategic Goal of the WCO. In addition, as it provides an essential tool for the simplification and harmonization of customs procedures and provides the basis of knowing what trade goods are crossing borders, it contributes to other major strategic goals of Customs administrations and of the WCO.

The HS is a living language. The HS is now in it’s 6th edition and in the process of preparing for the Seventh Edition of the HS (HS 2022). During the life of the HS, there have been 60 meetings of the Harmonized System Committee (HSC) where 4,144 agenda items were discussed, 10 Recommendations were produced concerning the application of the HS Convention, 2280 classification decisions made and 871 Classification Opinions adopted to ensure the harmonization of classification. On 1st of January 2018, Members can be congratulated on having worked through the 60 HSC meetings, 53 meetings of the Review Sub-Committee (RSC) and 32 meetings of the Scientific Sub-Committee (SSC) to maintain and update the HS to keep it responsive and relevant to current needs.

On the occasion of this anniversary, the WCO calls for the international Customs community, in partnership with the international trade community, to continue to be proactive and pursue its efforts to develop and maintain the HS, especially in terms of the application and uniform interpretation of the HS, so as to safeguard and further grow the benefits of this success. Source: WCO, 3 January 2018.

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wco-hs2017

The World Customs Organization (WCO) has just released the 2017 edition of the Harmonized System Nomenclature, the world’s global standard for classifying goods in international trade, which will enter into force on 1 January 2017.

Used by over 200 countries and economic or Customs unions as well as by international organizations such as the United Nations Statistical Division (UNSD) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Harmonized System (HS) Convention currently has 154 Contracting Parties, making it the WCO’s most successful instrument to date.

The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, also known as the Harmonized System (HS) of tariff nomenclature is an internationally standardized system of names and numbers to classify traded products. It came into effect in 1988 and has since been developed and maintained by the World Customs Organization (WCO) (formerly the Customs Co-operation Council), an independent intergovernmental organization based in Brussels, Belgium – Wikipedia

The 2017 Edition of the WCO’s HS Nomenclature includes 242 sets of amendments (including some complementary amendments): 85 relating to the agricultural sector; 45 to the chemical sector; 22 to the wood sector; 15 to the textile sector; 6 to the base metal sector; 25 to the machinery sector; 18 to the transport sector and an additional 26 that apply to a variety of other sectors.

The 2017 edition of the Harmonized System comprises a total of 5,387 separate groups of goods identified by a 6-digit code (compared to 5,205 in the 2012 edition).

Click here for the HS Nomenclature 2017 Edition.

HS-related Council Recommendations

The Council, at its 127/128 Sessions in July 2016, adopted two HS-related Recommendations amended consequential to the Council Recommendation of 27 June 2014 concerning the amendment of the HS Nomenclature. First is the revised Recommendation of 18 June 1996 on the insertion in national statistical nomenclatures of subheadings for substances controlled under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Second is the Recommendation on the use of standard units of quantity to facilitate the collection, comparison and analysis of international statistics based on the HS Nomenclature 2017 Edition. With the acceptance of the revised Recommendation, the version of 24 June 2011 has been revoked with effect from 1 January 2017.

Click here for the HS-related Council Recommendations.

Correlation Tables HS 2012 – 2017

Some corrections have been made in the tables correlating the 2012 and 2017 versions of the Harmonized System.

Click here for the Correlation Tables HS 2012 – 2017.

Source: WCO

WCO - Technical Guidelines on Advance Rulings for Classification, Origin and ValuationThe World Customs Organization (WCO) has made the “Technical Guidelines on Advance Rulings for Classification, Origin and Valuation” publicly available. These guidelines were developed in order to support the implementation of Article 3 (Advance rulings) of the Bali Ministerial Decision on the Agreement on Trade Facilitation (TFA) and shared only among the WCO Members.

The purpose of publishing this document is to further enhance the transparency of the WCO’s work in this area as well as to provide additional information to any interested party. The Technical Guidelines are available here. Source: WCO

HS_HandbookFollowing the accepted complementary amendments to the Harmonized System Nomenclature listed in the Council Recommendation of 11 June 2015, the Correlation Tables between the 2012 and 2017 versions of the HS have been revised. The revised Correlation Tables show the correlation resulting from both the amendments to the Nomenclature which have been accepted as a result of the Council Recommendation of 27 June 2014 and the complementary amendments to the Nomenclature which have been accepted as a result of the Council Recommendation of 11 June 2015.

