The Role of Customs in National Economic Growth
By Janet Labuda**
Traditionally, Customs Services have been tasked with the collection and protection of revenues generated from the importation of goods into their respective countries. Declared valuation of the imported goods is the basis for the collection of duties and value added tax for the national budgets. However, as the global economy is gravitating toward various free trade and duty-free preference partnerships and regional economic integration the traditional role of Customs is evolving.
Most Customs Services will readily admit that the growth of import trade and resulting complexities are often overwhelming for current personnel numbers, training, and abilities. The World Customs Organization has advocated the use of various risk management programs to identify the highest risk transactions, and therefore direct limited resources to addressing only these risks, while absorbing lower risk situations. Various countries have also established trusted partnerships with members of the supply chain using the business community as a force multiplier for compliance. Modern Customs Services must be on the leading edge of building a culture of compliance within the global trade community.
The international trade community has embraced the concept of just in time inventory procedures and Customs must embrace a just in time response to the needs of business. The lack of timeliness in regulatory decisions, and addressing legal issues, e.g., protests, the inability to create clear and concise regulations to elucidate new legal requirements, and failure to understand the business of business has a detrimental effect on corporate prosperity and subsequently a nation’s economic growth. Customs must see itself as an economic growth engine and compliance partnerships need to be expanded to include economic growth partnerships.
Generally, companies that reach out to Customs are seeking to enhance their compliance footprint, not to engage in questionable trade practices. There is no doubt that there are those in the trade community who engage in undervaluation, circumvention of anti-dumping duties, the introduction of goods that violate intellectual property rights, and in introducing products that adversely affect the health and safety of consumers. In these situations, Customs should take swift and effective enforcement action. Violations such as these also have a dampening effect on economic growth. However, for those companies seeking to be compliant players in the global economy, Customs Services need to step up and engage in collaborative solutions and ways forward.
Customs has a duty to remove unnecessary roadblocks affecting international trade transactions. Creating policies that are the antithesis of global economic partnerships is unacceptable. Customs Services should recognize their role in national economic growth by taking steps to ensure that Customs officials are trained in the complexities of international trade and the legal requirements necessary for a seamless facilitation of legitimate trade. Customs needs to develop programs that enable the highest level of integrity among Customs human resources and to develop strong risk management programs that address serious violations, rather than just seeking to pluck low hanging fruit which have little risk to compliance or which impede the flow of compliant trade. Of course, it is critical to ensure that adequate resources are in place to quickly address requests from the trade community regarding legal advice and rulings. Mutually developed compliance programs must take into account business needs, and provide quick and effective communication with the trade community. Customs must guarantee consistent and uniform treatment of issues across various ports and government agency offices to ensure predictability.