The SACU Utility Block – My Export is Your Entry

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.

WCO/SACU Regional IT Connectivity Conference 2013

Delegates attending the WCO/SACU IT Connectivity Conference - May 2013

Delegates attending the WCO/SACU IT Connectivity Conference – May 2013

Representatives of the SACU member states recently met in Johannesburg to progress developments concerning IT Connectivity and Customs-to-Customs data exchange in the region. The session served as a follow up to the session held last year in February 2012 in Pretoria. The conference was convened by the SACU secretariat under the sponsorship of the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), and was once again pleased to have SP Sahu, senior technical expert from the World Customs Organisation, to facilitate the work session over 3 days. Representatives of UNCTAD ASYCUDA were also in attendance to observe developments. UNCTAD currently supports three (soon to be four) of the five SACU Customs administrations. The session provided an opportunity for delegates to progress this work as well as develop a terms of reference for an independent assessment of the two connectivity pilot projects that are currently being pursued between Botswana-Namibia and South Africa-Swaziland, respectively.

IT Connectivity serves as a catalyst for various customs-to-customs cooperation initiatives seeking to bring about a seamless end-to-end flow of information between point of departure and destination. Some examples include export/transit data exchange, approved economic operator, commercial fraud, eATA and at least 5 other key areas of customs mutual exchange.  The concept is driven out of the newly establish WCO model known as Globally Networked Customs (GNC). GNC was formally adopted by the WCO Council in June 2012 where a capacity building approach based on protocols, standards and guidelines (PSG) using utility blocks was recognised to provide the most realistic means to achieve efficiency gains, and a more effective way to manage the negotiation of international agreements between customs administrations.

There exist several pilot projects across the globe wherein customs agreements are being piloted under the GNC approach. Development of a Utility Block and supporting data clusters for interconnectivity within SACU and the broader Southern Africa sub-region already commenced at last year’s session. The concept gained sufficient traction and was soon adopted by both SACU and SADC  member states as the means to implementing IT connectivity within the respective regions.

A review of the Utility Block and data clusters was conducted to ensure alignment of customs data requirements across the member states. The resulting product now provides a standard ‘data set’ which members agree as the minimum data required to facilitate data exchange and advance risk management needs. It covers export and transit declaration requirements. Two important criteria exist for successful data exchange and data matching. The first being the availability of appropriate legal provision for two countries to exchange data. The second requires the use of an agreed unique identifier. The identifier is important for Customs as well as the trade community.

Delegates were also presented with current and future developments occurring at the WCO, in particular the on-going work being done to formalise standards for the “My Information Package” concept as well as the WCO Data Model, currently at version 3.3. Another interesting on-going development involves a unique Trader ID.  

Member states involved in respective pilot programmes are now preparing themselves for an up-coming evaluation, later this year.

First BRICS Heads of Customs Meeting

Delegates who attended the first BRICS Customs Heads of Customs Meeting [SARS]

Delegates who attended the first BRICS Customs Heads of Customs Meeting [SARS]

At a meeting hosted by the Commissioner near Bela Bela, South Africa from 7 to 8 March 2013, delegations from the Customs Administrations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) met for the first time. The BRICS Customs administrations exchanged experience and ideas in a spirit of openness so as to identify areas for cooperation so that they can most effectively and efficiently facilitate legitimate trade and combat illicit trade and Customs fraud. From 27 to 28 March, South Africa will also host the BRICS Summit in Durban, to be attended by various Ministers and the BRICS Heads of State.

Key points of discussion, focus and future cooperation –

Customs cooperation
The Heads of Customs committed themselves to consolidating and building on the cooperation that has already been established so that they can collectively curb Customs offences, safeguard the international supply chain and achieve effective enforcement of Customs legislation, while facilitating legitimate trade,both among BRICS countries and also globally.

Capacity building
As part of their cooperation to build Customs capacity in relation to human resources, technologies and procedures,the administrations would look into various practical and innovative solutions and endeavour to share their resources, knowledge and best practices with each other.

Cooperation at multilateral forums
A BRICS Customs mechanism will be established, including attachés networks based in Brussels and other strategic places, to identify issues of common interest, develop common responses and ensure regular engagement and interaction, including before important multilateral meetings.

