Archives For Swaziland

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This edition of WCO News features a special dossier on the theme chosen by the WCO for 2018, namely “A secure business environment for economic development”, with articles presenting initiatives and related projects that contribute to creating such an environment. The articles touch on authorized economic operators, national committees on trade facilitation, coordinated border management, performance measurement, e-commerce, data analysis, and partnerships with the private sector.

For sub-Saharan African readers, look out for the write up of the Customs systems interconnectivity and the challenges and opportunities for Customs administrations in the SACU region.

Other highlights include articles on Customs systems interconnectivity in the Southern African Customs Union, on the experience of a young Nigerian Customs officer who participated in the Strategic Management and Intellectual Property Rights Programme at Tokyo’s Aoyama Gakuin University, on how the WCO West and Central Africa region is using data to monitor Customs modernization in the region, and on the benefits that can be derived by facilitating transit procedures.

Source: WCO, February 2018

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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.

SACU logoPeter Fabricus, Foreign Editor, Independent Newspapers through the Institute of Security Studies writes an insightful and balanced article on the history and current state of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).

The formula that determines how the customs and excise revenues gathered in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) are distributed among its members looks, to a layperson, dauntingly complex. But this formula has had an enormous impact on the economic and even political development of the five SACU member states; South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland.

The impact has arguably been greatest on South Africa’s neighbours, the four smaller member states that are often referred to simply as the BLNS. But it has also had an impact on South Africa.

SACU was founded in 1910, the year the Union of South Africa came into existence, and is the oldest surviving customs union in the world. Originally it distributed customs revenue from the common external trade tariffs in proportion to each country’s trade..

So, South Africa received nearly 99%. Surprisingly, South Africa’s apartheid government radically revised the revenue-sharing formula (RSF) in 1969 after Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland had become independent. This gave each of the BLS members first 142% and later 177% of their revenue dues, calculated on both external and intra-SACU imports, with South Africa receiving only what was left. But this apparent economic generosity from Pretoria almost certainly masked a political intention to keep its neighbours dependent and in its fold, as the rest of the world was increasingly turning against it.

However, as Roman Grynberg and Masedi Motswapong of the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis pointed out in their paper, SACU Revenue Sharing Formula: The History of An Equation, the 1969 formula became increasingly unviable for South Africa as it had been de-linked from the common revenue pool. This threatened to burden Pretoria with a commitment to pay out to the BLS states more than the total amount in the pool.

The African National Congress government saw the dangers when it took office in 1994 and soon began negotiations with the BLNS states for a new formula. That was agreed in 2002 and implemented in 2004. But although the 2002 RSF eliminated the risk that the payouts to the BLNS might exceed the whole revenue pool, it actually increased the share of the pool accruing to the BLNS at the expense of South Africa – as Grynberg and Motswapong also observe.

The new RSF was based on three separate components. The first divided the customs revenue pool proportional to each member state’s share of intra-SACU imports. Because of the growing imports of the BLNS states from the ever-mightier South Africa, this meant most of the common customs pool went to the BLNS. This proportion is increasing – but never to more than the entire pool.

The second component of the RSF divided 85% of the pool of excise duties (the taxes on domestic production) in direct proportion to the share of the gross domestic product (GDP) of each of the SACU members. The remaining 15% of the excise duties became a development component, distributed in inverse proportion to the GDP per capita of each member. So the poorest members of SACU would receive a disproportionate share of this element of the excise.

Over the years the BLNS countries have grown increasingly dependent on the SACU revenue. It now funds 50% of Swaziland’s entire government revenue, 44% of Lesotho’s, 35% of Namibia’s and 30% of Botswana’s. Because of its own growing fiscal constraints, Pretoria launched a review of the formula in 2010. But this review got bogged down over major disagreements and seems to have gone nowhere.

In his budget speech this month, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene raised the issue again, calling for a ‘revised and improved revenue-sharing arrangement,’ and Parliament’s two finance committees examined it. National Treasury spokesperson Jabulani Sikhakhane told ISS Today that while efforts to reform the SACU formula are ongoing, ‘progress has unfortunately been arduously slow.’

Budget documents show that in 2014-15, South Africa paid out some R51.7 billion to the BNLS countries out of a total estimated revenue pool of R80 billion, and was projected to pay out R51 billion again in 2015-16. Kyle Mandy, a PricewaterhouseCoopers technical tax expert, told Parliament’s two finance committees last week that South Africa was paying about R30 billion a year more than it would otherwise under the SACU RSF. He said South Africa contributed about 97% of the customs revenue pool and received only about 17% of it.