For more details visit the WCO website.

Namibian Trade PortalThe Namibia’s Ministry of Finance and Namibia’s Customs & Excise, in partnership with the U.S. government has recently launched a powerful new tool to increase and facilitate cross-border trade. The “Namibia Trade Information Portal” is a web-based platform that provides an authoritative “one-stop shop” of readily accessible trade, customs and compliance information. It is designed to significantly reduce the time and effort required for local and international traders to access current information and documentation required for doing business. The portal is the culmination of many years of collaboration between government of Namibia agencies and ministries and the U.S. government, working through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Southern Africa Trade Hub Project.

In his keynote address, Minister of Finance Calle Schlettwein said that the Trade Portal reflects the commitment of the Namibian government to build a “robust, knowledge-based society” through various modernization projects. However, he cautioned that the portal must be kept up-to-date if it is to be sustainable and relevant.

“For this reason, I strongly appeal to my fellow and counterpart ministers to designate focal points in their ministries who shall administer and avail timely updates, preferably online transmission of such information to our designated team in the Ministry of Finance who will, in turn, keep the portal updated,” Schlettwein said.

According to Namibia Trade Information Portal’s project manager, Melannie Tjijenda, the portal will save people time when they enquire about trade-related matters, so they will no longer be sent ‘from office to office.’

“International traders will now know how they can invest in Namibia,” she said, adding that this will save money on expenses like phone calls.

Tjijenda said the fact that most government websites are not regularly updated will not be the case with this portal. “When something changes, we will update it” she said, further pointing out that they have a team of content managers who will be checking and updating the content on regular basis. Source: The Namibian/USAID

OMD_7760The WCO Council, at its 123rd/124th Sessions in June 2014, adopted a Recommendation that lists recommended amendments to the Harmonized System (HS) nomenclature which will enter into force on 1 January 2017 (HS 2017).

This Recommendation is being promulgated under the provisions of Article 16 of the HS Convention, which implies that HS Contracting Parties now have six months to notify the WCO Secretariat of an objection to a recommended amendment.

Since the entry into force of the current version of the HS (HS 2012), the HS Committee has been revising this version of the HS nomenclature for almost five years. HS 2017 will be the sixth version of the HS since the Convention entered into force in 1983. HS 2017 will enter into force for all HS Contracting Parties, but will exclude any amendments objected to during the six month timeframe.

The new version of the HS includes 234 sets of amendments. Environmental and social issues are a major feature of these amendments, due to the importance of the HS as a global tool for collecting trade statistics and monitoring trade. This is borne out by the fact that the HS Convention currently has 150 Contracting Parties, making it the WCO’s most successful international instrument to date.

The majority of the recommended amendments were broached by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO):

  • Amendments relating to fish and fishery products are aimed at further enhancing the coverage of species and product forms which need to be monitored for food security purposes, and the better management of resources.
  • Amendments relating to crustaceans, molluscs and other invertebrates are motivated by the importance of the trade in and consumption of these species in their various product forms.
  • Amendments relating to cuttlefish and squid enlarge the coverage of the present HS codes for these species, in order to have all these species grouped together.

The classification of forestry products has also been modified, in order to enhance the coverage of wood species and get a better picture of trade patterns. The modification will enable trade data on tropical wood to be identified, resulting in better statistics on the trade in tropical wood and better data on the use of non-tropical hardwoods. In addition, the amendments include new subheadings for the monitoring and control of certain bamboo and rattan products.

Furthermore, HS 2017 amendments aim to provide detailed information on several categories of products that are used as antimalarial commodities. This will facilitate classification work, and the trade in these life-saving products.

The amendments also introduce specific subheadings to facilitate the collection and comparison of data on the international movement of certain substances controlled under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

New subheadings have also been created for a number of hazardous chemicals controlled under the Rotterdam Convention and for certain persistent organic pollutants (POPs) controlled under the Stockholm Convention. In some cases, there is a confluence of control regimes for chemicals by both the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions.

