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SACU IT Connectivity ConferenceRepresentatives from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa recently to refine requirements towards the development IT connectivity and electronic data exchange to facilitate cross-border customs clearance in the region. The workshop was convened by the SACU Secretariat under the sponsorship of the Swedish government and technical support from the World Customs Organisation.

Work already commenced way back in 2012 on this initiative. Progress in the main has been hampered by the legal agreement which to date not all members of the Customs Union have ratified. One of the features of this initiative, however, has been the continuity of support rendered by the WCO.

This event was indeed fortunate to secure – once again – the services of S.P. Sahu, former head of Information Technology at the WCO. After his secondment to the WCO he is now back in his home country where he is the Commissioner for Single Window based in Delhi, India.

S.P’s years of experience in both the technical and operational spheres of customs and the international supply chain enable him to articulate concepts and solutions in a manner which are practical and simple to understand. The workshop recognised the need to accelerate border processes and to this end the border process should be limited to physical examination, inspection, release; declaration processes should be done away from borders.

While simple enough in theory, the notion of clearance away from borders could pose challenges. Many of Africa’s borders – including those of a ‘One Stop’ kind – have not fully embraced the need to integrate processing and synchronize Customs activities. The challenge posed by ‘regional integration’ is one of surrendering national imperatives for a common regional good. It imposes a co-ordination of and development towards ‘regional objectives’ with the same level of purpose as national states do for their domestic agenda’s. In the case of SACU, it challenges member state’s stance on what real benefits the customs union should aspire to, beyond the mere sharing of the common revenue pool.

The outcome of the workshop resulted in a more refined, do-able scope and objective. With Mr. Sahu’s experience and guidance, the revised Utility Block (UB) speaks to all facets (legal, operational and technical) of the ‘regional agreement’ to the extent it specifies in the required detail the programme of action required on the part of the member stats as well as the SACU Secretariat. Refinement of the UB includes the removal from scope of the Release Message, Manifest Information and bond/guarantee message for the purpose of simplification of customs processes.

What remains are –

  • An Export & Transit Message – which includes the Unique Consignment Reference (UCR) validated and approved by the Export/Exit country.
  • An Arrival Confirmation/Notification Message – where the arrival date time would be when the import country recognises goods as received and places the goods under its customs procedure.
  • A Control Results Message – which includes the results of data matching, inspection and risk assessment based on agreed business rules.

In support of the above, SACU recently agreed on a framework of a UCR which must be further discussed and agreed upon by the respective member states. The UCR is a structured reference number which will be used by customs administrations of the respective member states to ‘link up’ import declaration data with the corresponding ‘export declaration’ data electronically exchanged by the export country.

Regional traders who have electronic clearance and forwarding capability will also play a role in the exchange of data through the exchange of the UCR on export and transit information with their counterparts or clients in the destination country. Once the exchange of data is operational between member states, it will be imperative for the importer to receive/obtain the UCR from the exporting country and apply it to his/her import declaration when making clearance with Customs.

The SACU Utility block will be tabled at a future Permanent Technical Committee meeting of the WCO for consideration and approval. A Utility Block is a concept structure which is proposed under the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) initiative which seeks to aid and assist its members in the operationalisation of Mutual Administrative Assistance agreements.

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New Zealand Customs ServiceThe New Zealand Customs Service has recently released draft guidelines for it’s Trade Single Window (TSW), which is currently under development. This will require all potential users to be able to send and receive electronic messages. The introduction of the TSW therefore means that organisations will need to submit lodgement messages that meet the WCO3 data model. Current message format for import entries, export entries, inward and outward cargo reports, will be accepted for 18 months after TSW is introduced (likely to be in the first quarter of 2013). However, following that 18-month period, all users of TSW will need to have adopted the new NZ WCO version 3 data model for messages.

New Zealand Customs expects that some users of TSW may adopt the new messages earlier to take advantage of the benefits, which include the ability to submit cargo manifest and Customs data in one message.To understand the new messages, a draft set of message implementation guidelines is now available for consultation and feedback from software developers and companies intending to use the TSW on the following draft messages:

  • Advance Notice of Arrival
  • Advance Notice of Departure
  • Cargo Report Export
  • Excise Declaration
  • Inward Cargo Report
  • Import Declaration
  • Outward Cargo Report
  • Border Agency Response Message.

Message implantation guidelines for the new export declaration is still be drafted, and will be made available as soon as possible.

Five main government agencies operate at the border – the Customs Service, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Department of Labour, the Ministry of Transport, and the Department of Internal Affairs. With the participation of almost 20 other associated agencies, they work to prevent the traffic of prohibited goods and materials in and out of the country. They also collect government revenue, promote travel and trade, support New Zealand’s national interests, and uphold international laws and agreements. Now, as the border sector grows more complex and volumes of goods and travellers increase, a new era of inter-agency collaboration aims for more control, easier flows, and greater efficiency. Source – New Zealand Customs Service