The R51.7 billion payout to the BLNS this year represents about 5% of South Africa’s total of R979 billion in tax revenue, a substantial ‘subsidisation’ that was no longer affordable at a time of growing fiscal constraint, which had forced Nene to increase taxes, Mandy said.

He noted that the SACU revenue had allowed all but Namibia of the BLNS countries to set their taxes below South Africa’s. ‘This means South Africa is subsidising the BLS countries to compete with South Africa for investment with their more attractive taxes,’ he said in an interview.

‘This is not sustainable for anyone. It locks the BLNS countries into dependency on South Africa. They have neglected their own fiscal systems. But the moment that the revenue fluctuates, [as Nene’s budget predicted it would in 2016-17, dropping to R36.5 million], it puts them in a difficult position. When South Africa sneezes, they catch flu.’

But what to do about this? Some, like political analyst Mzukisi Qobo, have called for a total overhaul of the SACU agreement, which would make explicit that SACU is a disguised South African development project. The development aid would become transparent and could be tied to conditions such as democratic government.

That is on the face of it an attractive solution, offering the opportunity of leveraging democracy in Swaziland, in particular, by placing a conditional foot on its lifeline of SACU revenues. But Grynberg warns that a sudden withdrawal of the vital direct budgetary support which SACU customs and excise revenues provides, could implode both Swaziland and Lesotho and provoke economic crises in Namibia and even Botswana.

He also points out that the RSF is not plain charity by South Africa to its smaller neighbours. The formula has essentially just compensated them for the cost-raising and polarising effects of SACU – that the BLNS countries have generally had to pay more for imported goods over the years than they would have otherwise done because of import tariffs designed to protect South African industries; and because the duty-free trade within SACU has tended to attract investment to larger South Africa.

Meanwhile, South Africa has benefitted from a ready market for its much larger manufacturing machine. Grynberg wrote in a more recent article for the Botswana journal, Mmegi, that the South African government was thinking of pulling out of SACU because it couldn’t get its way in the negotiations to revise the RSF; and because the 2005 Southern African Development Community Free Trade Agreement now gave it duty-free access to the BLNS countries without the need to pay the re-distributive SACU customs revenues.

It was only President Jacob Zuma who was preventing this, because he didn’t want to go down in history ‘as the man who crippled the Namibian and Botswana economies and created two more “Zimbabwes” – i.e. Swaziland and Lesotho – right on the country’s border.’ Pretoria’s decision had turned SACU into a ‘dead man walking, just waiting for someone to pull the switch and end its life.’

Grynberg strongly advised the BLNS to prevent this by accepting that the political reality that underpinned the RSF of SACU no longer existed. He says that it should be transformed into a purely development community without the formula, but with mutually agreed spending on development – mainly in the BLNS. He suggested, though, that this radical change would take at least 10 to 15 years to phase in.

All very well. But isn’t that what SADC is supposed to be already? Which suggests that it might be time to take the 105-year-old dead man off life support.

Source: Institute of Secutity Studies (ISS)

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AGOA_W1Swaziland has lost its preferential trading status with the United States. US President Barack Obama announced (26 June 2014) that the kingdom would lose its benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

He said this was because Swaziland was not ‘making continual progress’ in enacting civil, political and workers’ rights.

Swaziland is not a democracy and is ruled by King Mswati III, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The decision to withdraw Swaziland’s AGOA eligibility comes after years of engaging with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland on concerns about its implementation of the AGOA eligibility criteria related to worker rights. The statement said after an ‘extensive review’ the US, ‘concluded that Swaziland had not demonstrated progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights.

In particular, Swaziland has failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organize. Of particular concern is Swaziland’s use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for labor and employer federations.

AGOA is a US preferential trade programme that provides duty-free access to the $3 trillion US market for thousands of products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries.

Media in Swaziland have predicted that as many as 20,000 jobs in the kingdom’s textile industry could be lost as a result of the withdrawal of AGOA benefits that comes into force on 1 January 2015. The textile industry in Swaziland is dominated by Taiwanese companies which were drawn to the kingdom by the availability of cheap labour and the AGOA agreement. Source: Swazi Media Commentary

Having recently introduced a whole new integrated customs business solution last year the South African Revenue Service (SARS) has spent the last six months stabilising its system. At the heart of the system is the Interfront Customs and Border management (iCBS) engine which takes care of all customs declaration processing.

