Invoices for Postal Clearances

          I have seeing countless private individuals on the short end of the stick when it comes to postal clearances. Just stand at the receiving counter of any post office where foreign parcels are received. You will hear the horror expressed by mostly elderly people who have to pay excessive duties and Vat for parcels sent as gifts from abroad.  

The same often applies to companies (small companies especially) who do not anticipate the rates of duty and Vat payable for postal clearances.

          The consignor is responsible for completing the small declaration which is affixed to the outside of the parcel upon dispatch. If the value of the goods are not declared on it or if no invoice accompanies the parcel, then Customs need to improvise. And yes, they often get this wrong. Declaring inflated values for insurance purposes may also sway Customs toward higher values, leaving you at the short end of the stick when it comes to valuation.

          The Customs Officers at international postal centres are also responsible for tariffing the articles. They are responsible for determining the rates of duty and Vat applicable. If the product descriptions are insufficient, then Customs Officers will most likely use a tariff with higher rates of duty. Twenty percent is a good default rate.

          In addition, most people do not understand how the rates of duty and especially Vat are calculated. They are not aware of the hidden 10% inflation on the Customs value when calculating Vat. Ignorance will leave one with surprise.

          Anyone wishing to appeal the amounts payable must first pay for the parcel to be sent back to the Customs Assessment Centre where the decision was made. This too is a financially counterproductive exercise.

          The best advice I have for sending postal articles is to ensure that the sender includes the commercial invoice with adequate descriptions on the parcel, and to mark the declaration accordingly. Better yet, don’t bother with parcel post if it can be avoided.

Invoice as a Certificate of Origin

          There have being allot of rumors regarding the applicability of a COO (Certificate of Origin) form over the past few years. Some say that SARS have done away with the need to produce a DA 59 (the form traditionally used to as a COO).  

          But first, a generic COO form is different from an “origin certificate” related to trade agreements, i.e. EUR1 Form, SADC Certificate, and so forth. I have often seeing people confuse a COO form for a EUR1 certificate, thereby using it to benefit from a preferential rate of duty when not entitled to such. This is a classical mistake because the COO forms issued by some foreign Chambers of Commerce look similar to those used in trade agreements. The secret is to read what the respective form actually stands for, i.e. EUR1 versus Certificate of Origin. Do not take the look of the form for granted.

          The SARS DA 59 or COO does in fact still exist and is still in use. My understanding of what happened which led to the confusion regarding the use of the DA 59 came when SARS published a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) containing minimum Invoice Requirements (the most recent revision is number SC-CF-30 dated 31 March 2011). The SARS SOP states that the “country of origin” must be reflected on the commercial invoice as a minimum requirement. Therefore, in industry circles it became generally accepted that the origin of goods may be specified on the invoice in lieu of a DA 59.

          In some ways, the invoice can be regarded as a certificate of origin, although SARS do still reserve the right to verify the authenticity of origins.

          In specific instances, the DA 59 Form may still be requested by SARS in order to verify such things as anti-dumping, safeguarding and countervailing duties, and import restrictions.

Invoice Discounts

          Most small discounts of a few percentage points may be acceptable to SARS when clearing goods through Customs. The problem arises when the discounted amount is excessive.

          Naturally, the Customs legislation requires that any / all discounts must be reflected on the commercial invoice. The nature or type of discount must also be reflected on the invoice, i.e. 5% discount for advance payment.

          Determining whether the percentage of discount is excessive or not, requires knowledge of one’s industry. Anything outside of industry norms will be regarded as excessive. In any event, any discount of more than 2 – 5% will likely result in a Customs valuation investigation of some sort. The Customs intervention of discounts is important for:

·         Determining if duty and Vat is being avoided

·         Anti-competitive behavior affecting the domestic economy

·         Generally protecting the domestic economy

Unfair competition normally arises when the buyer and seller are related to one another, and if such a relationship is restrictive in any way or form. In other words, if the relationship restricts other parties in the importing country from benefiting from the same discount.

