I have seen it all too often. Consignments imported or exported without the required documents or an understanding of the duties and taxes involved.
I recall a particular occasion when an importer came to visit us at the local Customs Branch. He had imported a consignment of wooden articles and curios from Bali, Indonesia. The consignment was stopped and inspected. Some of the articles had no import certificates (wooden articles require treatment certificates). Some of the articles had no import permits (second-hand or used goods require an import permit). And, some of the goods were cleared with incorrect descriptions and therefore with the incorrect tariff headings. This resulted in an under-payment of duties and taxes as well as the seizure of half of the consignment.
We had a meeting with the importer who was overwhelmed at the time. During the meeting the gentleman started to gasp for air, stating that this would be the end of his marriage and the farm he owned. I spotted a brown paper bag near to me; a sample drawn from a previous consignment. As he leaned to the floor we began to resuscitate him with the paper bag. We then gave him some water to help him relax. He recovered from the hyperventilation incident and went on to comply with the requirements where he could.
But private individuals are not the only persons who make such mistakes. In another incident a company imported a large machine to go into a plant in the nearby vicinity. The company failed to declare the full value of the consignment (i.e. being part payment, he only produced invoices for the 30% advance payment and not for the full amount). This resulted in a large underpayment in duties and taxes. In order to obtain the machine from Customs storage, and in order to save face with his local buyer, the director of the company sold numerous company and private assets (including his house) in order to pay for the shortfall. I believe that the gentleman went on to make a success of his business.
Advance research of the import and export requirements is key. But do not stop at only the Customs requirements. There are about 13 OGA (Other Government Authorities) which may intervene in your consignment. Some of these include for example: ITAC (International Trade Administration Commission); NRCS (National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications); and the PHO (Port Health Officer) to mention a few. For the OGA, you can visit the SARS website where you can review the List of Prohibited and Restricted Imports and Exports. This will help you with many of your permit and certificate requirements. Go to www.sars.gov.za. Search under “Customs” and then “Travelers”. The list applies to corporates as well.
You will need to know your product very well, conduct your own research, and ask for advice from your Customs Clearing Agent. From time to time you should also ask for a second opinion, especially if you are not sure of something.
Finally, do this before the goods are on the water. Do this even in spite of the provisions of the new Customs legislation; the conditions of which have changed in this regard.