CCB

Click on the image to download the Infogram

A new ‘state-of-the-art’ EDI Gateway infrastructure is at an advanced stage of development and configuration, and will be subjected to a series of rigorous testing both internally and with industry service providers over the next few weeks. The gateway is an important component of the organisation’s future aspirations in C-2-C, C-2-B and C-2-G information exchange with it’s stakeholders.

Over the last 2 years, SARS has been a key participant in the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) initiative which seeks to develop standardised electronic information exchanges of commercial customs data and common border procedures between customs administrations. This is ‘greenfield development’ and requires innovative thinking between potential customs partners. In this specific area SARS has engaged both Mozambique and Swaziland Customs as willing partners in such an initiative. Developments with Mozambique are at an advanced stage and will shortly become a reality with the conclusion of the bilateral One Stop Border Post (OSBP) agreement that includes provision for electronic data exchange between the two administrations. More on this in a future post.

Technology aside, perhaps the most daunting task on the horizon is the introduction of the new Customs Duty and Control Acts which are currently in the parliamentary process. Much publicity and robust argument was aired in the printed media over the last year, all of which culminated in the parliamentary hearings overseen by parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance (SCoF) during November and December 2013. While an agreement was reached with the freight forwarding sector of the local supply chain and logistics industry on certain aspects of the Control Bill, there still lies much work and clarification to be addressed in these and other areas.

Notwithstanding the signing into law of the Customs Bills, operational enactment thereof can only occur once the ‘rules’ to execute this legislation are circulated for comment, finalised and gazetted. Even considering the legal and approvals process in a simplistic form, the implementation of this new legislation is just too complex to introduce in a once-off, big-bang approach.  Due consideration must be given to a transitional approach taking into account the practicalities thereof as well as economic and logistical consequences of such approach.   It is no understatement that the impact of the new legislation, its incorporation into current automated systems, policies and procedures as well as the necessary re-adjustments to be made by every entity engaged in business with SARS Customs is no small feat.

Furthermore, the implications of the recently concluded WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation for South African Customs and Trade also needs to be determined and understood. While a large proportion of its content is encapsulated within the Revised Kyoto Convention, it is the first time ever that such requirements are subject to the conditions of a trade agreement.

It’s been some time since I last penned thoughts on the Customs Modernisation initiative. In retrospect and thinking ahead, the underlying bottom line to its longer term success lies in increased ‘communication’ with stakeholders – ironically, the World Customs Organisation’s adopted theme for 2014!

Please feel free to download the infogram on the future Customs Control Act by clicking on the picture above. Official links to the Customs Control and Duty Bills are included below. It would also be wise for parties involved in Excise to consider the contemplated changes contained in the Excise Duty Bill (Customs and Excise Amendment Bill).

Related documents

Southern_Africa_Panorama_MapSouth Africa is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu), which consists of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS), the oldest customs union in Africa but apart from this prestige, is Sacu worth the time?

In an article by Professor Roman Grynberg, he asked whether Sacu is a “dead man walking?” and I wish to follow-up on this. A recent article appearing on the World Bank’s website states that even if poor countries are neighbours, it is often more difficult for them to trade with each other than it is for them to trade with distant countries that are wealthy.

The Sacu agreement is principally about the issue of distributing customs revenue earned by the five members on their international trade with other countries. The distribution of this revenue is based on each country’s share of intra-Sacu imports and so favours the smaller members.

South Africa, for example, imports very little from within the region and so ends up paying the BLNS about R15bn to R18bn per year more than it would if Sacu did not exist.

If we are paying R15bn to R18bn per annum to be in a union with questionable benefits, why do we not exit the agreement?

For one, the SADC free trade agreement which was implemented in 2008, gives South Africa a “get out of jail free card” through providing South African exports similar but not identical market access to that available under Sacu.

We could thus “walk away from Sacu at any moment, save R15bn to R18bn and South African exports would still continue to flow across the Limpopo basin in more or less the same uninterrupted way.” (Grynberg, 2014).

Another reason, according to Grynberg, is that an “economic catastrophe” may result if South Africa exits. Swaziland and Lesotho are between 60% to 70% dependent on the Sacu for revenues, Botswana and Namibia are somewhat less dependent at 30% to 40%.

I feel though that this may be the very same reason that there will not be a major reform of the revenue-sharing formula. Would you want to cede even a third of your income?

So what should South Africa do? I think it is firstly important to note that of our SADC neighbours, South Africa earns the most from its exports to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique – none of which is in the Sacu.

