Heads of Customs Governing Council Meeting for the ESA Region

Heads of Customs Governing Council for the ESA Region with WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya

Heads of Customs Governing Council for the ESA Region with WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya

At the invitation of the Vice-Chair of the East and Southern Africa (ESA) Region, Mrs. Agnes Katsonga Phiri, Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Malawi, the Secretary General, Mr. Kunio Mikuriya attended the 19th Meeting of the Heads of Customs Governing Council ESA Region, on 15 and 16 May 2014. The meeting was hosted by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) in Johannesburg.

The Commissioner of SARS, Mr. Ivan Pillay welcomed delegates from the Members of the Region on the 20th Anniversary of democracy in South Africa, a period during which much had been achieved. He highlighted the importance of the WTO Agreement and its impact on Customs and the growth in African trade.

Addressing the Governing Council, the Minister of Finance, Mr. Pravin Gordhan emphasized the evolving role of Customs in a changing and challenging environment. The continued growth of economic activity in Africa required innovative Customs procedures to secure and facilitate trade, particularly in the context of regional integration. The WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation (ATF) offered a golden opportunity as Customs would have a central role in its implementation. Customs must continue to enhance its operational capacity by increased automation, embracing other agencies and harmonization and simplification of procedures. The importance of Capacity Building was emphasized.

Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya gave a comprehensive report on recent WCO activities. He referred to the many developments on the WTO ATF agenda. The WCO had established a web tool dedicated to this topic, including an analysis of the ATF Articles and relevant WCO instruments with a self assessment aspect. Mr. Mikuriya recalled that the WCO theme for this year is “Communication” and asked all Members and agencies present to ensure that all were aware of each other’s activities.

Secretary General Mikuriya also met with the Minister of Finance, Mr Pravin Gordhan, to discuss a number of issues of mutual interest including implementation of the ATF, information exchange and the evolving role of Customs. The Governing Council discussed the way forward as regards ATF implementation, and expectations of trade input to WCO activities. Source: WCO

State-of-Art Port Control Centre opens in Cape Town

Inter-Departmental CooperationSouth Africa’s first maritime port of entry control centre represents a milestone in the country’s journey to secure, modernise and control its borders, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said at the opening of the centre at Cowrie Port in Cape Town harbour last week on Friday.

The centre puts all the government departments and agencies involved in immigration and border control under one roof. These include the departments of home affairs, health, agriculture and fisheries, the SA Police Service (border police and crime intelligence), and the SA Revenue Service (Customs). The state-of-the-art centre would not only improve security and immigration issues, but would also serve to enhance trade and South Africa’s status as a logistical gateway to Africa, Gordhan said.

Trade

The rationale behind the centre was in line with the National Development Plan, the minister said. Among other things, the NDP aims to stimulate growth by lowering the cost of doing business in South Africa, improving the country’s competitiveness and exports, and linking local products with other emerging markets. Gordhan said the fast-growing markets of Africa represented important new markets, and the NDP was committed to increasing South Africa’s trade with its regional neighbours from 15% to 30%.

‘Complex borders’

Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, also speaking at Friday’s opening, said the centre had been designed “to accommodate in one spot not only customs, excise and immigration, but also health, safety and intelligence.

“Ports are complex borders to manage. Cowrie Place will provide the space and facilities to manage passengers and cargoes more efficiently than before.” Pandor said the government hoped to establish a border management agency by the end of 2016, taking advantage of the lessons learnt from Cowrie Place. A flagship feature of Cowrie Place is the co-ordination monitoring centre, where the data and information will be fed, assimilated and made available to all government department and agencies involved in the maritime border management.

“For the bona fide tourist or member of the trade community, this will mean better service,” Gordhan said. “For those who intend to challenge the laws of our country, be warned, as we intend to raise the bar of compliance by an order of magnitude.”

Important port

Cape Town’s port is oldest in South Africa, but despite changes to its maritime culture brought by air travel and containerisation, it is still an important point of entry. The port processes more than 870 000 containers as well as nearly 730 000 tons of dry bulk per annum, Pandor said.

A total of 6 173 commercial vessels and 55 passenger vessels entered and/or left the port in 2013, while more than 62 000 people entered and/or departed from Cape Town harbour. Pandor said E-berth at the harbour would be developed into a fully fledged passenger liner terminal to complement Cowrie Place.

Pravin Gordhan named Finance Minister of the Year

Pravin Gordhan - Finance Minister of the Year 2013 (Mail & Guardian)

Pravin Gordhan – Finance Minister of the Year 2013 (Mail & Guardian)

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (former chairperson of the World Customs Organisation) has been named the Finance Minister of the Year for 2013 in sub-Saharan Africa by the Emerging Markets website, the finance ministry said on Sunday.