Customs Mutual Administrative Assistance and the Exchange of Customs Information
The administrations also agreed to ensure that there is an enabling legal basis between them to support intra-BRICS Customs mutual administrative assistance and the exchange of Customs information. Such assistance and exchange will assist in combating illicit trade and protecting revenues and societies.

Facilitation of legitimate trade between BRICS countries
To further facilitate trade and reduce the Customs administrative burden on both trade and the administrations themselves, the administrations will exchange information in various areas of common interest and concern, including on the simplification of Customs procedures and the use of modern technologies and techniques.

The administrations will also work towards possible solutions for achieving mutual recognition of Customs controls and of trader management programs aligned to the Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) concept of the World Customs Organization (WCO), establishing Customs interconnectivity and supporting the WCO’s work on developing the Globally Networked Customs (GNC) model.

Opportunities for enforcement cooperation will also be explored, including possible joint actions, information sharing and other enforcement assistance. The use of international instruments developed by the WCO, including Conventions, Recommendations, Decisions and Declarations that support Customs trade facilitation, compliance and enforcement will be actively promoted.

Governance issues
A Governance Framework aligned to the overall BRICS commitments will be established. An annual BRICS Customs Heads meeting has been proposed whose deliberations would be informed to other BRICS forums, including in particular the Summit. Such a BRICS Customs Heads Meeting would be supported by a Customs working group under the guidance of the BRICS Heads of Customs. Source: SARS

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.

SADC Member States driving the Customs regional integration agenda

Delegates from the SADC member states gathered in Port Louis, Mauritius between 9 and 13 October to establish a SADC Customs ICT strategy for the region. The conference, sponsored by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, coincided with the 200th anniversary of Customs in Mauritius.

Following recent developments on IT connectivity and data exchange in the region, the conference addressed other areas of ICT in Customs which have a significant influence not only for internal Customs processing but its impact and effect on the broader stakeholder community. The conference was well attended with representatives from Angola, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Mauritius, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, and South Africa.

The event also drew international interest with representatives from the World Customs Organisation, Trans-Kalahari Corridor, SA Trade Hub, the East African Community, Southern African Customs Union, and the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

“Customs Connects, Borders Divide” conveyed the central theme for the event with the WCO IT and Capacity Building expert, Mats Wicktor, providing an enabling platform upon which the conference deliberations occurred. A detailed presentation clearly outlined the WCO’s the basis for standards, recommendations and guidelines, with specific reference to the Data Model, the Unique Consignment Reference and the most recent developments on Globally Networked Customs (GNC).

Other keynote addresses were made by Mozambique (DGA) on their experience in implementing the Single Window concept (for more details on this project visit URL: http://tfig.unece.org/case-stories.html).  Host nation Mauritius presented their Cargo Community System, and a number of other IT developments namely, e-Certificate of Origin, valuation database for 2nd hand motor vehicles, and the recently implemented Customs Enforcement Network (CEN) solution. SARS presented its Customs Modernisation journey highlighting some of the key ICT products and features and the respective efficiencies and trade facilitation benefits introduced for trade. Furthermore, it elaborated on its current bilateral data exchange initiatives with Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique as well as the IBSA countries.

The business end of the conference saw the finalisation, tabling and vetting of a draft SADC Customs ICT strategy. The strategy provides a broad framework, focussed around the concept of Customs-to-Customs data exchange. It seeks to create synergy between member states in regard to aspects such as transit management, common risk and enforcement principles, the entrenching of the One Stop Border Post concept, as well as automation of certificates of origin. From a SADC point of view, the strategy will support the realisation of its Strategic Plan – envisaged to include a Customs Union.

Regional IT inter-connectivity takes another step

Delegates from at least 20 African Customs Administrations met in Pretoria, South Africa between 13 and 15 August to advance developments towards a common framework and approach to IT inter-connectivity and information exchange in the region. Convened by the SADC secretariat in consultation with COMESA and Trademark Southern Africa (TMSA), the three day work session focussed on uniform acceptance of the WCO‘s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) methodology, regional awareness of customs developments in the Southern and East African region, as well as joint agreement on customs data to be exchanged between the member states.

Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA) shared its experience with delegates on the launch of its Customs Enforcement Network (CEN). Kenya Revenue Authority will soon be sharing enforcement information with its MRA counterpart. At least 22 African countries are expected to link up with the CEN network over a period of time. Customs enforcement information is the second pillar of the WCO’s GNC information exchange methodology; the first pillar being Customs information exchange. The latter provides for a holistic approach to the dissemination of common customs data derived from supply chain exchanges, for example declaration information, cargo information, and AEO information to name but a few. This information is vital for trading countries to administer advance procedures and better validate the information being provided by the trade.

Rwanda Revenue Authority introduced it’s RADDex programme which is a web-based IT solution for the exchange of cargo manifest information between participating states in the East African Community (EAC) – see related article below.

SADC and COMESA are rallying their members to participate in the initiative. At the current juncture, various member states have expressed keen interest to participate. While the regional intention is the linking of all customs administration’s electronically, initial developments envisage bi-lateral exchanges between Customs administrations which are ready to engage. The importance of the adoption of the GNC methodology is to ensure that customs connectivity and information exchange is harmonised and consistent across the Southern and East African region irrespective of whether countries are ‘early adopters’ or not.

GNC – not just another acronym, but the latest Customs buzz-word

WCO - Globally Networked Customs

With the WCO Council Sessions later in June this year, it is opportune to discuss perhaps one of the single most important developments in Customs Inc, the “Globally Networked Customs (GNC)” concept which aims to realize connectivity, data exchange, and cooperative work amongst the world’s customs administrations.

GNC is set to play a very important role in promoting trade facilitation, enhancing trade efficiency and safeguarding trade security; it will also greatly influence international rules and the development of the customs end-to-end operational process. By and large the SAFE Framework, WCO Data Model and the Revised Kyoto Convention provide specific standards for the development and implementation of national customs legal, procedural and automated systems. It is the GNC that will in future “industrialise” and harmonise Customs-2-Customs (C2C) information exchange requirements which underpin a country’s bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

Briefly the need for GNC arises from the exchanges of information underpinning International Agreements in the commercial domain. These take time and are costly to implement. They are all different from each other creating diversity both for Members and trade. This is because each one of these agreements is built anew, handcrafted and tailor-made to meet the needs at hand. This approach will not scale up and countries broking an increasing number of International Customs Agreements are already encountering difficulty to maintain their delivery plan in line with their international policy ambitions. Below you will find links to 2 documents explaining the GNC. More information on the GNC will be provided once approved by the WCO’s Policy Commission later on in June 2012. Source: WCO.

Related articles

WCO/SACU – IT Connectivity and Data Exchange

WCO-SACU IT Interconnectivity and Data Exchange Conference

On the occasion of International Customs Day, in January earlier this year, the World Customs Organisation dedicated 2012 as the year “Connectivity”, which encapsulates people connectivity, institutional connectivity and information connectivity among the members of the global Customs community.

Over the last week and a half delegates from the WCO, SACU, UNCTAD, SADC and COMESA have been hosted at SARS, Pretoria to discuss and deliberate over an approach to implement ‘IT connectivity’ within the Southern African region. During the first week representatives from UNCTAD, SACU and SARS were briefed on important developments at the WCO on IT-Interconnectivity and Information Exchange. We were privileged to have Mr. Satya Prasad Sahu, Technical officer from the WCO – a leading expert in all matters of ICT in international customs matters – present the developments towards finalisation of a future international customs standard called “Globally Networked Customs” (GNC). It entails a structured approach that will enable customs authorities to formulate and document bilateral or regional ‘standards’ on a variety of Customs-to-Customs topics, for instance Authorised Economic Operators, Cross Border Information Exchange, Risk Management, etc. A representative from UNCTAD presented a synopsis of the proposed ‘cloud computing solution’ which the Trans Kalahari Corridor (TKC) plans to pilot between Namibia and Botswana along the TKC route in the next few months. During the course of this week, delegates , under the guidance of Satya, prepared a proposed approach for information exchange between members of the Southern African Customs Region. This document is based on the GNC Utility Block structure (defined by the ad Hoc Committee on Globally Networked Customs at the WCO) and served as the basis for discussion for Week 2.

