Written by:

Muhammad Idrees Yahya

B.S. Civil Engineer

B.A. LLB (4th Year)

Director Operations, Ocean Packers & Movers (Customs Agent)

National Consultant, International Trade Centre, United Nations.

Back in the 80s and 90s, clearance used to be a hectic work, the shipping bills/goods declaration were the size of the tables that needed to duly filled with the respective details as per asked, one could not fill that without the knowledge of Custom Act, Rules and Pakistan Custom Tariff. The people allowed to do that came as licensed companies under the same rules and competent enough to understand what the product was, what the rules said and how the procedure works. Those who mastered it ruled it, those who knew it, survived, those who were interested in this particular, helped, those were called Custom Agents.

Though agents as a word in Pakistan is nothing short of an niche of work that most people tend to opt out but if you’ve got a prefix of Custom before it, you demanded, commanded and were given respect and admiration from your clients, society and the bureaucracy too. The work was indeed a tough job, from declaration of goods, examination, which included a tough task to satisfy the officer, the assessment of values for calculation of duties, not to forget the shipping bill to be moved from table to table for stamping purpose, getting the release from customs as well as other department and private institutes. Some say, it was the golden era of the field. The “tak tak” of the typewriter was music to ears.

With the advent of computer in the 90s, and introduction of it in the 00s, the size of the shipping bills/goods declaration was reduced to A4, software were introduced in the Customs, including PGD, PACCS, and One Customs. Though the procedure remained quite the same but the introduction of dropdown selection meant, you don’t have to go through pages and pages of the tariff. The keyboard worked fast and silently and in this quietness, the knowledge for the Tariff were replaced by the typing speed.

As the technology grew, ease were introduced, the revolution, as far as on paper is concerned, occurred with the introduction of Web Based One-Customs, commonly known to be as WeBOC, the system used from 2011 till date. Infact One Customs is still in used. The going green and paperless environment was introduced as far as filing of Goods Declaration is concerned, the movement from table to table was replaced from system to system by using fast internet services. Options were given to the importer to file the GD themselves, the traders were going to be self-sustained, the duties were calculated automatically, the particulars can be googled easily, it was a charm, the “agent” was removed from the equation, Red, Yellow and Green channel were introduced, the Green ones were not examined, then who needs an Agent?

And then something happened, something that license issuers never thought of the pious importer to do, as we all know there was no stopping on the green light, one car was looked at and it was over speeding that raised alarm, all came in front of the firing squad. But the loss was done the monetary loss was secondary, Custom Agent or just an Agent, the difference was vanished, the traders had the power, the bidding war started, just this time, the winner was the lowest one, credibility and knowledge were sidelined. The downfall steeped.

But, they survived, but now the situation has changed, the diminishing line has vanished between the Custom Agent and Agent, the rogue agents have entered, no overhead, no office, normally referred to as “Briefcasiya”, but who was supporting them, turned out they were the black-sheeps from within, a tree once destined to flourish is now being eaten from within.

Enter the Covid Era, the people once reluctant to the use of technology had no chance, some people did saw what was coming but couldn’t do anything, from Customs, to Shipping Line to Port to every other department and institute, was interestingly actually doing work paperless. The essence of WeBOC was finally being seen. It was a reality if something like this can happen temporarily, it can happen permanently, plans were already in place, COVID was jump start that was required and this unmatched, untimely marriage gave the birth to Pakistan Single Window (PSW), government institution were onboard, the system was changed, entirely, documents once submitted by person bound to the Job is now scanning the documents. His job description has changed, his bonus halted, survival is difficult, the only option he seemed to have was to Enter the bidding war with the lowest bid and turn into a briefcasiya, that’s what he does, he seems to now earn more but at what cost to the country, he isn’t a license holder, he doesn’t have an office, he’s a one man show, pulling up stunts after stunts and there’s no accountability. He’s making a mockery of the system, he’s not a Custom Agent, he’s a ghost agent, a ghost that Customs won’t catch, FBR won’t tax and FIR won’t mention.

Now, in no way I’m against technological advancement or people standing up for themselves and growing, but growth at what cost? Using money to overcome their lack of skills, how and on whom they use money, I’ll leave it on your imagination. Custom Agents are service providers, just like shipping line, shipping agents, freight forwarders, terminal operators and transporter. Among all the stated, a comparison can easily be made on the price of service charged. The Custom Agent (not agent) would be the only provider who’s amount has either remained, constant or have decreased, we are immortal against inflation as against the other service provider.

A comparison would be presented through the below table, on the basis of my personal experience of a mere 3 years. Amount are being rounded off and averaged out for comparison.


Service Charges Custom Agent Shipping (exluding freight) Terminal Operators Transporter
2019 10000 18000 13000 8000
2020 10000 25000 16000 9000
2021 10000 35000 21000 12000
2022 10000 95000 35000 22000


Out of all the above, the Custom Agent, is the only one legally answerable to the Customs for any misdeclaration, wrong PCT, loss of goods and safety of goods to importer. Including other services that are expected by the Custom Agent to handled and we are the only one who are providing services without any tariff, even if a 5% increase is asked, the answer normally is a counter quotation of 10% less, hence, you either lose or they win. But that’s the price you have to pay when you are a well versed individual with a sea of knowledge in Pakistan.

I think that the relevant authorities as well as the stakeholders including the trader should understand that a Customs Agent, licensed under Custom Rules, is an asset to the institution and not a liability and should be equally treated as the same. Having a Customs Agent as the point of interaction between the trader and the Customs Authorities only increases the chance of the getting the best results or the all the party include including the State. The Officers once regarded a well versed Custom Agent and an experienced Custom Agent as a great source of knowledge, but that is not the case now, as over the time the tag of “Agent” has grasped the mind of the people incharge and now the eyes sees them as such.