German Customs dispute disrupts plywood imports from China

Laminated woodThe importance of tariff classification and its impact on statistical and economic data – German imports of hardwood plywood from China continue to be affected by a dispute between the German trade and customs officials. In the last three years, customs officials, particularly at the port of Bremerhaven, have been checking Chinese plywood to ensure that boards are cross-laminated rather than laid parallel to each other.

According to German customs, boards should be reclassified as Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) if not fully cross-laminated. This is frequently the case with lower-quality Chinese plywood manufactured using small veneer pieces for the cores. LVL incurs a higher rate of duty of 10% compared to 7% for plywood. Roughly 40% of Chinese hardwood plywood deliveries into Germany were reclassified in this way in 2012.

German import merchants and the timber trade federation GD Holz have held talks with German customs to try to more clearly define which products should be considered plywood and which LVL. According to GD Holz, these talks have been unproductive so far and customs continue to reclassify Chinese plywood. Several German importers have now filed lawsuits and results are still pending. At the same time, GD Holz report that since 2014, several importers have been reimbursed for some instances of excessive duty paid. However, customs has not revealed why reimbursements were offered in some cases but not in others.

The uncertainty created by the dispute in Germany may partly explain the recent rise in imports of Chinese hardwood plywood into ports in Belgium and Netherlands. German buyers may be avoiding excess duty by buying from stocks landed in these neighbouring European countries.

The reclassification process has led to inconsistencies in the statistical data on German hardwood plywood imports. Data derived from Eurostat indicates that German imports fell by 18.3% to 34,700 cu.m in the first five months of 2015. This followed a decline of 5.5% to 103,000 cu.m for the whole year 2014.

However, the Eurostat data deviates from figures published by the German Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) which indicate a 62% increase in German hardwood plywood imports from China in the first quarter of 2015. On enquiry, Destatis note that they have adjusted their data downwards for 2014 to take account of plywood reclassified as LVL.

However Destatis have not yet made the same adjustment to the 2015 data. As a result, Destatis data on deliveries to Germany appear to surge this year. Overall, once all adjustments are made, Destatis reckon German imports of Chinese hardwood plywood in the first five months of 2015 were probably around the same as last year.

Pakistan and China Customs to accelerate establishment EDI

Sost_Pakistan_Customs_and_Chinese_TrucksPakistan Customs’ experts are in China to make further progress on the establishment of direct Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) with the trusted and neighbouring country to reduce the incidences of revenue losses.

The sources told Customs Today that Chief Customs Automation Abdul Qadir, Director Majid Yousfani, Riaz Chaudhary and Azeem from PRAL flew to China on August 9 to hold series of meetings with the Chinese counterparts to make further progress on the EDI.

The sources said, that the EDI will help access trade documents on real time basis from computers of cross-border customs stations. The directorate had exchanged the technical documents with China for EDI, the sources said, adding that the Chinese Customs had given feedback and counter proposal on the technical documents.

In order to expedite finalisation of the EDI arrangement, earlier a meeting with the Chinese Customs for exchange of data relating to the certificate of origin between the two countries was held on February 2 to 4, 2015 in Beijing. And, this is the second meeting of Pakistan Customs officers with the Chinese Customs, sources added.

It is recalled here, that Federal Board of Revenue had issued an alert regarding mis-declaration in imports from China under 50 HS Codes. The Board also showed concerns on the un-warranted concessions granted under various SROs covering preferential or free trade agreements.

The Board had advised verification of suspected Certificates of Origin directly through the commercial missions of Pakistan abroad, discouraging mis-classification of goods to obtain concessions and extending benefits only to goods which strictly matched the description provided in respective SROs.

It may be mentioned, that the export data of China customs for CY 2013 was cross matched with the import data of Pakistan Customs for same period and it transpired that in respect of 376 tariff lines the import value declared before Pakistan Customs was short by $2.437 billion recorded by China Customs as export value to Pakistan.