Mr. SP Sahu (WCO) and delegates from SACU SecretariatWeek 2 saw the arrival of customs and IT representatives from COMESA, SADC, UNCTAD, SACU as well as a delegation from Mozambique Customs. Mr. Sahu was invited to chair the session, given his vast experience on the subject matter as well as international experience in national and regional customs ICT programmes. Delegates were treated to various lectures on the GNC, a comprehensive overview of developments on ASYCUDA (Customs solution developed by UNCTAD), various updates from within the customs region – Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and SARS. Beyers Theron informed delegates of ongoing developments of the SARS Customs Modernisation Programme as well as key implications for neighbouring countries. SARS presented a live demonstration of SARS’ Service Manager solution, navigating through all the functionality now available to SARS Customs officials. Of significant interest to all was the new iPod inspection tool. This technology is given prominent feature in the latest edition of WCO News.

A large portion of the week was, however, spent on deliberating the proposed scope and content of the draft Utility Block on Information Exchange in the Southern African Region. Significant progress was been made to attain first, a common understanding of the scope as well as the implications this has for participating countries. Delegates will return home with a product with which to create awareness and solicit support in their respective countries. Over the next few months SARS will engage both SACU and SADCOM (combined SADC and COMESA trading blocs) to establish firm commitments for information exchange with customs administrations in these regions. This conference is significant for SARS and South Africa as a whole as it provides a uniform, standardised and practical approach for engagement with other international trading partners. To view photographs of the conference please click here!

WCO – 2012 is the year of Connectivity

WCO 60 Years AnniversarySecretary General of the WCO, Kunio Mikuriya, is pleased to announce that 2012 will be dedicated to promoting connectivity, including enhanced cooperation and communication, under the slogan “Borders divide, Customs connects”.

“Connectivity encompasses people-to-people, institutional, and information linkages that underpin and facilitate the achievement of Customs’ main goals,” said the Secretary General. “This theme is particularly relevant as the WCO prepares to commemorate its 60th anniversary in 2012,” he added.

The Year of Connectivity will be launched on International Customs Day, celebrated annually by the global Customs community on 26 January in honour of the inaugural session of the Customs Co-operation Council (CCC) which took place on 26 January 1953.

In 1994, the CCC adopted the informal working name “World Customs Organization” to better reflect its worldwide growth in membership which now totals 177 Customs administrations.

Customs and its stakeholders are urged to be innovative and creative in taking forward the connectivity theme in all its facets throughout 2012. The WCO invites the Customs community to diarise 26 January. Source WCO.

Insight behind the WCO Data Model

WCODMV3 Technical BrochureGovernments around the world have realized that rapid economic growth cannot be achieved in an environment where international trade processes are inefficient and cumbersome. Over the past two decades, serious attention has been devoted to the modernization of international trade and cross-border regulatory procedures. Countries have committed substantial resources to national projects in the areas of customs automation and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) infrastructure.

Electronic ‘Single Window’ services delivery is now being demanded in several countries. Based on the principle of joined-up government services, the ‘Single Window’ environment has the potential to deliver transformational advantages to business by simplifying and unifying touch-points between members of the trade and the different government departments involved in cross-border regulatory procedures. In addition, new demands on supply chain security and facilitation have emerged, leading to the establishment of the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards.

This booklet provides a brief introduction to WCO Data Model Version 3.0. It explains the scope of the Model, its relationship with other international instruments such as the Revised Kyoto Convention, and its alignment with widely used international standards. The booklet is aimed at project leaders and Information Technology architects from Customs administrations and other cross-border regulatory agencies. The World Customs Organization hopes that this booklet will create a proper understanding of the value of the WCO Data Model as an indispensable instrument in projects that address modernization of regulatory agencies including Customs. Source: WCO.

Please visit: http://wcoomdpublications.org/data-model-3.html for pricing and conditions of online WCO Data Model usage and support. Available for Customs administrations and Trade Practitioners.

Related article