Interaction between Customs Authorities and Business

For several years, The Moscow Times has held conferences on customs issues under the motto Partnership Relations between Customs Authorities and Businesses. This year the conference will be held on June 25. Here are some ideas about the interaction of customs authorities with business we would like to share with readers on the eve of the event.

The cooperation of customs authorities with the business community is a strong and long-standing tradition. Russia's Customs Code laid out the basis for such cooperation in Article 408, whereby the customs authorities were entitled to establish and maintain official relations of an advisory nature with foreign trade participants in order to develop cooperation and interaction in the sphere of introduction of the most effective customs clearance procedures and customs control. This provision of Russia's customs legislation complies with the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures of 18 May 1973 (Kyoto Convention), which stipulates that the customs services of individual countries should establish and maintain official relations of an advisory nature with foreign trade participants in order to develop cooperation and promote their involvement in implementation of the most effective customs procedures.

Customs authorities interact with businesses in different forms, such as via the establishment of the Public Advisory Council for Customs Policy in 1996. The Council includes officials and key experts of the Federal Customs Service (FCS), as well as representatives of other government agencies and businesses. Recently the Council has reviewed such issues as improvement of the system for customs value control, organization of customs gateways subject to the specifics of different transport means, procedures for conflict resolution with customs agencies, new certification requirements, etc.

The Council convenes on a quarterly basis; meanwhile, the work is done in commissions and ad hoc groups. The next meeting of the Council has been planned for June 19 and its agenda includes the establishment of customs logistics terminals in the context of implementing the Concept of Customs Clearance and Customs Control over Goods in Places Close to the State Border, introduction of technologies for the customs clearance of medicines, as well as the development prospects of customs brokers.

Public advisory councils were also set up in regions at the level of certain regional customs departments and customs offices. The Public Advisory Council has ensured a constructive dialogue between the customs authorities and businesses for more than a decade of its operations.

The Federal Customs Service also cooperates with international business associations such as the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, Association of European Businesses, Russian-German Chamber of Foreign Trade and American Chamber of Commerce. Following a pause in activities, the tradition of holding roundtable discussions with business associations has been restored. Thus, important issues such as customs value assessment, payment of customs duties, introduction of new customs clearance procedures, etc. were debated at the latest meeting, which was held in April 2009. Foreign trade participants were able to raise their questions with the heads of the key FCS departments.

The FCS cooperates with the business community in the sphere of improvement of the customs legislation. The Expert Council on Customs Regulation was established under the State Duma Committee on Budget and Taxes in 2008. The Council includes representatives of Russian companies engaged in foreign trade, associations, the FCS and other government agencies. Over the recent period, the Council has reviewed draft laws on amendments to the customs legislation focused on improving the procedures for customs value assessment, collection of customs duties and acceleration of customs clearance. The Expert Council held an on-site meeting in St. Petersburg in April 2009 which was devoted entirely to the discussion of the Concept of Customs Clearance and Customs Control over Goods in Places Close to the State Border of the Russian Federation. It is noteworthy that the Concept, which was drafted pursuant to the order of the State Border Commission dated 26 June 2008, provoked multiple contradictory opinions and continues to be the subject of ongoing discussion at various levels.

In general, recently the relations with customs authorities have evolved constructively; however, it is unfortunate that certain topical issues in the sphere of streamlining customs procedures are still awaiting their resolution. The most significant of these pertain to the right to amend a customs declaration after the release of goods, the development of methodology for assessment of the customs value of goods subject to royalty, etc.

In addition, Russian companies engaged in foreign trade are not always happy about how their appeals are treated by the local customs offices, which are in no hurry to adopt the progressive forms of relations with business.

The forthcoming conference will be yet another chance for such Russian companies engaged in foreign trade to get first-hand answers and discuss these topical issues.