Johburg Chamber to meet Parliment over Customs Bill

City Deep Container Terminal, Johannesburg

City Deep Container Terminal, Johannesburg

Online media company Engineering News reports that the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Johannesburg (JCCI) would take its objections of certain aspects of the recently tabled Customs Control Bill to Parliament and called on South African business and interested stakeholders to provide input as well.

The South African Revenue Services’ (Sars’) newly drafted Customs Control Bill, which, in conjunction with the Customs Duty Bill, would replace the current legislation governing customs operations, declared that all imported goods be cleared and released at first port of entry.

“The Customs Bill, cancelling the status of inland ports as a point of entry, will be before Parliament very soon, and only a short notice period for comment is expected,” JCCI former president Patrick Corbin said.

While all other comments and suggestions relating to the Bill were adequately dealt with, this remained the one disagreement that had not been satisfactorily resolved, he stated.

Corbin invited all parties to voice their concerns to ensure “all areas of impact and concern were captured”, adding further weight to the JCCI’s presentation. The implementation of the new Bill would directly impact the City Deep container terminal, which had been operating as an inland port for the past 35 years, alleviating pressure from the already-constrained coastal ports.

Despite customs officials assuring the chamber that the operations and facilities at City Deep/Kaserne would retain its licence as a container depot, Corbin stated that the Bill had failed to recognise the critical role City Deep played as an inland port and the impact it would have on the cost of doing business, the country’s road-to-rail ambitions, the coastal ports and ease of movement of goods nationally and to neighbouring countries.

“The authorities do not accept the fact that by moving the Customs release point back to the coast, a vessel manifest will terminate at the coastal port. There will not be the option of a multimodal Bill of Lading and seamless inland movements, as all boxes or the unpacked contents will remain at the coast until cleared and released by the line before being reconsigned,” he explained.

Citing potential challenges, Corbin said that only the containers cleared 72 hours prior to arrival would be allocated to rail transport and that those not cleared three days before arrival would be pushed onto road transport to prevent blocking and delaying rail operations.

This would also result in less rail capacity returning for export from Johannesburg, leading to increased volumes moving by road from City Deep to Durban.

He warned of the Durban port becoming heavily congested with uncleared containers, causing delays and potential penalties, while hampering berthing movements and upsetting shipping lines’ vessel schedules.

The release of the vessel manifest at the coastal port also placed increased risk on the shipping operators delivering cargo to Johannesburg following the clearance of goods at customs and required reconsignment at the country’s shores.

However, Transnet remained committed to investing R900-million for upgrading the City Deep terminal and the railway sidings, while Transnet CEO Brian Molefe had accepted the assurances from customs that “nothing would change and the boxes would still be able to move seamlessly once cleared”.

The Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport Department had allocated R122-million for the roadworks surrounding the inland port, while Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport Dr Ismail Vadi said the department’s focus this year would narrow to the expansion and development opportunities at City Deep/Kaserne.

The department was also progressing well with the development of a second inland port, Tambo Springs Inland Port and Logistics Gateway, expected to be completed by 2017.

Vadi recently commented that the Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport, which was currently developing a terminal master plan for the project, would link the freight hub through road and rail transport to and from South Africa’s major freight routes and other freight hubs, including City Deep, which was about 33 km away.

The National Economic Development and Labour Council, under which the Bill had been drafted during a three-year development process, had agreed to fund an impact assessment study, led by Global Maritime Learning Solutions director Mark Goodger. The study was “close to completion” and would be presented alongside JCCI’s objections in Parliament. Source: Engineering News

Revisiting the national transit procedure – Part 2

You will recall a recent challenge by trade to SARS’ proposed implementation of mandatory clearance of national transit goods inland from port of initial discharge – refer to Revisiting the national transit procedure – Part 1.

First, some background

Now lets take a step back to look at the situation since the inception of containerisation in South Africa – some 30 years ago. Customs stance has always been that containerised goods manifested for onward delivery to a designated inland container terminal by rail would not require clearance upon discharge at initial port of entry. Containers were allowed to move ‘against the manifest’ (a ‘Through Bill’) to its named place of destination. This arrangement was designed to expedite the movement of containers from the port of discharge onto block trains operated by Transnet Freight Rail, formerly the South African Railways and Harbours (SAR&H) to the inland container terminal at City Deep. Since SAR&H operated both the national railway and the coastal and inland ports, the possibility of diversion was considered of little import to warrant any form of security over the movement of containers by rail. Moreover, container terminals were designed to allow the staging of trains with custom gantry cranes to load inland manifested containers within a ‘secure’ port precinct.