This is perhaps not surprising when considering the findings of the World Bank and realising that nearly all of South Africa’s top trading partners are in the northern hemisphere.

The BLNS countries, interestingly enough, fall in the bottom 5 of our SADC trade partners and so should we worry so much about an “economic catastrophe” in the BLNS when they don’t buy our goods in any case?

What it comes down to, I feel, is that South Africa needs to play hard ball. By this I mean South Africa needs to be committed to actually exiting the Sacu agreement because it is only when the BLNS realise that we are serious and that there is the real threat of them losing 30% to 70% of their revenue that they will agree to a new revenue-sharing formula. After all, something is better than nothing. Source: Fin24

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600px-Flag_of_Swaziland.svgMartin Gobizandla Dlamini, the new Minister of Finance, is aware of the challenges of the country’s economy in case South Africa pulls out of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).

However, the minister warned against pressing the panic button. He said there were no pellucid pointers that South Africa might pull out of the union.

Asked what measures were in place to sustain the country economically if South Africa pulled out or reviewed the revenue sharing formula to the negative, he said: “Let us cross the bridge when we get there. I am aware that South Africa calls for changes in the revenue sharing formula. This is a matter that has been on the table for quite some time.”

“I can’t comment now on how to survive with or without SACU receipts but I can mention that we are a sovereign state.” He did not expand on the sovereignty of Swaziland. Dlamini said SACU member states would meet in February 2014 for a strategic session.

These are South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho. “We were to meet in February in the first place, to discuss strategies on how to modernise SACU and make it relevant to our needs. It’s not like we are going there for shocks or breaking news about South Africa’s position on SACU,” said Dlamini, the former Governor of the Central Bank of Swaziland.

The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stands at E37 billion for 2012 while that of South Africa is E3.8 trillion as at 2012. In the absence of SACU, Swaziland is left with a few companies that add value to the economy in terms of taxes. They include among others Conco Swaziland which is understood to be contributing 40 per cent to the GDP, which translates to E14.9 billion and the sugar belt companies; Royal Swaziland Sugar Corporation (RSSC) which makes a turnover in excess of E1 billion and Illovo Group’s subsidiary Ubombo Sugar Limited (USL). Illovo Sugar has a 60 per cent shareholding at Ubombo Sugar while the remaining 40 per cent is held by Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a royal entity held in trust for the Swazi nation. To Illovo Group’s profits, Ubombo Sugar contributed E272 million.

Bongani Mtshali, the acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Federation of Swaziland Employers and Chamber of Commerce (FSE&CC), said the country could be in a very bad economic situation if South Africa were to pull out of SACU. He said the economic problem could still persist even if the revenue derived from the union was decreased. Mtshali advised Swazis to expand the revenue base and work hand in hand with the Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA) in its collection of domestic taxes.

The taxes include company tax, pay-as-you-earn, sales tax, casino tax and value added tax. He said people and companies should be encouraged to honour tax obligations. He also called for business innovation. “We will be able to produce and sell if we innovate,” he said. He said there was a need to have an innovation institution of some sort to produce talent, nurture and release it for productivity.

As it were, he said, it was suicidal to depend entirely on SACU revenue. It can be said that over 60 per cent of the country’s budget comes from the union. The SRA collects over E3 billion and this money cannot finance the national budget of E11.5 billion.

Ministries that can save Swaziland from an economic crisis are the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry; Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy and the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development.

It can be said that Swaziland is an agricultural economy but the closure of the factory at SAPPI Usuthu and destruction of timber at Mondi by veld fires, spelled doom to the economic outlook of the country. It can also be said that the country’s mainstay product is now sugar.

Despite maize being the country’s staple food, government spent E123 million on maize imports from South Africa last year. This year, preliminary figures indicated that government could spend E95 million on maize imports.

The import price has decreased because the country recorded a higher maize harvest of 82 000 metric tonnes compared to 76 000 tonnes recorded the previous year.

Swaziland is still clutching at straws in terms of food security. The unemployment rate is also high as there had been no massive investments witnessed on the shores.

Jabulile Mashwama, Minister of Natural Resources and Energy, said there were plans to expand the mining sector and reopen closed ones like Dvokolwako Diamond Mine.

There are only two official mines currently operational; Maloma Colliery, which made an export revenue of E126 million in the 2011/2012 financial year and Salgaocar which extracts iron ore from dumps at Ngwenya Iron Ore Mine.

Mashwama, the minister, said she would give details on the programme to revive the mining sector at a later stage. She hinted that the nation could also bank its hopes on her ministry for job creation and revitalisation of the economy.