The website’s citation stated that Gordhan, appointed in 2009 at the height of the economic crisis, had been praised by analysts, the ministry said in a statement.

This was because South Africa especially was more exposed than other emerging markets to dangers stemming from the eventual pullback of quantitative easing by the US’s Federal Reserve.

Emerging Markets provides news, analysis and commentary on economic policy, international economics and global financial markets, with a special focus on emerging markets.

In his acceptance speech in Washington DC, where he has been attending the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Gordhan thanked Emerging Markets for its recognition of South Africa and its economic team.

‘We are terrible managers’
“Minister Gordhan was critical of the sudden change in the narrative about emerging markets, which up until the second quarter of this year were praised for managing their economies very well,” the ministry said.

“[Emerging markets contributed] more than 50% to global economic growth and for lifting large numbers of people above the poverty line.”

Gordhan said: “Three months later, we are apparently fragile and we are terrible managers of our economies. We the emerging markets are here to stay.

“We live in an interconnected world, and more importantly, we live in an interdependent world. There is no decoupling from you, the advanced economies, and there is no decoupling from us, the emerging markets.” Source: Mail & Guardian/Sapa

Boost for Intra-African, BRICS Trade

BRICS-logoSouth African companies, including foreign companies based in South Africa, stand to benefit from relaxed cross-border financial regulations and tax requirements, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced in Cape Town on Wednesday.

Delivering his 2013 National Budget speech in Parliament, Gordhan said that outward investment reforms that applied as part of a new set of “gateway to Africa” reforms would also apply to companies seeking to invest in countries outside of Africa, including in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries

Boost for cross-border trade

These reforms include the relaxation of cross-border financial regulations and tax requirements on companies in South Africa, as well as reforms making it easier for banks and other financial institutions in South Africa to invest and operate in other countries.

Brand South Africa welcomed these moves as being in line with South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP), which acknowledges the global shift of economic power from West to East, while also highlighting the rise of Africa.

“This is an important step to enabling trade and supporting regional integration,” Brand South Africa CEO Miller Matola said in a statement following Wednesday’s Budget speech.

Gordhan said Africa now accounts for 18 percent of South Africa’s exports, including nearly a quarter of its manufactured exports, and that the SA Reserve Bank had approved over 1 000 large investments into 36 African countries over the last five years.

Southern Africa development projects

South Africa is also helping to fund several development projects in the wider southern African region, with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) accelerating investment into neighbouring countries, particularly in the field of electricity generation and transmission and road transport.

Added to this, South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) last year funded 41 projects in 17 countries to the tune of R6.2-billion. Most of these projects were in industrial infrastructure, agro-processing and tourism.

State company Eskom was also now considering investing in several regional generation and transmission projects outside South Africa. (Comment: I would have thought Eskom would ensure the money was spent on the local South African electrical grid! After having its expected 16% tariff increase halved last week, its quite incredible that such a notion can be in the cards. The South African public are truely being kept in the dark!!!)

Gordhan said there was a proposal to pool the foreign exchange reserves of the five BRICS member countries, with the idea of using this to support one another in times of balance of payments or currency crisis. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa collectively hold reserves of US$4.5-trillion.

He said work was under way to create a trade and development insurance risk pool, with the aim of setting up a sustainable and alternative insurance and reinsurance network for BRICS members. Source: SA News.gov.za

Government heeds the call – Tax Holidays for SEZs

Minister Pravin Gordhan and his 'budget team' on their way to parliment [Picture credit-SARS]

Minister Pravin Gordhan and his ‘budget team’ on their way to parliament [Picture credit – SARS]

After more than a decade of fruitless marketing and billions spent on capital investment, Budget 2013 brings some hope of a turn-around and better fortunes for economic development zones in South Africa.

Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan announced, what is an unprecedented move. to bolster support for government’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ)programme. Investors in such zones are expected to qualify for a 15% corporate tax rate, and in addition, a further tax deduction for companies employing workers earning less than R60,000 per year.

This is a significant development in that the previous dispensation under the Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) programme only afforded prospective investors a duty rebate and VAT exemption on imported goods for use in the Customs Controlled Area (CCA) of an IDZ. The reality is that these benefits were simply not enough to woo foreign company’s to set up shop in our back yard, let alone existing big business in South Africa to relocate to these zones. Mozambique, next door, has had much success as are other African countries through the offering of company tax holidays with the introduction of export-focussed special manufacturing facilities.

