Expanding digitalisation of customs

Issue 8 2022 Government and Parastatal (Industry)

The introduction of new technologies like cloud computing, mobile advancements, information management and analytics has impacted customs in many ways, but also provides exciting opportunities for customs officials, traders, and other supply chain stakeholders for greater connectivity.

World Customs Organisation secretary general, Kunio Mikuriya, believes the development and adoption of digital solutions, such as big data, telematics, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, will make life easier for trading communities, border agencies and customs officers by increasing operational performance.

Digital efficiency will be especially crucial considering a warning by the World Trade Organisation in October that international trade will slow sharply in 2023 as the global economy faces strong headwinds.

According to Andre Gerber, customs compliance and audit officer at Bidvest International Logistics (BIL), the South African Revenue Service’s Customs division, SARS Customs, is an excellent performer and competes well globally.

“SARS Customs issues electronic Customs Release Notifications in a couple of minutes from the submission of the bill of entry (SAD 500 Customs Declaration). Compared to First World countries such as the United States of America, the quicker turnaround time for SARS Customs to release cargo is impressive. There are exceptions, such as shipments containing goods flagged as high-risk items etcetera.”

However, Gerber believes SARS Customs and other industry role players need to look hard at South Africa’s rail system and congestion of seaports and land border posts, and how these can be improved.

“All government agencies don’t operate on the same platform, which often causes a delay in processing documentation,” he says. “We see examples of this when other government agencies (OGAs) become involved in an inspection at the border.”

Two new Acts, the Customs Control Act (CCA) and Customs Duty Act (CDA) are being introduced to deliver the capability required for SARS Customs to evolve into a world-class agency. The Acts were specifically written to support international legislative requirements and stay up to date with global trade trends and technological advances, making customs procedures more efficient, predictable, and transparent for trade purposes.

The impact of the new legislation will be immense for the logistics sector, Gerber says. Because the application process for registration and accreditation with SARS Customs will be digitised, traders will be able to manage their respective client types and details online.

“There are more stringent reporting requirements starting outside SA’s borders at the country of export through to the final destination of the goods. Furthermore, the new regulations reduce the time frame for the submission of the import declaration and issuing of customs release notification.”

The result will not only be increased interconnectivity across the spheres of cargo movement and border management, but human and other interventions delaying the movement of cargo will be minimised.

BIL’s national customs executive Riaan Pienaar emphasises that if customs operations are not performed in a compliant and accurate manner, the consequences can range from delays, penalties, and additional charges in terms of storage and demurrage, to a severe loss of reputation.

One area Gerber would like to see improved is export cargo management at land border posts, in consultation with neighbouring countries. Here, too, technological advancements will play a crucial role.

“Current SARS Customs initiatives are awaiting final implementation of number plate recognition scanners at land border posts to simplify entry/exit movements. Furthermore, the implementation of single-window technology to enable all government agencies to utilise and share the same data for managing the release of cargo will be important. A single window platform should limit repetitive requests for the same supporting documents.”

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