Gideon Dlamini, the Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry, has been given a task to industrialise the economy as one of the five-point plan by SACU. The industry minister was reported out of the country and was not reachable through his mobile phone. Source: Times of Swaziland

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

 

handshakeThe Southern African Customs Union (SACU) consisting of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland collaborates with the World Customs Organization (WCO) in a trade facilitation initiative funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The initiative in which also the SACU Secretariat participates, aims among others at developing a regional Preferred Trader (PT) scheme.

From 30th of September to 4th of October a core team consisting of National Project Managers, audit experts, PT-experts and site managers met in Windhoek, Namibia, with WCO experts to further prepare for the launch of the PT-scheme by developing regional processes to be applied related to the benefits selected and designed for the SACU regional PT.

The selected pilot operators have been engaged, and in the near future also the relevant cross border regulatory agencies and Customs officials at the selected border posts will be sensitized on the regional PT-scheme.

During the intense working week, all participants actively contributed to the preparations for the launch of the PT-scheme, planned for the first half of 2014. Source: www.4-traders.com

Rob Davies Frustrated with lack of progress (Business Day)

Rob Davies Frustrated with lack of progress (Business Day)

Trade & industry minister Rob Davies did not mince his words when he briefed parliament late last month on the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu), the world’s oldest. The union was formed in 1910 and comprises SA, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Exasperated, Davies complained to MPs that SA’s partners were hardly moving in the direction of harmonising trade and industrial policies. He said if this did not happen soon, the viability of Sacu itself might be called into question.

Sacu was initially formed as a colonial-era instrument to control the flow of goods into and out of the then British colonies, an arrangement that was retained with a new agreement in 1969. In essence, SA collects customs and excise revenue on behalf of all four countries and distributes 98% of all this money to the three other members as a form of aid, retaining only 2% that should accrue to itself. It is a formula that has both worked and been fraught with difficulties over the past century.

The agreement was modified with a more distributive formula in 2002 which came into effect into 2004. Under the new agreement the most vulnerable countries, Swaziland and Lesotho, would get a larger share of the excise portion.

The Sacu distributions are also the instrument through which Swaziland was to get R2,4bn in assistance from SA in 2011. Under that agreement SA would have advanced the landlocked kingdom the money from its future Sacu distributions, but it came with fiscal and technical conditions from SA.

In January 2013, Swazi finance minister Majozi Sithole said the loan arrangement was “not working out”. He complained about additional conditions set by SA before the first tranche of R800m could be paid to Swaziland.

The kingdom’s financial woes arose mainly from reduced customs and excise collections in 2010 which reflected reduced trade to and from the region. With up to 60% of Swaziland’s national budget dependent on Sacu funds, the reduction from a total pool of R27bn to just over R17bn left Swaziland cash strapped.

Though he didn’t explicitly say so in his briefing to parliament, Davies’ frustration with the Sacu arrangement was palpable. He took particular issue with the Sacu payments merely serving as a guaranteed source of revenue for the treasuries of Sacu member states. “There are no cross-border development initiatives out of the revenue collected when there are opportunities for the members to invest in joint projects,” he told parliament.

Sacu has other problems. While the 2002 agreement calls for harmonised trade and industrial policies, it also makes provision for the countries to have different fiscal and other regimes. As a consequence Sacu members’ corporate and personal income tax rates are different. This means some members realise lower internal tax revenues than they otherwise could, increasing dependency on the Sacu distributions.

A sense of entitlement has also crept into the arrangement. In a case that generally escaped media attention, in 2009 the other members asked for an international tribunal to seek arbitration on what they believed to be “short” payments from SA. The tribunal convened in the supreme court of Namibia in Windhoek.

The matters in dispute were resolved with the signing of the latest agreement in 2009, but the fundamental complaint demonstrated both the entitlement and the vulnerability of the most dependent members.

At the time SA was expected to make four quarterly distributions which were based on an estimate of revenues collected. As often happened, there was an overestimation which resulted in a payment surplus of just over R2bn, which SA deducted from future payments. This precipitated a dispute which, given the vulnerability of Swaziland and Lesotho, was almost inevitable as their entire fiscal planning for that year had been premised on the inaccurate Sacu estimates.

SA’s counsel in the hearing, Michael Kuper, argued that the arrangement was so inefficient that it forced SA to sometimes look for alternative sources of funding just to fulfil the Sacu revenue-sharing formula.