In addition, new subheadings have been created for the monitoring and control of pharmaceutical preparations containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or norephedrine, and for alpha-phenylacetoacetonitrile (APAAN), a pre-precursor for drugs.

Other amendments resulted from changes in international trade patterns. Headings 69.07 (unglazed ceramic products) and 69.08 (glazed ceramic products) were merged to take account of the fact that the main subheadings within these headings concern products which are essentially no longer manufactured, and the industry and trade no longer make a distinction between unglazed and glazed ceramic products, whilst new products with a very high trade volume are classified under subheadings 6907.90 and 6908.90 (“Other”).

Furthermore, for purposes of adapting the HS to current trade practices, certain important products will be separately identified in either existing or new subheadings.

Advances in technology are also reflected in the amendments, inter alia, the size criteria for newsprint, light-emitting diode (LED) lamps, multi-component integrated circuits (MCOs), and hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles.

Finally, the HS 2017 Recommendation includes amendments to clarify texts to ensure uniform application of the nomenclature. For example, the regrouping of monopods, bipods, tripods and similar articles in a new heading, namely 96.20. Source: The WCO

National Customs building in Luanda. [Photo - Lino Guimarães.]

National Customs building in Luanda. [Photo – Lino Guimarães.]

Angola’s new customs tariff, which came into effect on 1 March, is expected to increase tax revenues by around 23 billion kwanzas per year, according to Angolan news agency Angop.

Citing official figures, the agency said that the figure was a 10 percent increase on customs taxes provided by the previous tariff list, which came into effect in 2007.

The director of the Tariff and Trade department of the Angolan National Customs Service said recently that of a total of 6,651 products on the new tariff list, 2,942 are free from taxes and 1,150 products had their tariff reduced to 2 percent.

On the 2007 tariff list there were 2.576 tax-free products and 914 charged at a rate of 2 percent, of a total 6,011 products.

Amongst the items that can no longer enter the country, according to the new tariff list, are home-made medications, goods that breach copyright and industrial copyright and pornography.

The new customs tariff, which will be in place until 2017, is intended to improve circulation of Angolan goods and encourage exports. Source: macauhub

bocBigLogoBureau of Customs (BOC) unveiled a new website called “Customs ng Bayan” (Customs of the Nation) as part of newly-appointed Customs Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla’s initiatives to “uproot” the agency from its long history of institutionalised corruption.  “We are publishing reports of almost every importation into the Philippines in December 2013. Going forward, we intend to publish this list every month,” Sevilla said in an official statement.

Each item in the list represents a specific quantity (measured by weight) of a specific item that was imported by a specific importer on a specific day. The list – 88,006 items in December 2013 alone – is organised by major product groups, using the Harmonised Standard (HS) Code classification system.

“For each item, we include information such as a description of the item imported, its HS code number and standard HS code description, what country the item came from, its value and the amount of duties and taxes collected on that item.”

The Bureau of Customs, for the past years, has been one of the country’s most prominent faces of corruption in the government. According to Sevilla, all of that is about to change as they make drastic shifts in leadership, personnel and processes. In particular, he highlighted the importance of leveraging ICT to support the administration’s reform agenda.

“We need to improve the capacity of our IT systems to comply with needed reforms,” he said, adding that the Bureau is now studying the feasibility of implementing a single IT platform for all transactions, which involves improving the planned Php 442.3 million (US$9.8 million) National Single Window (NSW) project.

The NSW will facilitate trade through efficiencies in the Customs and authorisation processes. It will allow single submission and accelerated processing of applications for licenses, permits and other authorisations required prior to undertaking a trade transaction.Source: www.futuregov.asia

Related Articles

RACThe World Customs Organisation (WCO) has published the classification decisions taken at the last Session of the Harmonized System Committee (52nd Session) in September 2013 : the Classification Rulings, the Amendments to the Explanatory Notes and to the Compendium of Classification Opinions. You can locate the decisions via the following links:

Classification Rulings – HS Committee 52nd Session

Amendments to the Compendium of Classification Opinions – HS Committee 52nd Session

Amendments to the Harmonized System Explanatory Notes  – HS Committee 52nd Session

Source: WCO

 

South Africa has been courting major player Botswana’s support for changes to SACU.