Moreover, in respect of 13 tariff lines the import value declared before Pakistan Customs was in excess of $829 million that that recorded by China Customs as export value to Pakistan. This is indicative of possible mis-classification of those goods which attract higher rates of duty but are cleared as goods attracting lower rates. Source: CustomsToday

Zimbabwe – Sharp Decline in Vehicle Imports

carsBeitbridge border post is experiencing a significant decline in volumes of imported used cars following a 20 percent increase in excise duty which took effect on November 1. “We are processing documents for less than 40 vehicles per day compared to the previous month when we would deal with over 150 cars,” said a ZIMRA official.

Investigations by The Herald indicate that before the new duty regime, ZIMRA was making over $100 000 on car imports at Manica transit shed a day, but the figure has declined to around $30 000. A modest vehicle costs between $3 000 and $4 000 at dealerships on the South African side of the border and attracts import duty of the same amount.

Before the introduction of the new regulations, zimra officials were clearing around 170 vehicle imports a day as dealers rushed to beat the November 1 deadline.

Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa recently announced an increase in customs duty on single cab vehicles with a payload of more than 800kg from 20 percent to 40 percent. Buses with a 26-passenger carrying capacity and above will pay 40 percent from zero duty, while duty for double cab trucks was reviewed from 40 to 60 percent. Vehicles with an engine capacity below 1 500cc had their duty increased from 25 to 40 percent.

Customs duty for vehicles with engine capacity above 1500cc remains at 86 percent, inclusive of VAT and surtax. The new development has seen the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority processing fewer vehicles at Manica transit shed in Beitbridge. Vehicle dealers at the South African border said they were struggling to sell five cars a day. Major car dealers include Quest Royal, Wright Cars, Car Cade, Murree Motors, Noble Motors and KDG. Cars with small engines such as the Nissan March, Honda Fit, Toyota Vitz, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Raum and FunCargo were on high demand before the new duty regime. Source: The Herald

US loses multi-billion dollar court cases against China and India

India, China, US [Picture: www.wespeaknews.com]

India, China, US [Picture: http://www.wespeaknews.com]

The World Trade Organization agreed on Monday this week to side with claims against the United States made by both China and India concerning US-imposed tariffs on products exported to America.

In both instances, the WTO ruled against the US and decided in favor of the major BRICs countries, who for two years now have each asked the organization to intervene and weigh in on America’s use of tariffs to tax certain imports dating back to 2007.

With regards to both cases, the WTO’s judges ruled that the US acted “inconsistent with its agreement on subsidies and countervailing duties,” or taxes imposed on goods sold by “public bodies.”

In China, the panel agreed, US officials improperly levied those taxes against state-owned enterprises that the WTO does not consider to be “public bodies.” Instead, the WTO said, those entities were majority-owned by the Chinese government, but did not perform “government function” or exercise “government authority,” according to the Financial Times. With respect to India, the WTO again agreed that the US was wrong to similarly treat state-owned National Mineral Development Corporation as a public body, according to the International Business Times.

At issue were billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese steel products, solar panels, aluminum, paper and other goods shipped to the US after being taxed as originating from public bodies. The panel’s decision, Reuters reported, “reflected a widespread concern in the 160-member WTO over what many see as illegal U.S. protection of its own producers.”

“China urges the United States to respect the WTO rulings and correct its wrongdoings of abusively using trade remedy measures, and to ensure an environment of fair competition for Chinese enterprises,” China’s commerce ministry said in a statement.

Mike Froman, the US trade representative, responded by saying Washington was “carefully evaluating its options, and will take all appropriate steps to ensure that US remedies against unfair subsidies remain strong and effective”.

Nevertheless, Froman added that the WTO’s ruling in the Indian case constituted at least a partial victory for the US.

“The panel’s findings rejecting most of India’s numerous challenges to our laws and determinations is a significant victory for the United States and for the (US) workers and businesses making these steep products,” he told Reuters. Source: Russia Today.

SACU – the Day of Reckoning has Arrived

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