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Agencies fail to clear customs logjam   2010-03-12 - Viet Nam News

The number of nationwide customs agencies remains a modest 88 with many not working effectively, five years after regulations were introduced allowing their operation, report customs officers.

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Customs agencies are authorised to legally represent importers in fulfilling all customs requirements, including filing forms and paying tariffs and fees. Their aim is to allow customs procedures to be carried out more professionally and efficiently and reduce the number of persons or business representatives attempting to clear customs in person.

Representatives from enterprises filling in forms at Hai Phong Customs Office. As of now, both the quantity and quality of customs agencies remain modest.

Many importers continue to complete customs documents on their own behalf, according to a recent survey by the General Department of Customs.

Meanwhile, in Japan or China, 90 per cent of customs paperwork was being completed through customs agencies, said Au Anh Tuan, deputy director of the customs supervision and control department.

"Customs agencies have staff certified to provide services so they are more professional," Tuan said.

"If documents are done through such offices, it can save time for both local customs authorities and importing enterprises as they don't need to maintain their own office to do this."

Hai Phong Industrial Food Ltd began operations as a customs agency in 2007 and remains one of the few agencies in the busy northern port city of Hai Phong.

"We don't get much advantage from the Government by working as a customs agency," said the firm's deputy director, Luong Ly Quy. "Importers often hesitate to hire us to represent them in preparing customs documents because they are not aware of the benefits of working with us."

"There is a separate gate for customs agencies to be received at many customs offices," said Dao Ngoc Phu, an official of the customs supervision and control department. "But that's the only advantage that these offices receive and it's not enough to encourage enterprises to use their services considering that they have to pay service fees. At some ports, this advantage is not even carried out."

The limited knowledge of agency staff of an individual importer's or exporter's business can be another barrier to the effective operation of these agencies.

Phi Thi Mai Hoa, head of the export-import office of major garment manufacturer and exporter Hanosimex, said, "There are many small details involved with textile exports. It takes a lot of time to hire an agency and explain everything to them."

Under Government Decree No 79/2005, a customs agency must have at least one staff member certified by the customs department. This person must have a degree in economics or law or have at least one year of direct work experience with customs procedures.

"Exporters shouldn't be worried that agency staff are not aware of the company's business because they know the legal framework for customs services and can adapt them to all businesses," Phu said.

But Doan Ngoc Long, director of the Chau Giang Co, said that his company limited it services to filing customs forms only.

"Our staff, therefore, doesn't need to be certified by the customs department," Long said. "In fact, many companies prefer to hire us over an agency in order to keep costs at a minimum."

The customs department recently submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Finance for changes to the regulations on customs agencies.

"We proposed that customs agencies should be given greater advantages than regular customers," said Phu, with agencies to receive priority handling from customs officials at all stages of the process from filing of forms to inspections.

Under the proposed new rules, customs fees would also be collected every six months or even annually, instead of monthly as currently, a change that would reduce pressure on businesses. The process of certifying agency staff would also be simplified, Phu said.

Meanwhile, he said the department would post updated information about customs agents and their staff on its website. All agencies and staff that have performed improperly would also be listed.

The proposed regulations were being reviewed by the Ministry of Finance and a draft version was likely to be released within the month for comment, Phu said.

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