South Africa has been courting major player Botswana’s support for changes to SACU. (Mail & Guardian)

The Mail & Guardian reveals that South Africa has requested an urgent meeting with members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) for as early as ­February next year in what could be a make-or-break conference for the struggling union.

In July this year, a clearly frustrated Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies told Parliament that there had been little progress on a 2011 agreement intended to advance the region’s development integration, and it was stifling its real ­economic development.

South Africa’s payments to SACU currently amount to R48.3-billion annually – a substantial amount, considering the budget deficit is presently R146.9-billion, an estimated 4.5% of gross domestic product.

In the past, South Africa has had some room to reposition itself, but as Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has pointed out, the South African fiscus has come under a lot of pressure as a result of factors such as the global slowdown, reduction in demand from countries such as China for commodities, and reduced demand from trade partners such as the European Union.

South Africa, which according to research data, last year contributed 1.26% of its GDP, or about 98% of the pool of customs and excise duties that are shared between union countries including Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia, wants a percentage of this money to be set aside for regional and industrial development.

The four countries receive 55% of the proceeds, and are greatly dependent on this money, which makes up between 25% and 60% of their budget revenue. South Africa has very little direct benefit, except when it comes to exporting to these countries. It receives few imports.

Changing the revenue-sharing arrangement

Efforts to change the revenue-sharing arrangement so that money can be set aside for regional development would result in less money going into the coffers of these countries.

It would also mean that a portion of the revenue that South Africa’s SACU partners now receive with no strings attached would in future include restrictions on how it is spent.

A source close to the department said adjustments to the revenue-sharing arrangement and the promotion of regional and industrial development were issues on which the South African government was not willing to budge.

So seriously is South Africa viewing the lack of progress on the 2011 agreement, a document prepared for Cabinet discussion includes pulling out of SACU as one of its options, a source told the Mail & Guardian.

This could not be confirmed by the government, but two senior sources said South Africa was very aware of the dependence of its neighbours on income from the customs union, in particular Swaziland and Lesotho, and the impact its collapse could have on these economies.

Professor Jannie Rossouw of the University of South Africa’s department of economics believes a new revenue-sharing arrangement is essential for the long-term sustainability of SACU countries.

South Africa’s contribution

He also said that South Africa’s contribution as it presently stands should be recognised as development aid and treated as such by the international community.

Between 2002 and 2013, total transfers amounted to 0.92% of South Africa’s GDP, which exceeds the international benchmark of 0.7% set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, he said in his research.

“It is noteworthy that South Africa transfers nearly all customs collections to SACU countries. Total collection since 2002 amounted to about R249-billion, while transfers to SACU were about R242-billion,” Rossouw said. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) recognises that inclusion of trade with Sacu would have a substantial impact on South Africa’s ­official trade balance.

South Africa’s total trade deficit for 2012 was R116.9-billion and, according to SARS, had trade with the union been included, it would have been much reduced to R34.6-billion.

South Africa has budgeted to increase its allocation to SACU from R42.3-billion in the 2012-2013 financial year to R43.3-billion this financial year and in the 2014/2015 financial year.

In 2002, the SACU agreement was modified to include higher allocations for the most vulnerable countries, Swaziland and Lesotho, and it established a council of ministers, which introduced a requirement for key issues to be decided jointly. In 2011, a summit was convened by President Jacob Zuma in which a five-point plan was established to advance regional integration.

Review of the revenue-sharing arrangement

This involved a review of the revenue-sharing arrangement; prioritising regional cross-border industrial development; making cross-border trade easier; developing SACU ­institutions such as the National Bodies (entrusted with receiving requests for tariff changes) and a SACU tariff board that would eventually take over the functions of South Africa’s International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC); and the development of a unified approach to trade negotiations with third parties.

Davies told Parliament that there had been little progress in the past three years on these five issues.

Xavier Carim, the director general of the international trade division of the department of trade and industry, said there had been positive developments regarding agreements on trade negotiations, such as those with the European Union and India on trade, and progress had been made on the development of SACU institutions, but progress was slow on the other issues.

