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What does the picture of customs brokers show? - Final part: What do customs brokers need to develop?

13:32 | 30/09/2019

VCN - Using customs brokers in import and export activities across borders is being applied by developed countries around the world. In our country, the potential of customs brokers is great. The efforts of customs brokers and the support of management agencies, including customs units, will push customs brokers’ activities in the right direction, creating confidence for import-export enterprises, affirming their role in import and export activities in the context of deeper integration of the country.

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The place for concentrated customs clearance and management at the Mong Cai Border Gate Customs Branch (Quang Ninh Customs Department). Photo: Quang Hung

Need more mechanisms

As an experienced company in the field of customs brokers, Mr. Tran Viet Huy, Director of TRA-SAS Company, said the company has operated in the logistics industry and customs clearance services since 1996. Up to now, it has provided services to over 50 regular customers, including over 30 multinational enterprises. Huy said that thanks to dozens of employees in the enterprise's customs clearance service, his company could serve many import and export businesses.

According to Huy, Vietnamese import-export enterprises rarely sign customs broker contracts because customers do not understand them clearly and enterprises do not accept changes of management methods – they feel comfortable with their old ways. Meanwhile, import-export enterprises benefit greatly when using broker’s services, because service providers must meet a lot of standards and responsibilities when being a customs broker.

According to Huy's analysis, customs brokers play an important role in logistics activities. “Customs brokers are an inevitable trend to professionalize the declaration industry, facilitating state management agencies (customs, specialized management agencies), customers and agents. This is the basis for resolving disputes, due to the fact that customs brokers are clearly stipulated by law, in decrees and circulars; while declaration services are not recognized by the law,” said Huy.

According to Mr. Dao Trong Khoa, Vice President of Vietnam Logistics Business Association, to develop customs brokers, the association has signed a cooperation agreement with the Customs Control and Supervision Department - General Department of Customs.

However, customs brokers are seriously lacking personnel. As a rule, employees eligible for the certificate must meet criteria specified in Article 20 of the Customs Law. Meanwhile, employees working at customs brokers come from many universities, including foreign language units, but did not meet the prescribed standards, so they were not allowed to take the exams organized by the General Customs Department to work at a customs broker. Therefore, Khoa proposed that personnel graduating from universities and colleges are eligible to take part in the customs broker examination to get the certification. In fact, it is very difficult for the customs brokers when experienced employees do not meet the criteria to attend the certification exam of the General Department of Customs. Meanwhile, an unskilled broker of clearance service can perform procedures for dozens of companies with an introduction letter.

According to a representative of Saigon Shipping Joint Stock Company, to develop customs brokers, the legal basis must be completed, because the current provisions on customs brokers are not suitable for developing this segment, especially regulations on tax payment. According to the representative, in other countries, businesses that want to import and export goods are required to go through customs brokers. These units will take care of all procedures for businesses on behalf of the owners, including tax payment. However, there is no sanctions for this field in Vietnam. Any enterprise can do import and export procedures, a customs clearance employee can do the procedures for dozens of businesses at the same time.

Brokers should be given responsibility

Speaking about factors to develop customs brokers, Nguyen Xuan Binh, Head of Customs sub-department of Investment Management - Customs Department of Ho Chi Minh City, said this unit is managing and doing procedures for about 4,000 foreign direct investment enterprises. Of which, about 75% of businesses use the services of customs brokers and customs clearance enterprises to carry out import and export procedures. In recent years, HCMC Customs Department has detected many cases of violating customs laws, including by FDI enterprises. It is because enterprises have not strictly complied with regulations on management of digital signatures, regulations on agency activities, and customs declaration services. Therefore, in order to perform the management, create favorable conditions and protect the legitimate rights of enterprises, HCMC Customs Department has implemented the program "Management and collection of information on import-export enterprises, customs brokers, customs services, and customs declarants". The collection of this detailed information is to prevent bad actors from taking advantage of customs clearance and loose management of personnel in enterprises to commit violations; and to implement a number of adjusted and supplemented regulations on activities of customs brokers.

Mr. Dinh Ngoc Thang, Director of the HCMC Customs department, said more than 400 customs brokers must be enterprises with a firm grasp of customs procedures and honest operation to conduct procedures for nearly 50,000 import and export enterprises in HCM City. Thus, Ho Chi Minh City Customs Department is committed to facilitating honest customs brokers to make them the "extended arm" of the customs agency.

According to the analysis of the Customs Control and Supervision Department (General Department of Customs), most import-export enterprises have their own import-export department, which will take full responsibility for studying the regulations and management policies related to import and export activities, preparing documents and declaring and carrying out customs procedures for import and export goods. The workload that this department must perform is relatively large while its professional qualifications are limited. Import-export enterprises also have to bear significant costs to maintain their import-export department. Due to capacity constraints, they cannot avoid the risk of post-clearance when their employees apply the wrong HS codes and tax rates. Whereas, using customs brokers properly will minimize risks due to not mastering the rules of applying codes, calculating taxes, and applying commodity policies.

Therefore, if customs brokers are well equipped with professional qualifications, human resources, and infrastructure in the direction of professionalism, increasing services and responsibilities in their services with appropriate fees, it is sure to attract import-export enterprises thanks to their benefits. The benefits include: goods are exported and imported strictly according to management policies, quick clearance procedures, reasonable costs (even lower than the fees for maintaining import and export department) and full responsibility (during and after customs clearance) of customs brokers for the content of the customs declaration.

