Overhaul at the customs

Nahla Abul-Ezz, Tuesday 9 Aug 2022

Restructuring is underway at the Customs Authority with the aim of drawing in more foreign investment and facilitating imports and exports, reports Nahla Abul-Ezz

Overhaul at the customs
Overhaul at the customs

 

The Ministry of Finance has embarked on a plan to restructure the Egyptian Customs Authority (ECA), with the pilot operation, scheduled to start in two months’ time, being completed by the end of 2023, according to Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait.

The ECA is responsible for the entry of goods through land, sea, and air ports into the Egyptian market. It is also in charge of preventing smuggling into or out of the country.

The new restructuring plan focuses on upgrading the systems in place, including at the ECA and its affiliated bodies, and developing its infrastructure in cooperation with other state bodies, Maait said.

The core of the plan is to digitise the system and equip customs posts with modern equipment that can detect the contents of cargo.

Maait added that the plan will connect all the ports through the ECA’s single-window system, tightening control over them via electronic tracking equipment. It also includes upgrading the skills of workers and developing the National Customs Training Institute.

 The government is preparing a new customs law that will strengthen the customs system and its ability to curb smuggling, he said.

Al-Shahat Ghatouri, first undersecretary at the Ministry of Finance and head of the ECA, said the new risk-management system that is being introduced was electronically advanced and depends on data analysis to determine any risks associated with imports.

The new system will also help reduce cargo release times through the use of a green path for approved clients.

Ghatouri said that tightening up control over the ports had contributed to curbing smuggling and protecting the national industry and society from harmful imported goods.

In June, the ECA thwarted 1,635 smuggling operations for which reports were filed to the value of LE167.3 million, he said. In the same month, total compensation, fees, and fines amounted to LE281.39 million.

The ECA is committed to the expansion of the use of clean energy and equipment that is environmentally friendly. The aim is to turn the ECA into a “green customs system” and boost the green economy “in line with the goals of the new republic”, Ghatouri said.

He added that the ECA follows the recommendations of the World Customs Organisation and the standards of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, in addition to benefiting from the international experience of the Green Customs Initiative.

Al-Sayed Kamal Negm, former head of the ECA, said the government was looking to improve Egypt’s rating on transboundary trade, currently in 171st place out of 190 countries.

The ECA is working on a comprehensive plan to digitise its systems, activate its single-window system, improve its services, and allow the electronic transfer of documents to reduce cargo release times, tighten control over the ports, and protect the national industry, he said.

The current restructuring would reduce the time labs take to approve or reject incoming goods, he added, saying that the ECA is studying a plan to establish a test lab in each of the nationwide ports, among them Alexandria, Dekheila, Port Said, Damietta, and Ain Sokhna.

This will eliminate obstacles associated with import and export operations, such as the verification of documents, and accelerate the release time of goods.

Mohamed Geneidi, head of the Industrial Investors Syndicate, said that restructuring the ECA was crucial to investors, especially the pre-registration or Advanced Cargo Information (ACI) system.

This had contributed to reducing the cost of import and export operations by enabling the faster release of goods from customs, he noted.

The ECA plan draws on internationally tested technologies and best practices in order to boost governance, facilitate procedures, and smooth out any obstacles in the system, Geneidi said.

Developing the customs system will allow the country to benefit from its strategic geographical location by attracting foreign investment and generating more jobs, in addition to the national development projects that provide more promising opportunities, he added.

Mustafa Salem, deputy chair of the Planning and Budget Committee in the House of Representatives, the lower house of Egypt’s parliament, said the ministry of finance was facilitating customs procedures to help the business community and encourage it to join the new system during the pilot phase.

He called on company owners to register with the ACI system, explaining that it would have a positive impact on investment and contribute to reducing smuggling and the price of products by automating procedures and separating the applicant and recipient of customs services.

The new customs law explains in detail the regulations to be followed by customs officials and clients in order to ensure the fair application of the law and serve the business community as efficiently as possible, Salem said.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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