Davies told Parliament it was difficult to develop common policy among countries that varied dramatically in economic size, ­population and levels of economic, legislative and institutional development.

He cited differences over approaches to tariff settings as an example.

“South Africa views tariffs as tools of industrial policy, while for other countries tariffs are viewed as a source of revenue,” Davies said.

A proposal that cause all the problem

“A key problem that led to differences was the proposal by one member for lower tariffs to import goods from global sources that were cheapest, which ultimately undermined the industry of another member. This was primarily an issue of countries who viewed themselves as consumers rather than producers.”

The South African government is trying diplomacy as its first option. A senior government source said issues around SACU made up a large part of talks last week between Botswana and South Africa on the establishment of co-operative agreements on trade, transport and border co-operation.

Catherine Grant of the South African Institute of International Affairs said Botswana had long been considered the leader of the four countries. It would make sense for South Africa to bring Botswana on board before the meeting.

Grant said the SACU agreement needed to be re-examined and modernised.

“There needs to be a review of the revenue-sharing formula that is less opaque and is easier to understand. The present system is complicated, making it hard to work out exactly how much countries are getting. It’s clear that Rob Davies feels hamstrung by SACU and has done for some time, because decisions cannot be made without the agreement of all five members, who have different needs and requirements.”

The trade balance is one of the elements that resulted in South Africa’s current account, which has recorded significant deficits in recent months, coming in as high as 6.5% of GDP in the second quarter of 2013.

Trade between South Africa and SACU has always been recorded, but for historical reasons it has been kept separate from official international trade statistics. Source: Mail & Guradian

 

The following comes from the Serbian Customs website – darn interesting! I would indeed like to learn of any other Customs administrations who have preserved “with diginity” their relics of the past.

The Customs profession, one of the oldest trades (emerging immediately after the clerical, ruling and military professions – lets not forget prostitution) withstood many turbulences and assaults, but it persevered, survived and developed. The number of customs officers and customs houses reflects the greatness of a state. And there lies also the greatness of the customs profession.”  These words end a text written on his profession by Veljko Velikić, a customs officer from Vršac, published in the magazine “Carinik” (Customs Officer) in November 1926.

The oldest preserved customs law related to our region was the Dubrovnik customs statute – Liber Statutorum Doane – from 1277 A.D. in Serbia, in addition to case law and national written legal sources, as early back as 13th century the first written legal source of Byzantine origin was applied. Sava Nemanjić, Saint Sava, on declaration of autocephaly of Serbian Orthodox Church in 1219, issued the Nomokanon, a collection of ecclesiastical and civil law regulations.

The oldest preserved customs law related to our region was the Dubrovnik customs statute – Liber Statutorum Doane – from 1277 A.D. in Serbia, in addition to case law and national written legal sources, as early back as 13th century the first written legal source of Byzantine origin was applied. Sava Nemanjić, Saint Sava, on declaration of autocephaly of Serbian Orthodox Church in 1219, issued the Nomokanon, a collection of ecclesiastical and civil law regulations.

This view of our colleague from early XX century was based on historical facts, since customs duties, in the form of tolls or taxes, were known back in the Old Ages.  They were levied by the state or individual cities.  The Old Greeks in Athens imposed a duty of 2% on imports and exports over the Pierian Mountains. The Romans also used to levy such duties as state and provincial or city taxes.  As early back as the Roman times customs duties made up a significant part of public revenues for the state treasury. At certain communication points in the provinces there were customs stations (stationes) where the duties were charged for the goods passing such points. The amount of duties was 2.5% (quadrogesimo) of the value of imported goods. The collection of customs duties was also farmed out, at the beginning granted even to farmers from the ranks of domiciled population, and later on, from mid-2nd century on, duties were collected by officials that in our territory were called publicum portarii Illyrici et ripae Thraciae. In the Middle Ages, in addition to import and export duties, the so-called transit duties were also levied. 

