COVID-19 has severely disrupted supply chains around the world with businesses of all sizes still coming to grips with border closures, trade restrictions, travel bans, and necessary public lockdowns. Despite the gradual re-opening of many economies, formidable logistical challenges remain and are likely to become the “new normal” for businesses. In view of the same, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) in coordination with Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) is issuing various customs relief measures for the smooth conduct of assessment and clearance of goods. Trade facilitation measures can contribute to the response to the crisis by expediting the movement, release, and clearance of goods, including goods in transit.
Among the measures effectively adopted by Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), some highlights are as follows:
The Union Finance Minister has announced relief measures for Customs & Central Excise by making available the 24×7 custom clearance facility at all custom formations to avoid any supply chain disruption.
A dedicated single window COVID-19 helpdesk for EXIM trade has been created on CBIC website to facilitate quick resolution of issue(s) faced by importer/exporter.
To implement social distancing and to minimize the physical interaction between the people, the CBIC has decided to provide electronic communication of PDF-based final electronic OoC (Out of Charge) copy of BoE and gate pass to the importers/customs brokers. This electronic communication would reduce the interface between the customs authorities. Also, the importers or customs brokers can do away with the requirement of taking bulky printouts from the service center as well maintenance of voluminous physical dockets in the Customs Houses.
The final electronic OoC copy of BoE and electronic gate pass will be emailed to the concerned customs broker or importer once the Out of Charge is granted. The electronic gate pass copy will be used by the gate officer or the custodian to allow exit of the imported goods from the customs area.
While clearing the goods from customs port, physical copy of the original Certificate of Origin (CoO) is one of the mandatory documents under the Customs Act, 1962. The Ministry of Finance has given relaxation of submitting the CoO to mitigate the difficulties faced by importers on account of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This relaxation is available for the import consignments where a preferential treatment of goods under a Free Trade Agreement has been claimed and digitally signed copy or unsigned copy of CoO is submitted. Also, these import consignments will be provisionally assessed in terms of section 18 of the Customs Act, 1962. The final assessment will be done after submission of the original CoO certificate by the importer.
The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) has decided to affix electronic sealing deposit in and removal of goods from Customs bonded Warehouses. Where ever the Warehousing Regulations prescribe affixing of a “One Time Lock”, the importer or owner of the goods shall use RFID anti-tamper one-time-locks.
The Office of the Commissioner of Custom has vide notification no. 67/2020-Customs dated 13th May, 2020, notified the modification in the procedure for EDI Port Clearance or Advance Port Clearance due to COVID-19 pandemic, from the point of view of the submission of undertaking that continuity bond will be provided; the shipping agents have to also undertake to submit all the relevant documents as required within 07 days after sailing of the vessel as per past practices.
a) The Board has now launched Faceless Assessment pan India. At the same time, noting that Faceless Assessment is a complete departure from the existing manner of Customs assessment, there is a need to introduce the changes in phases which would give the trade and other stakeholders (including the Customs officers) time to adapt to the changed scenario without any disruption of work.
The first phase has begun from 8th June 2020 at Bengaluru and Chennai for items of imports primarily covered by Chapters 84 and 85 of the Customs Tariff Act, 1975. The phased rollout plan envisages that Faceless Assessment shall be the norm pan- India by 31st December 2020.
These initiatives include the:
b) The CBIC has has conducted pilots for this at customs stations in Chennai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Gujarat, and Visakhapatnam.
c) Faceless assessment enables an assessing officer, who is physically located in a particular jurisdiction, to assess a bill of entry pertaining to imports made at a different customs station, whenever such a bill of entry has been assigned to him in the customs automated system. To ensure speedy and uniform assessment, the CBIC has nominated principal commissioner or commissioner customs, including in airports, to monitor the same.
d) To begin with, imports covered by Chapters 84 and 85 of the Customs Tariff Act, 1975 which includes machinery, mechanical appliances, electrical equipment and parts, will be allowed for faceless assessment while going through customs. The Customs Automated System will assign Bills of Entry filed for imports of these materials.
e) Faceless assessment of cargo is part of a string of next generation reforms called ‘Turant Customs, which is aimed at speedy clearance of goods at air and sea ports, which in turn will benefit ease of doing business in India.
Turant Suvidha Kendra would be a dedicated cell in every Customs port of import and will be managed by Custom officers to cater to functions and roles such as:
f) The Board will establish National Assessment Commissionerates (NAC) with the mandate to examine the assessment practices of imported articles across customs stations and suggest measures to bring about uniformity and enhanced quality of assessments.
In the current extremely challenging context, trade facilitation measures such as those set up by the Board, offer a solid basis for dematerializing a significant part of the border process, so as to ensure that physical interactions between Customs and other border officials and traders are kept to a minimum.
Mechanisms limiting physical interaction, such as electronically lodging documents in advance, electronic payment of all trade-related taxes, digital certificates and signatures, or 24/7 automated processing of trade declarations etc., would enable traders to adjust to the new demands and requirements with the least delay and disruptions.