Officials of the department of trade & industry and national treasury have for some time been unhappy about the disruptive nature of the formula, given the volatility of customs revenue. Davies alluded to this in parliament, using the wild fluctuations in revenue before, during and after the global financial crisis.

Now Davies wants the union to shape up or make a decision on its future. He told parliament that Sacu had to live up to the outcomes of its second summit, held in 2011, where member states undertook to work on cross-border industrial development, development of Sacu institutions, unified engagement in trade negotiations and a review of the revenue-sharing arrangements.

As if to emphasise its historical and present inertia, Davies said that not much work had advanced in this regard – such as the formation of national tariff bodies, a Sacu tariff board, common antitrust regulations and co-operation in agriculture.

“Some members have proposed that the Sacu tariff board be formed even if the states’ national tariff boards have not been formalised yet,” he said, in an indication that some of the members do not have the technical wherewithal to install the necessary institutions.

Lesotho and Swaziland in particular are hampered by structural economic difficulties, including low prospects for meaningful economic growth and reliance on external aid. A recent IMF report on Lesotho complimented the new government on its fiscal discipline and recommended further aid. It also noted new measures to improve supervision over the financial and other sectors.

As Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy, known for its profligate spending on the comforts of its king, Swaziland remains a political hot potato which has increased pressure on the SA government to attach conditions to any assistance given. Though written in diplomatic language, the 2011 IMF report on Swaziland also listed a number of areas that needed strengthening.

It recommended the cutting of public-sector wages to ease fiscal pressures, a decision that brought the kingdom to the brink of instability, precipitating the appeal to SA for help. MPs raised the Swaziland loan issue with Davies, demonstrating the internal and regional political difficulties of the arrangement.

While SA remains determined to assert its voice over its junior partners in Sacu, it still has to tread carefully lest it be seen as a bully. Providing some cover have been the conditions set by the IMF before Swaziland can receive further assistance. Some of these common conditions include the protection of the peg between the Swazi ilangeni and the rand, the implementation of a fiscal adjustment roadmap and a prioritisation of social spending over the reported excesses of King Mswati III.

Early this month Australian newspapers reported the arrival of several of King Mswati’s queens and their aides in Australia on an apparent shopping trip. It is such extravagance that has put both SA and the kingdom in a difficult position – the former in its internal political environment and the latter through the loss of credibility with international development finance institutions.

It now appears that SA is choosing the route of common economic development over the aid-like structure of the Sacu payments. It remains to be seen whether the partners will be in a position to make good on Davies’ intentions or keep talking as the member states have been doing for over a decade. Source: Financial Mail

Enforcement, Risk Management and Preferred Trade come together in the SACU Region

Enforcement, Risk Management and Preferred Trade come together in the SACU Region

A WCO workshop on the topics of Enforcement, Risk Management and Preferred Trader was conducted in April in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the involvement of the WCO Secretariat, UK Customs and the member countries of the Southern African Customs Union – SACU (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland). Capacity Building in the mentioned areas in the SACU Region is part of the WCO Sub-Saharan Customs Capacity Building Programme financed by the Swedish Government through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA.

An assessment including lessons learned was conducted concerning Operation Auto, targeted at second hand motor vehicles. This first ever regional enforcement operation in the 102 years of history of SACU presented good results as around 250 vehicles were seized by the Customs administrations. The Regional Intelligence Liaison Office contributed actively in the assessment process, ensuring that also future enforcement operations will benefit from the experiences gained.

The development of further risk management capacity is ongoing at the regional level and discussions were held concerning the establishment of common risk profiles. A number of high risk products have been identified and the formulation of profiles to engage illegal trade in these areas is ongoing.

Regarding the Preferred Trader program, progress can also be reported as SACU Members are approaching implementation at operational level. This project component fits very well with the risk management component as the latter is the foundation of the Preferred Trader approach. The process of selecting high compliant, low risk economic operators for the upcoming pilot scheme is well underway while capacity in verification and post clearance audit is being enhanced. A launch of (a pilot of) the regional Preferred Trade program is tentatively envisaged for the second half of 2013. Source: WCO

Interfront logo2

Its been some time since I’ve penned an article on the South African Customs Modernisation Programme. Aside from it being the SA Revenue Service’s prerogative to communicate and publish notice of its internal developments and plans, some caution always needs to be exercised observing bureaucratic protocol, ensuring that the official message is forthcoming from SARS. Given the widespread interest in the programme as well as the development of the Interfront [formerly Tatis] integrated customs border management solution (iCBMs) as a wholly owned development of South Africa, I think it not out of place to inform the public interest on this matter. Readership of this blog has an extensive global following and a specific interest in Interfront developments.