It was the basis for Dušan’s Code, drawn up at the times of developed feudal state in 1349, and amended in 1354, and this Code provided rules for the largest number of social relations.  Medieval Serbian rulers usually farmed out the collection of customs duties, most often to Dubrovnik citizens. After the arrival of Ottoman Turks in the Balkans the structure of revenues was changed entirely. The most important tax was the one paid in money, the so-called desetak (tithe), and also in “fruit of the land” and in labour; also levied were a district surcharge (nahijski prirez), fines, and revenues were also collected from customs duties, transportation and fishing taxes. On liberation from Ottoman Turks, the revenues from customs duties and charges on ferry transportation started to be collected for the first time in May of 1804, when Karadjordje established a customs house with a ferry at Ostružnica. Similar to the rate during the Ottoman rule, the customs duties stood at 3%. The vassal Serbia had to establish its customs tariffs in line with the then applicable provisions of agreements with the Holy See, and Prince Miloš fully complied with the Holy See’s instructions in that area.

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I really enjoy TRALAC’s Newsletter – their analysis is always concise and down-to-earth. This Hot Seat Comment is no exception. One often wonders about the impact and nett result of tariff changes and trade remedies. Here we get some insight.

The clothing and textile industry has a long history in South Africa and is still a very important source of employment, especially for women and in poorer communities. The industry is geographically bound to specific provinces, including the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and Gauteng. In many rural areas the clothing and textile sector is often the only source of formal employment. Since about 2002 the Rand appreciated substantially and South African exports became less competitive in the global market. Coupled with the trade liberalisation, in terms of South Africa’s WTO offer, the clothing and textile industry has experienced sustained import competition due mostly from Asian imports. In order to try and remedy large-scale factory closures and employment losses in the industry the Southern Africa Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) applied for an increase in the import tariffs of 124 clothing tariff lines to the WTO bound rates of 45 percent in 2009. These clothing tariff lines are classified under Chapter 61 and 62 of the South African Tariff Book and include various clothing items, including men’s woven and knitted shirts, jackets and trousers; babies’ garments; and women’s woven and knitted jackets, skirts, dresses and trousers. Although the retailers objected to an increase in import duties the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC) granted the application and general customs duties on 121 clothing tariff lines were increased from 40 percent to 45 percent, while the general customs duties on three tariff lines (hosiery) was increased from 20 percent to 45 percent.

imagesIn its application SACTWU stated three reasons for the application: there has been a significant increase in imports under these 124 tariff lines flowing into South Africa; market disruptions in the SACU industry which have resulted in factory closures and retrenchments warranted increased protection for the domestic industry; and increased tariffs will provide both relief and show increased confidence in the industry. The retail industry objected to the application on the following grounds: the loss of business in the manufacturing industry can not only be attributed to price competition, but also inefficiency in the local industry; increased duties will have an inflationary effect impacting the ability of consumers to buy clothing at competitive prices; and increased duties will have a punitive effect on the rail sector and the end consumers. In its decision the Commission found the declining rate of investment and employment in the clothing sector coupled with increased imports a disturbing trend. The Commission decided that an increase in customs duties will enable manufacturers to protect existing jobs, increase market penetration and price competition and growth the domestic manufacturing sector in the export market. However, the question of whether the increase in these customs duties have been successful in reaching its goal of decreased imports and increased domestic production, sales and exports still remain.

Import and export data sourced from the World Trade Atlas (2013) and production and sales data sourced from Statistics South Africa (2013) show the following patterns in the clothing industry between 2009 and 2012:

  • Over the time period imports of the 124 clothing tariff lines increased by 15 percent, from approximately US$ 834 million in 2009 to approximately US$ 1.2 billion in 2012.
  • The top five importing countries were China, Mauritius, India, Madagascar and Bangladesh, accounting for 89 percent of the total imports of these clothing articles into South Africa over the time period.
  • China mainly exported men’s, boy’s, women’s and girl’s cotton trousers; knitted sweaters and pullovers; cotton and knitted t-shirts; and knitted babies’ garments to South Africa between 2009 and 2012.
  • South Africa’s exports of these clothing tariff lines increased by 6 percent, from approximately US$ 71 million in 2009 to approximately US$ 84 million in 2012.
  • These clothing articles were mainly exported to African countries, including Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
  • The production index of the physical volume of production (base year is 2005) show there has been a significant decrease in the volume of production of knitted and crocheted articles and wearing apparel in South Africa. The index decreased from an average of 108.11 in 2009 to an average of 79.82 in 2012.
  • The sales of knitted and crocheted articles and wearing apparel also declined over the time period. Actual value of sales declined by 3 percent, from approximately US$ 18 billion in 2009 to approximately US$ 16 billion in 2012.

