South Africa’s logistics sector will operate more efficiently under an increasingly capacitated South African Revenue Service (SARS), rather than a Border Management Agency (BMA), as proposed by government, says South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) chairperson Dr Juanita Maree.

Maree says the current border release process is “very manual” when dealing with other government agencies (such as Port Health, the South African Police Service (Saps) and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development), with a number of added potential hold-ups for cargo, such as the fact that Saps may decide to search a vehicle at the border post, or that cargo and people share a queue as they clear through the different border agencies.

These problems were magnified with the delays seen at South Africa’s land border posts at the previous, higher Covid-19 alert levels.

The newly created BMA falls under the Department of Home Affairs. However, says Maree, this is precisely the problem.

“Home Affairs look at people. How will they now look at cargo too? SARS has been doing this job for years. “It makes sense to put immigration under Home Affairs, but not cargo ­– these two entities have very different characteristics.

“Government is saying that cargo and people cannot be split, but it is possible. You can link a truck driver to a specific cargo load.”

Maree believes it is possible, using various technologies, to “push back” the various government checks on a cargo load closer to the point of origin, making it possible for that cargo and its driver to quickly move through a border post as a trusted logistics service provider, thereby reducing the time the cargo has to spend at the border.

“We can push it upstream and work out who exactly is in the supply chain, who can be trusted (by using Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) accreditation), and, in this way, create a one-stop border post. And, if some logistics service providers are not labelled as trusted service providers, stop their trucks at the border if it carries high-risk cargo. For others we create a green-light service.”

Per SARS, an “AEO is a party involved in the international movement of goods in whatever function that has been approved by, or on behalf of a national customs administration, so as to comply with World Customs Organisation (WCO) or equivalent supply chain security standards”.

“We ultimately envisage a border post with a queue for people, one for green-lane cargo and one for high-risk cargo,” explains Maree. “As we move deeper into the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, and as e-commerce grows, this will become increasingly important.”

SAAFF believes the only government department able to do this is SARS. This is underpinned by the service’s linkage to the WCO in data field management, tariff heading management and scientific risk profiling, for example.

“SARS can create a single platform where logistics operators can submit all their documentation, and from there it can be channeled to the various other departments, such as Home Affairs and the Department of Health,” says Maree. “If they then believe there is a risk somewhere, the relevant government department can investigate that risk. “You can use scientific algorithms to determine risk areas. Developed countries are increasingly doing this ­– using artificial intelligence and big data to determine risk in their supply chains.

“For this you need one lead agency, and for cargo this should be SARS. They are the ones who are paperless and far advanced in terms of technology. The other departments still operate using manual systems,” notes Maree.

“For example, at the moment SAPS stops trucks at the border posts based on information from informants and gut feel, with no case management or recording of the event.

“This causes huge unintended consequences for trade. We can make this process much more scientific with a clear record of responsibility, linked to the responsible parties that interact in domestic, regional and international supply chains.

“Ultimately, we are advocating for SARS to be capacitated to be the central collection point for all documentation in the South African cross-border logistics supply chain, and for them to then send this documentation to other departments from where they can determine their own risk profiles,” says Maree.

“If we can provide some funding to SARS, they can enable the other departments to work on the same platform. “We don’t need the BMA ­for cargo ­– we need to expand SARS’ capacity.”

The BMA has appointed a CEO, but it is not yet active as an agency, says Maree.

*NATCO NOTE: This is a developing story – watch this space for updates.

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