Unlike ASYCUDA, Sofix, e-Biscus, and a host of other integrated Customs-tailored business solution offerings, Interfront’s solution for SARS will not include a client user frontend. In other words, the Interfront system (iCBMs) will essentially drive declaration backend processing. This comprises a fully integrated declaration validation and processing engine, supported by a sophisticated tariff engine and duty calculator; the latter offering future web-based services for customs users. In order to compliment the SARS corporate and standardised user interface approach, the iCBMs interfaces with SARS’s revenue accounting, trader registration, risk management, and case management workflow systems. Not only does this leverage cost savings and efficiencies, but ensures a unified ‘workspace’ for all of SARS employees.

Much of the Interfront technology is therefore hidden to the customs user, with traders experiencing an identical interface with SARS Customs, as it does today. From the outset of the Customs Modernisation Programme (July 2010), the approach has followed pragmatic migration of customs electronic clearance processing – across its 30 odd legacy systems – towards an integrated clearance process that could mimic the functionality featured on the new iCBMs. The modern technology and scalability of Interfront offers the ability and agility to enhance service levels and efficiencies to another level. At the same time, operational policies and procedures have been modernised with the aim and intent of meeting the requirements contained in Customs new Control and Duty Bills.

Much of the ‘change’ experienced by both customs officers and the trade over the last 2 years has prepared the country for the eventual migration to the new system. These have been significant, and at times painful changes, not without anxiety and apprehension. Over the last 6 months an even more painstaking and taxing effort has been expended by the Customs Modernisation Team, Interfront and other service providers in addressing a seamless harmonisation and switchover of customs business from disparate legacy systems to a new customs technology platform. The “Parallel Run” has witnessed the daily comparison of customs clearance data between the old and new systems, identification and logging of disparities (bugs), modification of the two environments to ensure the same result is achieved. This has not been an easy and simple process, as any country having undergone a system switchover can attest to.

This month, February 2013, service providers to the customs industry are readying their resources to commence user testing. This implies that service providers (computer bureaus) will engage their clients to prepare test cases for submission to customs to test the new Interfront process. Given that Customs legacy systems and Interfront have been synchronised to a high level of compatibility, the process for traders should not reveal much difference to what they have experienced over the period of modernisation over the last 2 years. One area of note will be the structure and content of Customs Response messages. Traders will have to familiarise themselves and test their interpretation of these messages to ensure they perform or respond appropriately to the instructions.

Satya Prasad Sahu - Technical Officer at the WCO provided members of SACU, SADC and the EAC comprehensive guidelines for the development of the GNC Utility Block concept in Africa (February 2012)

Satya Prasad Sahu – Senior Technical Officer at the WCO provided members of SACU, SADC and the EAC comprehensive guidelines for the development of the GNC Utility Block concept in Africa (February 2012)

In terms of compliance and compatibility with international developments, the new iCBMs is engineered on the WCO Data Model. All relevant simplification processes as exemplified in the Revise Kyoto Convention are likewise factored into its design, although not all of these will be immediately available with the initial rollout. Introduction of the new Customs Control and Duty Acts will require these principles to be fully functional and operational, however.

The WCO Data Model is the pivotal design component around which most of the new system’s business and validation rules are centred. This in itself is a major achievement as it bodes well for all future ‘cross border’, customs-2-customs connectivity initiatives. In this regard SARS is well advanced in bilateral and multilateral projects with key trading partners, for example IBSA (cross-global trilateral initiative), and in Africa, we are working with SACU, SADC, COMESA and the EAC to bring about regional customs connectivity. On a bilateral basis, initiatives with Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are developing nicely. A significant contributor to cross border/cross global customs connectivity is undoubtedly the excellent work brought about by the dedicated members of the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs adhoc workgroup. In June last year, the WCOs policy Commission unanimously endorsed the GNC architecture and Utility Block approach. African customs connectivity efforts have likewise adopted this model which ensures harmonisation and uniformity in approach, legal dispensation, data exchange, risk management and procedure. The WCO moreover plays a overseeing role in many of these GNC and capacity building initiatives across the globe – this assists greatly in sharing and learning of experiences.