Although there has not been a significant lapse of time since the increase of import tariffs the data gives the short term response of imports, exports, and production to the change in import duties in November 2009. Immediately after the increase in tariffs there was an initial decrease in exports, production and sales.  However, exports recovered by the end of 2012, while production and sales are still significant lower than pre-2009 levels. SACTWU has also recently indicated that employment in the clothing, textiles and leather sector seems to be more stable over the last two years. However, one of the main objectives of the increase in import duties, to deter lower priced imports mainly from Asia, has not been accomplished. Source and content credit – Willemien Viljoen, TRALAC Researcher.

An Egyptian delegation to the WCO Harmonized System Committee, on behalf of the Director General of Egyptian Customs, Mohamed Elalhawy, presented the Secretary General of the WCO, Kunio Mikuriya, with a colour papyrus copy of the Customs tariff applied in Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs some 2000 years B.C. The original tablet is to be found in a museum in Egypt. You can view a photograph of the Egyptian tablet by clicking here!

The Secretary General thanked Egyptian Customs for this impressive gift full of significance which clearly illustrated the historic nature of Customs tariffs dating back more than 4000 years. He expressed the hope that one day he would be able to see the original stone tablet in Egypt. The papyrus will be displayed at WCO Headquarters. Source: http://www.wcoomd.org

The recent death of a close friend and colleague – Lester Millar – brings to mind, once again, the dire situation of a dwindling ‘knowledge base’ in the area of Customs’ core competency. In an era where most customs or border management authorities are happy to employ people with a variety of tertiary qualifications – with the idea that this alone will be sufficient to ‘arm and support’ them in the field of customs/border control and management – what happened to the skills of yesteryear which allowed both government and trade practitioners to exercise their technical abilities to agree or disagree amicably on a customs tariff or valuation interpretation that could result in thousands of rands (ZAR) going to state coffers or the retailer’s bank account?

Many would argue that with the extent of automation and modern techniques, customs core skills are no longer valid or even necessary. Indeed the extent and design of systems goes so far as removing the relevance of human intuition and decision-making. Today we have automated risk management, automated duty calculation and declaration processing, automated cargo and goods accounting, any even a call centre – so is there really a role for a Customs specialist in the 21st century? Customs Managers today have their reports and other so-called ‘empirical data’ to rely on for decision-making and strategizing. The year-end revenue rush, it-self, relies on such computer generated reports negating the need for an internal ‘think-tank’ to devise means of collecting the hidden revenue before the deadline.

For those in the trade, a similar situation exists, with some difference however. The traditional customs clearance and cargo reporting process is highly mechanised these days and if your systems are up to the task, you can rest assured staff can remain glued to their seats and screens without having to venture to the Customs House. Here too, lies a significant change. The traditional Custom House no longer exists and is basically home to the ‘Customs Frontline’ which deals with ‘physical’ intervention and other trade services. Tariff, Valuation and Origin are now confined to back-office functions accessible via a call centre or tiered response mechanisms embedded in Customs’ new automated workflow; that is, if physical or telephonic access to regional customs specialists have been removed.

Few can dispute the advantages of technology supported processes. Yet, when things go array, even the knowledgeable people have difficulty in resolving an issue. Some suggest that human discretion is dangerous and counter-productive, which perhaps is true if left to an uncouth, power-crazy customs or border control official. Yet, ‘discretion’ is a tenet most necessary for interpretative and cognitive skills which once most Customs Officials used to have.