          The type of discount being offered, and when the discount was offered will also affect the applicability of the discount in the Customs valuation. Generally, discounts must have being offered and applied prior to the shipment being dispatched. In other words, the discount must have being an element in fixing the price. Also, the consignee must have earned the discount legitimately.

          The SARS Policy SC-CR-A-05 dated 24 January 2014 titled Method 1 Valuation on Imports provides an array of important information regarding discounts. If in doubt, this policy should be consulted in depth.

          In the same vein, any commissions, royalties, kickbacks and the like must also be reflected on the commercial invoice.

Invoice Proof of Payment

          Proof of payment is often required by SARS Customs in order to verify the correctness of invoice amounts.

          [The SARS requirement for proof of payment is no longer aligned to the way that banks operate…]

          Occasionally proof of payment from a bank can be hard to come by. I have seen companies work very hard, sweating in fact to obtain proof of payment from a bank thinking that this is the only option available.

          The SARS Policy SC-DT-C-13 dated 27 November 2015 covering Refunds and Drawbacks offers the best description of what is required as proof of payment, namely… “from financial institution clearly indicating the beneficiary and the applicant, method of payment, currency transfer and invoice related to the transferred currency”. Most requests from SARS require this to be bank stamped and signed.

          The SARS requirement for proof of payment is no longer aligned to the way that banks operate in this technologically advanced environment. Many banks do not print, stamp and sign the payment advice. Today, special arrangements must be made for this to happen. In addition, most companies today make bulk payments with long annexures of invoice amounts consolidated into one amount. This can get tricky as a method of proof.

          Many companies make term payments, i.e. 60 x days or 90 x days from shipment date. I have seen companies make early payment in order to obtain some form of proof in order to expedite live shipments or refund applications with SARS. While there is nothing wrong with doing this, it does defeat the objective of the term payment in the first instance.

          But, the objective of proof of payment has less to do with the payment advice and more to do with proving the value of the goods, namely the price paid or payable. There are other ways of proving the value of the goods namely:

  • Proof of payment from a previous Customs clearance of identical goods (if already paid)
  • Putting up a PP (Provisional Payment) as surety to SARS pending proof of payment
  • Suppliers price lists proving the price of the goods to be paid

These can often be negotiated or discussed with SARS Officials, although the prerogative to accept these remain in the hands of SARS.

Invoice Charges and the Freight Statement

          We have seeing allot of controversy in the recent past created by the need for freight statements. Why has this become so important?

          It has to do with the costs, charges and expenses reflected on the commercial invoice. Charges are often deducted from the Customs value as non-dutiable charges. As usual, this affects the Customs value and hence, the duties and Vat payable. This was also discussed in the blog titled… “Terms of Sale on a Commercial Invoice”.

          SARS Customs simply do not trust that the dutiable and non-dutiable charges specified on a commercial invoice, is the price that was ‘actually’ paid.

We often see charges such as freight and insurance specified on an invoice verified differently on a freight statement. This is because charges quoted at time of export are often based on estimated amounts. When the cargo is physically freighted, the actual amounts (which are occasionally different from the estimated amounts) become due; hence the need for a freight statement.

          But, what is a freight statement? Where would you obtain them?

The SARS Policy number SC-CR-A-05 dated 24 January 2014 covering Method 1 Valuation on Imports refers to freight statements as… “third party invoices”, or a “transport document”, or a “specific freight statement from the international freight carrier or freight forwarder.”.

          The Freight Forwarding Agent will most often have access to the freight statement for example, in the form of a HBL (House Bill of Lading). But this will depend on the charge, who directly contracts for the charge, and the mode of transport. Freight statements can be hard to come by. This happens when the Freight Forwarding Agent in the export country is different from the Agent in the import country. Freight amounts are very confidential. Most companies do not want to divulge such statements to third parties even though it is lawfully required by SARS. There are ways to overcome this problem but this level of depth is best left for another blog. You may also contact me via this blog to find out more.