The SEZ (so it would seem) differs little from the IDZ approach save the fact that the former does not require the location of the economic zone at an international airport, seaport or border crossing. As such, an existing IDZ may ‘house’ a special economic zone, thus maximizing return on investment.

Recent developments in SA Customs realise a provision permitting foreign entities to register as importers or exporters under the ‘foreign principal’ clause in the Customs and Excise Act. Approval of such is dependant on the foreign principal establishing a business relationship with a South African ‘Agent’. This ‘agent’ is required to be registered with the SA Revenue Service as the party representing a ‘foreign principal’ in customs affairs. At this point, the provision is being applied to business entities in BLNS countries who import or move bonded goods into or from South Africa.

Future global application of this provision could boost the possibilities of a broader range of investor to favourably consider SEZ opportunities in South Africa. This option will, no doubt, not go unnoticed by the big audit firms seeking to broker ‘cross-border’ customs facilities for their multi-national clients. I perceive that more introspection is still required concerning ‘non-resident’ banking facilities and transfer pricing issues to enable the global application of the foreign principal concept. But after all this seems a good case for trade liberalisation. Add to this the forthcoming launch of Customs new integrated declaration processing system that will (in time) offer simplified electronic clearance and expedited release facilities for future SEZ clients.

Global Tax Forum elects SARS Chief Legal Officer as Chair

Kosie Louw, SARS (2nd from right) newly elected Chair of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes.

SARS’s Chief Officer for Legal and Policy, Kosie Louw, was elected Chair of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes at the organisation’s 5th meeting which was held in Cape Town last week. The appointment is for an initial two-year period from the beginning of 2013. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan congratulated SARS and Kosie Louw on his election as chairperson of the Global Forum on behalf of the South African government.

“I am certain that the two years of South Africa’s chairmanship will be beneficial for the forum but also to the wider global tax administration community. South Africa, the first African chair of the forum, takes over the post of the forum chair from Australia,” Minister Gordhan said.

The position of forum chair is especially important because the forum’s current mandate expires in 2015, and it is during SA’s tenure that a decision must be made on the best way to take the work of the forum forward. SA’s tenure also coincides with very challenging times for tax administrations globally, especially when it comes to the exchange of information for tax purposes, the Minister said. The two-day Global Forum event, held on 26 and 27 October, was hosted by SARS and was attended by delegates from 81 jurisdictions and 11 international organisations.

The Global Forum was created by the OECD in 2000 to provide a forum for achieving and implementing high standards of transparency and exchange of information in a way that is equitable and permits fair competition between all jurisdictions, large and small, OECD and non-OECD. The principle that guides the Global Forum’s work is that all jurisdictions, regardless of their tax systems, should meet such standards in order for competition to take place on the basis of legitimate commercial considerations rather than on the basis of lack of transparency or lack of effective exchange of information for tax purposes.

The Cape Town meeting comes at an important juncture in the work of the Global Forum as it starts evaluating whether its members are actually exchanging information effectively. It is developing a ratings system based on a global consideration of members’ effectiveness at implementing the standard in practice.

The organisation is also looking at ways of refining governance and deliberating on its future direction. The importance of the work of the Global Forum in the region is highlighted by the increasing membership of African countries to 15, with Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Tunisia and Uganda becoming the most recent members. This brings the Forum’s membership to 116.

South Africa has the largest and ever increasing tax treaty network in Africa and is seen as one of the most active jurisdictions in the work towards transparency and exchange of information. The South African Peer review report, which found South Africa’s legal framework and practices to be in accordance with the internationally agreed standard, was adopted by the Global Forum during this meeting. Source: SARSNews

Related articles

New Tax law to give SARS upper hand

Taxes

News24.com reports that legislation allowing the SA Revenue Service (Sars) to search business premises without a warrant is expected to come into operation within the next three months. The Tax Administration Bill was promulgated into law on Wednesday in the Government Gazette, Sars said in a statement on Thursday.

The act will come into operation on a date to be determined by the President  by proclamation in the gazette.

“Sars’s preparations for the implementation of the act are at an advanced stage and it is anticipated that it will come into operation within the next three months,” it said.

The act was intended to simplify and provide greater coherence in South African tax administration law. It eliminated duplication, removed redundant requirements, and aligned existing disparate requirements in different tax acts ranging in age from four to 63 years old. It created a single, modern framework for the common administrative provisions of the tax acts.

