Importers and exporters need to get up to speed with their new customs rights and responsibilities

Hester Hopkins, senior manager of Customs & Global Trade in the Deloitte Western Cape office. Hester Hopkins, senior manager of Customs & Global Trade in the Deloitte Western Cape office.

Those in the import or export business will know that having issues with Customs could not only cost money and leave them feeling harassed by overzealous officials, but could also cause unwelcome administrative headaches. 

But things are about to change. To navigate their way around customs issues, importers and exporters need to now start familiarising themselves with the proposed changes to the Customs and Excise Act. These changes are long overdue and are a step in the right direction to create balance between Customs Enforcement and client rights. Here in the Western Cape, where so much of the local economic activity happens through the ports and airports, business people will do especially well to educate themselves about the new Customs Act. 

One change that will definitely be making things easier for importers and exporters is the reigning in of the powers of Customs and Excise officers in terms of Section 4 of the Customs and Excise Act. 

In May 2013 the Western Cape High Court ruled that Customs pushed the boundaries too far when they inspected OCS/Gaertner’s premises based on the provisions of Section 4 of the Act. Customs was instructed to align their legislation to the Constitution and other relevant law. The proposed changes have been published, meaning that there are now more stringent rules on how Customs should enter premises and how they ought to conduct themselves when they do. Importers and exporters must familiarise themselves with the changes to this provision and no longer need to feel intimidated when officials arrive for inspections.

Similarly, there is a significant change proposed to Sections 72 and 73 of the Customs and Excise Act that will have an impact on exporters’ administrative work. Customs is expecting exporters to declare the export value of their goods in SA rands and not in a foreign currency. The changes require the exporters to use a set rate of exchange published the previous Wednesday for the week ahead. The rate will change every Wednesday unless a Wednesday falls on a public holiday, in which case the rate will not change for two weeks. Practically, with the non-existent export duties and typical zero rating of VAT on goods exported, in South Africa this will pose more of an administrative burden than a financial one.

Companies that want to be compliant with the proposed changes also need to know that they can play it safe by appointing a well-briefed clearing agent to help get their goods through Customs. Companies in the import and export business should also take heed that all records need to be kept for five years, as Customs inspections could happen unexpectedly at any stage. 

Professional services firm Deloitte is one of the top organisations in the Western Cape that can help importers and exporters unpack and navigate the rules and responsibilities of the proposed changes to the Customs and Excise Act. Do not be caught off guard – to be forewarned is to be forearmed. 

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