Customs brokers play an important role in the goods transportation chain across borders

At the latest online meeting held by Customs News related to customs brokers, Deputy General Director of Customs General Department Mai Xuan Thanh said in the current period of international economic integration, logistics activities were strongly promoted both in terms of quality and quantity, not only for domestic logistics activities but also the participation of foreign enterprises with good investment in infrastructure and manpower. Customs broker services are part of the logistics service supply chain, making an important contribution to the chain of cross-border transportation activities.

The policy of developing customs brokers is to create more favorable conditions for the logistics service to grow strongly when the customs declaration service is professionalized, to shorten time of customs clearance, and to reduce violations due to the lack of sufficient conditions to study customs laws and policies on management of import and export goods, thereby reducing the costs related to import and export goods.

The General Department of Customs has implemented a number of solutions such as: giving advice to build a transparent, specific, unified legal basis to facilitate the development of customs brokers. With specific regulations, creating favorable conditions for customs brokers to gradually develop a customs broker network to serve the needs of enterprises in the spirit of professionalism, transparency, being a reliable representative of import-export enterprises and customs authorities. The General Department of Customs has also developed an in-depth training program, updated the provisions of the customs law; promptly detected and handled violations of agents and staff. The General Department of Customs is willing to support, share, introduce and guide customs procedures and promptly handle difficulties and problems of customs brokers. Units belonging to and attached to the General Department of Customs also signed a regulation to coordinate with business associations, including Vietnam Logistics Business Association, to support the contents allowed by their powers and functions.

Mr. Au Anh Tuan, Acting Director General of Customs Control and Supervision Department (General Department of Vietnam Customs):

Customs brokers need to improve capacity Vietnam is in the period of international integration, import and export activities are strongly developing. Besides, Vietnam is also considered a potential country with geographical advantages to become an important link in the global logistics system. In some developed countries like Japan, the number of customs declarations through customs brokers accounts for 90%. The trend of conducting customs declarations through customs brokers is increasing over the years due to the benefits that they can bring to import-export enterprises. Therefore, the operation of customs brokers must certainly be and will still be a potential activity with many opportunities that have not yet been exploited.

In order to achieve the goal of professionalizing and developing business activities of customs brokers, the General Department of Customs must improve the capacity of brokers. Specifically, building a good, fluent and competent staff, who have a firm grasp of both goods management policies and customs operations; and regularly updating and improving knowledge to enhance the service quality during the implementation of many bilateral and multilateral agreements. At the same time, improving the quality of customs broker services; increasing the provision of services and the responsibility of customs brokers in their services to attract customers and create credibility with customers and customs agencies. For example, customs brokers provide customs consultancy and clearance services for import-export enterprises, they will be responsible for their consultation not only during the clearance process but also after the goods have been cleared if the inspection agencies have other conclusions about the goods classification codes and payable tax rates. At the same time, they arrange and organize the apparatus, management and organization of the business activities towards professionalization.

On the side of the state management agencies, the General Department of Customs has built a master plan with many activities aimed at developing and improving the quality of the Customs brokers’ operation, including: setting up an email address to receive requests, instructions and support customs brokers at the General Department of Customs; setting up a separate channel at the locations of customs procedures to receive requests, guidance and support customs brokers; arranging civil servants at all levels to assist customs brokers in the process of carrying out customs procedures; coordinating with functional units at the border gates so that customs brokers can register for the inspection, transportation and loading and unloading schedule in advance; organizing training courses on customs clearance knowledge for customs brokers; and deploying cooperation activities to develop customs brokers among customs offices, customs brokers and import-export enterprises.

Mr. Hoang Dinh Trung, Deputy Director of the Customs Modernization Reform Commission (General Department of Customs), focuses on developing and improving the quality of customs brokers.

The plan to develop and improve the quality of customs brokers in the period 2019-2022 aims to develop professional, reliable customs brokers that play an increasingly important role in customs clearance of import and export goods. This is a large-scale, comprehensive, and multidimensional plan covering necessary activities related to customs brokers.

The plan of the General Department of Customs focuses on 6 major contents: First, complete the legal basis, including content that facilitates, enhances and consolidates effective management conditions for enterprises. Second, facilitate import and export through customs brokers by implementing priority plans for agents. Third, support customs brokers to improve customs procedures capacity. This is a big activity with a series of issues such as: equipping knowledge to ensure that customs brokers are good at operations to decrease mistakes; renewing the form of customs examinations in the direction of gradually shifting from written exams to computer-based exams, thereby improving professionalism and transparency. Fourth, promote cooperation of the parties to support customs brokers. This content is quite important because without the cooperation, they cannot develop. The General Department of Customs assigns local customs to build a cooperation model suitable to the real situation, to promote customs declaration activities through brokers. In addition, the Customs office also promotes relevant parties to cooperate in the development of customs broker network to provide diverse services for businesses, making Customs brokers an important factor in import and export activities. Fifth, the General Department of Customs aims to make the agency transparent. The customs brokers’ information is updated fully, regularly, publicly, consistently, and timely, thereby knowing the status of Customs brokers. Sixth, improve the efficiency of the management of customs brokers through the construction of required customs management problems to put them into information technology solutions in the overall information technology restructuring system of the customs sector.

With the implementation of the plan in stages, the units will build a deployment roadmap in each area and field, thereby evaluating and controlling the efficiency, output and implementation time.

By N.Linh-T.Hoa/ Ha Thanh