“Most taxpayers are compliant, and the act should ensure better service and a lower compliance cost for them,” Sars said. “Sars is, however, duty-bound to actively pursue tax evaders in order to maintain compliant taxpayers’ confidence in the integrity of the tax system.”

Key features of the act include:

  • A move to a single registration process and number across taxes to reduce red-tape and streamline the system, and self-assessment of taxes so taxpayers need not wait for a Sars assessment;
  • Greater access to third-party data to underpin Sars initiatives, such as the pre-population of individual tax returns;
  • Clearer rules on Sars access to information, so tax liabilities can be determined more quickly and accurately;
  • The ability to search business premises without a warrant in narrowly-defined situations, where the general requirement for a warrant will defeat the object of the search, so Sars can act when tax is at serious risk and time is of the essence;
  • Clear requirements and timelines for issuing tax clearance certificates to provide greater certainty and responsiveness to business;
  • Feedback on audit progress and findings to engage more fully with taxpayers and ensure they understand the reasons for any adjustments;
  • Specific timeframes for decisions of the Tax Board (a “small claims court” for tax) and wider reporting of Tax Court decisions to improve access to justice; and
  • The appointment of a Tax Ombud, informed by international experience, to provide taxpayers with a low-cost mechanism to address administrative issues that cannot be resolved through Sars’s normal channels.

Although the act provided for a year from its commencement for the appointment of the Tax Ombud, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced in his 2012 Budget speech that the ombud would be appointed this year. Source: News24.com

“Sars is, however, duty-bound to actively pursue tax evaders in order to maintain compliant taxpayers’ confidence in the integrity of the tax system.” 

Who is going to pursue corruption and wasteful expenditure in order to maintain the citizens confidence in paying tax in the first place?

SEZ – Lessons for South Africa from international evidence and local experience

A bold paradigm shift in South Africa’s economic policy is required to ensure the success of the country’s new special economic zones (SEZs) programme, according to Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) executive director Ann Bernstein.At the launch of the new CDE report on SEZs, she explained that South Africa’s current economy favoured skill and capital-intensive industry, which was not making the cut in terms of job creation.

“South Africa needs to create the right kind of environment for the emergence of businesses that can employ large numbers of unskilled people. That is what we should use the SEZs to do.“This will require bold leadership and engagement with the difficult choices on labour costs and flexibility that must be made. The alternative is to waste resources and energy yet again on a policy that fails,” Bernstein urged.

The report, titled ‘Special Economic Zones: Lessons for South Africa from international evidence and local experience’ suggested that South Africa should establish at least two large SEZs that were focused on low-skill, labour-intensive industries such as the clothing and textile sectors and enable them to compete globally. “Without reform, the only way South African companies can compete with Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian companies is by mechanisation, which results in fewer people being employed, and a greater reliance on skills,” Bernstein pointed out. “International evidence shows that the most successful SEZs were public–private partnerships,” Bernstein noted. Further, the report showed, as recognised by government, that South Africa’s industrial development zones (IDZs) that include Coega, East London and Richards Bay, had largely failed to boost economic growth, create jobs, promote industrialisation or accelerate exports.

Bernstein attributed this to the lack of a clear definition for what these zones should entail, as well as a strategy for attracting investors. “The IDZs are basically just industrial parks – it’s no wonder they have not been successful in attracting new investors and creating jobs.” Although the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) had spent R5.3-billion on developing these zones, the vast majority of the 33 000 jobs created were short-term construction jobs, with only 5 000 permanent jobs created.

Bernstein said countries such as China, Costa Rica, Mauritius and Latin America countries could be viewed as benchmarks for South Africa in terms of IDZs. Rising costs in Asia, especially China, where labour-intensive firms were looking for new regional locations, were creating opportunities for IDZs in South Africa. The CDE argued that South Africa should seize the opportunity to compete for a sizable portion of the jobs that could sprout from this.

“A bold new SEZ strategy could become a platform for new companies and new investors that use unskilled labour rather than machines,” Bernstein indicated. “South Africa’s new SEZ programme needs to be a presidential priority. The DTI needs to be fully supported by all other departments of government. Unless the whole of government gets behind the effort, we’re not going to see the kind of investor uptake that would actually make a difference,” CDE research and programme director Antony Altbeker said. Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies is set to table the draft SEZ Bill in Parliament later this year, while Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced that R2.3-billion would be allocated to the establishment of SEZs were in the 2012/13 Budget.

However, the CDE’s report warned that the Bill provided no clarity about what would differentiate SEZs from industrial parks, its envisaged governance arrangements for SEZs was confusing and said the role of the private sector was unclear. Source: Engineering News