So what is this core competency to which I refer? First of all Customs competency requires an officer to reason, interpret and apply the customs law in the “fairest” possible way based on the facts at his/her disposal. So it means the officer must have an ability to discern; importantly between right and wrong. Discernment must also take into account an acute understanding of previous/historical evidence relating to a case. For a customs official, it will be important to comprehend the rights and legal obligations of the parties concerned, as well as the documentation relating to the case/transaction. Moreover, where a case/transaction deals with a matter of ‘tariff’, or ‘valuation’ or ‘origin’ the officer must at least have the basic knowledge and skills of the internationally defined rules of interpretation in these disciplines. I say ‘at least’, because in any of the mentioned areas, it may require an expert opinion to further conclude the outcome of a matter.

While automation will take care of validation and computation to the n’th degree, storing and retrieving vast amounts of data in milliseconds, the fact remains that a competent ‘human being’ is still required to preside over a complex decision. Good systems are built on ‘rules’, not exceptions. It is the latter therefore that requires ‘customs core competency’ to resolve.

Our dear friend and colleague Lester was gifted with a phenomenal ability to distill and comprehend information. This knowledge made him one of our finest, and sadly virtually last remaining tariff experts. Add to this, a wonderful and helpful nature and willingness to serve the public – a not too common trait nowadays. Adios Lester…..since we did not fully profit from your time with us, may we at least profit from our loss!

I came across a document prepared by the Canadian Reconstruction Association titled – Tariff Policies Throughout the World – published in 1921. It comprises a survey of tariff legislation since the armistice (end of WW1), which shows that every important country in the world was protecting its own industries and striving to reduce its dependence upon outside sources of supply, and that “Protection” is established and accepted as the fiscal policy of the nations of the world more generally and firmly than ever before.

The story told by these tariff developments is absolutely one-sided, a world-wide resort to tariff protection, recognition of the value of industrial development and of the home market, and a general strengthening of protective systems.

Two significant statements by the governments of the day bear testimony to this fact. The Spanish Government summarized cogently the world tariff situation at the time: “Many countries have taken and are taking measures to prevent the invasion of their markets by foreign goods; tariff barriers are being raised and other restrictive measures adopted on all sides; the situation is developing towards a worldwide tariff war. The new customs tariff is an instrument prepared for use in a tariff war, if necessary.” Not less worthy of heeding is a statement issued by the Australian government: “customs duties which are not high enough to be effective are worse than useless.”

What a strange contrast to today’s circumstances where the WTO seeks at all costs to ensure the dismantling of all barriers – tariff and otherwise. Now read what things were like in our own backyard.

SOUTH AFRICA

Conditions during the war were, in effect, such as would have obtained under an almost prohibitive tariff and as a result the industries of South Africa experienced a tremendous development. The Minister of Finance in his budget speech in 1920, stated that no less than 2,000 new factories had been established in that Dominion since the fiscal year 1915-16, that in the past four years industrial production had increased 50% and that the country was advancing rapidly in the direction of becoming self-supporting in respect of all the necessaries of life. Protectionist sentiment in the Union is strong.

The budget introduced into the Union Parliament on April 15, 1921, provided for an increase of various customs duties, and the Government has announced its decision to appoint an Advisory Customs Tariff Board which will be called upon, among its other functions, to report on “what steps may be necessary to assist and develop the industries of the Union.”

Two recent developments indicate the attitude of South Africa in regard to protection and encouragement of domestic industries. In the Spring of 1921, in order to protect the shoe manufacturing industry of South Africa, principally against competition from the United Kingdom, the Government prohibited the importation of leather footwear, except under license, with the provision that licenses should be issued only for the importation of such shoes as the South African manufacturers were unable to produce. By a proclamation of May 11, 1921, the Government brought certain goods within the scope of the “dumping” clause of the Union customs tariff and the “dumping” duty has now been made applicable to wheat, flour, and wheat meal imported from Australia, the amount of such duty to equal the difference between the price at which these products are sold for home consumption in Australia and the price for which they were sold for export to South Africa, except that, as under the Canadian Customs Act, the special or dumping duty must not exceed 15 %.

The policy of the present South African Government (circa 1921) is frankly to enable South African industries to continue in operation, to encourage new manufacturing industries and the utilization of the resources of the Dominion, and to prevent the Union from becoming a dumping ground for other countries. While the question of revenue is being kept in mind, the maintenance of South African industries is regarded as still more important in the interests of the country as a whole. Source: Internet Archive