( S.M. Tariq Huda )
Collector of Customs
Model Customs Collectorate ( Preventive )
Technical cooperation between Pakistan Customs and IATA is based on the sound principles of trade facilitation enshrined in the WTO’s Bali Agreement to which Pakistan is a party. Standardization of Customs procedures, backed by automation is the foundation on which the edifice of trade facilitation rests. If these two things are done right we can unleash the trade potential of the country by ushering in the dynamism in Customs controls which, taken together with other variables, guarantee safe, reliable and demand-oriented supply chains across countries, regions, or the globe.
Pakistan Customs has come a long way in developing an indigenous, community-based a customs clearance platform, country-wide, and cross-border in sweep and scope. At present, the entire spectrum of marine imports and exports and allied Customs functions are nationally administered under the Web-based One Customs (WeBOC) system. The system had hitherto provided for management of air cargo clearances, but spans the over-arching administrative network, which would connect airlines, the Ground-handling Agents (GHAs)/shed-operators, Customs brokers, and various departments functioning at the airports. Air Integrated Regulatory Framework, or “AIR”, is the new Customs paradigm for air cargo management, inbound, outbound, and in-transit.
AIR is a composite of twelve modules, covering domestic aircraft registration, airline manifestation, on-ground cargo inventory management, in-country transshipments, foreign transits, and horizontal integration of Customs and allied agencies for speedy cargo clearances. AIR marks a sea-change in the process by establishing parity between Pakistan Customs’ sea and air operating systems. It connects Customs with airlines through electronic data interchange in the first go, with air off-dock Customs stations, and GHAs/shed-operators in tandem over the stipulated period of time.
Pakistan Customs has entered into a technical alliance with IATA for the implementation of Cargo XML standards v.2015, globally launched by IATA for implementation w.e.f. 1st January 2015. These are the new protocols on cargo manifestation by airlines to Customs, developed in a highly versatile computer language, capable of integration with any Customs operating system. This new framework also provides for electronic transfer of commercial transaction data, as embodied in commercial invoices, packing list, certificate of origin etc, from customer-to-airline-to-Customs via the two-way secure data stream between an airline and Customs. This data flow would enable Customs to pivot its risk management system in the air cargo supply chain to pre-clear goods before the landing of the aircraft, subject to the zero risk status of the goods in the system, and filing of an advance declaration by the importer.
Pakistan Customs has finalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on a technical collaboration with IATA to launch the new XML-based cargo manifestation system by January 2016. Pakistan Customs is launching the pilot with two airlines to start with, viz, PIA and Emirates. Thereafter, it would be progressively prescribed for all other air carriers.
Under the Shed Inventory Management System (SIMS), the air cargo sheds have been enabled to confirm cargo arrivals electronically, with specific short/excess-shipment, short/excess-landing reporting channels, and in-built auto declarations to Customs for re-export authorizations, programmatically triggered under the circumstances, without obliging an airline or a shed operator to do so manually. SIMS would enable the shed operators to report cargo position in the shed, or any inter-shed movement afterwards, to enable Customs to locate an import or export consignment expeditiously for any operational purpose.
AIR brings a new dimension to inter-airport transshipment of air cargo by enabling multiple airline connectivity, or ‘inter-lining’ in IATA’s parlance. This system would mean initial air cargo haul into the country by Airline ‘A’, for instance, and its transshipment from the airport of first arrival to the airport of destination within the country by Airline ‘B’ on the basis of the original manifest, without any in-country transshipment filing. AIR seeks to deepen the scope and possibilities of air-cargo transshipment by allowing foreign-domestic or national-domestic airline connectivity. An air-to-sea and air-overland connectivity has also been provided for under the system. These provisions will deepen the international supply chain into the domestic markets.
International transits under AIR will be processed in the manner akin to the above, with the difference that freight-on-board (FROB) will be exempt from declaration to Customs on arrival at any airport in Pakistan, while transit freight released by Customs against airline manifestation to an air cargo shed, or an air off-dock location, will be subject to same-state goods exports filing. The system will process such consignments on the basis of their original manifestation. This would clearly enable international transit handling of air cargo at national airports, including consolidation and re-routing thereof, at on- and off-airport Customs locations, thus creating new business potential and possibilities.
In the case of transits meant for Afghanistan, flight departure confirmation from any airport in Pakistan will amount to automatic mate-receipt filing by an airline, and trigger EDI messaging from Pakistan Customs to Afghanistan Customs, enabling the latter to mark the same as impending arrivals in their system. The cargo receipt in Afghanistan will prompt reverse messaging to Pakistan Customs as confirmation of completion of transit. This is being done through a bilateral electronic data interchange between Pakistan and Afghanistan Customs, an important administrative tool for real-time reporting on securing traffic-in-transit between airports of the two countries.
AIR provides exclusive, fast processing lanes to perishable or sensitive cargo, including animals, hazardous goods, courier consignments, human remains etc. This mechanism will result in shorter Customs processing times for all the afore-mentioned cargo types, and bring unprecedented speed in their delivery to an importer, much of a necessity in such cases. This system is commonly called ‘immediate clearance’.
The most noteworthy feature of AIR would be the virtual co-location of administratively adjacent authorities at national airports towards establishing an integrated cargo clearance framework. All such authorities, such as the Civil Aviation Authority and FIA, have been provided two-way connectivity under AIR, for purposes as diverse as aircraft landing or departure confirmation, to online clearance of human remains, with many automated consequential protocols for optimum clearance speed.
To reiterate, trade facilitation is Customs controls put into motion by rule-based automation. AIR would not only be a key instrument for Pakistan Customs in providing speedy and secure air cargo clearances to the trade, but would also serve as a medium for implementing many of the provisions and postulates of WTO’s Bali Agreement on Trade Facilitation.