I would think that the above should be sufficient to wet the appetites of customs practitioners, traders, ICT technocrats, and perhaps even legislators and bureaucrats on developments in South Africa. Subsequent to the launch of Interfront SARS will make its ideas and strategy relating to forthcoming initiatives known to trade and the business community. A Year of Innovation? Yes, and hopefully a happy tale that will bode well for the South African trade and supply chain logistics community, and some good fortune for Interfront in its business development in the region and beyond!

Swaziland accedes to WCO RKC

The Ambassador of the Kingdom of Swaziland, H.E. Joel Nhleko, deposited his country’s instrument of accession to the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures (Revised Kyoto Convention) with the World Customs Organization on 31 October 2012.

“The WCO is delighted that the number of Contracting Parties to the Revised Kyoto Convention continues to show an upward trend,” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya. “I would therefore strongly encourage other WCO Members to accede to this important Customs instrument as soon as possible,” he added.

Some of the Convention’s key elements include the application of simplified Customs procedures in a predictable and transparent environment, the maximum use of information technology, the utilization of risk management, a strong partnership with the trade and other stakeholders, and a readily accessible system of appeals.

Having entered into force on 3 February 2006, the Revised Kyoto Convention now has 84 Contracting Parties, and is regarded as a blueprint for effective and modern Customs procedures. Swaziland has been a Member of the WCO since 15 May 1981. Source: WCO

The Single Electronic Window (JUE) is a modern system of clearance of goods. After the revision of the whole legislation to allow the implementation of the JUE, the pilot project began in September 2011 in the port of Maputo. Here follows an interview with Kekobad Patel, the President of the Working Group On Tax Policy, Customs and International Trade of the CTA.

What was the adherence of international traders?

“We hoped more adherence of all concerned traders, unfortunately, very few participated in the pilot phase. During this period, both systems (manual and electronic) coexisted. There is always some resistance to change.”

When did the use of the JUE become mandatory?

“The use of JUE became mandatory on April 9, 2012 in the port of Maputo,on April 23 in the port of Beira, early May in the port of Nacala. The city of Tete is now also covered by the system because of the current requirements due to the establishment of large enterprises in the region.”

How many organizations have used the JUE?

“Since its entry into force until 15th of June 2012, over 7,000 import entries were submitted. We still do not deal with export declarations, transit, or special arrangements. These processes are handled manually.”

What are the next areas to be covered by the JUE?

“The second phase will begin in July 2012 and will focus on automotive, multi-modal and road terminals in Maputo, as well as the land borders of Goba, Namaacha (Swaziland) and Ressano Garcia (South Africa) that have received the equipment to begin operations. At the end of the year, the port of Pemba and the land borders of the province of Manica and Tete will be also covered. It will also be possible to treat the other procedures for export and transit. This is crucial, given the geographical location of Mozambique and its relations with the countries of the hinterland. Meanwhile, three Ministries will be electronically linked to award the import licenses: the ministries of Health, Industry and Commerce, and Agriculture. We should not forget that banks are also involved in the JUE. The BCI bank has supported the JUE since the pilot phase. Other banks have joined in recent months: Millenium BIM, Mozabanco and Standard Bank. We expect the membership of other banks.”

What is the biggest challenge of the JUE?

“The implementation of the JUE has led to a change of mentality: “paperless” in the country: less buffer, less paper. The government itself is also involved in the process of e-taxation that ensures that taxpayers should pay their taxes electronically. We still have problems to solve. For example, when a ministry inspects companies, papers are asked for… We need to think about alternatives. The castle must be built stone by stone to ensure it is strong and other sectors such as the public one and banking, are also involved.We believe that the entry into force of the JUE shows how to modernize the country.”

Is the JUE to eliminate the clearing agents?

“The law allows companies to make their own clearance process, but many of them are not prepared. In other countries such as Singapore, the most advanced country in terms of customs, clearing agents continue to exercise thanks to their perfect knowledge of the system.” Source: allAfrica.com

Other news – Mozambique accedes to the WCO’s Revised Kyoto Convention

On 11 July 2012, the Embassy of the Republic of Mozambique to Belgium deposited Mozambique’s instrument of accession to the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures (Revised Kyoto Convention) with the World Customs Organization. The Convention is regarded as a blueprint for effective and modern Customs procedures, and will enter into force in Mozambique on 11 October 2012. Mozambique becomes the 82nd signatory to the Convention. Some of the Convention’s key elements include the application of simplified Customs procedures in a predictable and transparent environment, the maximum use of information technology, the utilization of risk management, a strong partnership with the trade and other stakeholders, and a readily accessible system of appeals. Will be interesting to see how Mozambique Customs treats the national transit procedure?