Over the years, rail freight lost market share to the emergence of cross-country road hauliers due to inefficiencies. The opening up of more inland terminals and supporting container unpack facilities, required Customs to review the matter. It was decided that road-hauled containers moved ‘in bond’ by road would lodge a customs clearance (backed with suitable surety) for purposes of national transit. Upon arrival of the bonded freight at destination, a formal home use declaration would be lodged with Customs. Notwithstanding the surety lodged to safeguard revenue, this has the effect of deferring payment of duties and taxes.

Diversification of container brokering, stuffing and multi-modal transport added to the complexity, with many customs administrations failing to maintain both control and understanding of the changing business model. Equally mystifying was the emergence of a new breed of ‘players’ in the shipping game. Initially there were so-called ‘approved container operators’ these being ocean carriers who at the same time leased containers. Then there were so-called non-approved container operators who brokered containers on behalf of the ocean carrier. These are more commonly known as non-vessel operating common carriers or NVOCCs. In the early days of containerisation there were basically two types of container stuffing – full container load (FCL) and less container load (LCL). The NVOCCs began ‘chartering’ space of their containers to other NVOCCs and shippers – this also helped in knocking down freight costs. This practice became known as ‘groupage’ and because such containers were filled to capacity the term FCL Groupage became a phenomenon. It is not uncommon nowadays for a single FCL Groupage container to have multiple co-loaders.

All of the above radically maximised the efficiency and distribution of cost of the cellular container, but at the same time complicated Customs ‘control’ in that it was not able to readily assess the ‘content’ and ownership of the goods conveyed in a multi-level groupage box. It also became a phenomenon for ‘customs brokers/clearing agents’ to enter this niche of the market. Customs traditionally licensed brokers for the tendering of goods declarations only. Nowadays, most brokers are also NVOCCs.  The law on the other hand provided for the hand-off of liability for container movements between the ocean carrier, container terminal operator and container depot operator. Nowhere was an NVOCC/Freight Forwarder held liable in any of this. A further phenomenon known as ‘carrier’ or ‘merchant’ haulage likewise added to the complexity and cause for concern over the uncontrolled inland movements of bonded cargoes. No doubt a disconnect in terms of Customs’ liability and the terms and conditions of international conveyance for the goods also helped create much of the confusion. Lets not even go down the INCOTERM route.

Internationally, customs administrations – under the global voice of the WCO – have conceded that the worlds administrations need to keep pace and work ‘smarter’ to address new innovations and dynamics in the international supply chain. One would need to look no further than the text of the Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) to observe the governing body’s view on harmonisation and simplification. However, lets now consider SARS’ response in this matter.

SARS response to the Chamber of Business

Right of reply was subsequently afforded by FTW Online to SARS.

Concerns over Customs’ determination to have all goods cleared at the coast – expressed by Pat Corbin, past president of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry in last week’s FTW – have been addressed by SA Revenue Service.  “One of the main objectives of the Control Bill is the control of the movement of goods across South Africa’s borders to protect our citizens against health and safety risks and to protect the fiscus. “In order to effectively determine risk, SARS has to know the tariff classification, the value and the origin of imported goods. This information is not reflected on a manifest, which is why there is a requirement that all goods must be cleared at the first port of entry into the Republic.“It appears that Mr Corbin is under the impression that the requirement of clearance at the first port of entry has the effect that all goods have to be consigned to that first port of entry or as he puts it “to terminate vessel manifests at the coastal ports in all cases”. This is incorrect. “The statutory requirement to clear goods at the first port of entry and the contract of carriage have nothing to do with one another. Goods may still be consigned to, for example, City Deep or Zambia (being a landlocked country), but they will not be released to move in transit to City Deep or Zambia unless a declaration to clear the goods, containing the relevant information, is submitted and release is granted by Customs for the goods to move. The release of the goods to move will be based on the risk the consignment poses to the country.“It is definitely not the intention to clog up the ports but rather to facilitate the seamless movement of legitimate trade. If the required information is provided and the goods do not pose any risk, they will be released.”

So, where to from here?

The issue at hand concerns the issue of the ‘means’ of customs treatment of goods under national transit. In Part 3 we’ll consider a rational outcome. Complex logistics have and always will challenge ‘customs control’ and procedures. Despite the best of intentions for law not to ‘clog up the port’, one needs to consider precisely what controls the movement of physical cargo – a goods declaration or a cargo report? How influential are the guidelines, standards and recommendations of the WCO, or are they mere studies in intellectual theories?