I was asked at a conference in Durban in recently whether Customs clients will in the future have to write a Customs exam as proof of knowledge. While this is true for clients wanting to attain the SARS Customs PTA (Preferred Trader Accreditation), it is not true for all Customs clients. Well, not at this stage anyway.
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But it does not mean that if you are not participating in the SARS PTA that you do not need to know more. SARS is increasingly contacting traders, importers and exporters directly. This may be part of a concept known as the Customs-to-Business Partnership. More about this can be found on the WCO (World Customs Organisation) website www.wcoomd.org/. The concept requires a lot more interaction between Customs and business going forward. It may also have to do with the greater level of accountability that the new Customs legislation places onto traders.
When Customs do contact you directly, officials expect you to have an understanding of what they are talking about. The Customs Clearing Agent is no longer the sole provider of information to the authorities. This is most prevalent when SARS conducts post-clearance inspections of your books. SARS generally goes two years back in your records. However, in the new Customs legislation SARS audits will go back three years.
The consequences of not having Customs knowledge may result into incorrect duty assessments. It can cause a lot of pain and financial heartache to resolve issues which arise. A lack of knowledge also causes frustration on the part of Customs officials who find themselves going in circles between the Trader and the Customs Clearing Agent. By the time payment is demanded, very short lead times are provided. Leniency in this regard is also harder to come by.
So, what do you need to know and where will you find the information? We can take a leaf from the SARS Customs External Guide on Accreditation (SC-CF-07 dated 22 November 2012, which can be found at www.sars.gov.za under “Find Publication”, section 7.3 of the document). SARS requires Traders to have knowledge in the following areas of business:
1) General issues;
2) Accreditation legislation and audit (for PT clients);
3) Tariff Classification;
5) Rules of Origin;
6) Prohibited and Restricted Goods and Import Control;
7) Penalty Provisions and Risk;
8) Appeals process;
9) Internal Controls; and
10) Integrity (also covered);
These are the minimum areas of Customs knowledge that you should have today. The 9 or 10 pages of summaries are a good start to increase your Customs knowledge. We will in any event be discussing these in the blogs which follow.
Finally, there are a number of Customs Training Providers which offer various forms of Customs training to Traders and Clearing Agents alike.