The Role of Customs
We live in a rapidly changing world. Things which we regard as commonplace today, world-wide telecommunications via satellite, space travel, the micro-processor, were scarcely conceivable just a few decades ago. The world has also changed from the Customs’ perspective. The traditional Customs responsibilities of collecting duties and taxes and preventing smuggling still remain but Customs cannot afford to ignore the changing world conditions which have a major impact on their work.
So there are a few non-traditional areas, in which Customs are now becoming involved. Some Customs authorities are responsible for such diverse tasks as immigration control and the enforcement of commercial policy through the implementation of preferential trade agreements, the operation of quotas and the application of restrictions, the application of public health and safety legislation, quarantine controls, currency controls, counterfeiting and piracy legislation and the collection of external trade statistics.
But all added responsibilities have led inevitably to the complexity of Customs regulations. Tariff books and procedure manuals are becoming significantly more detailed. Officials are now faced with the increased complexities of tariffs based on the Harmonized System. It is becoming increasingly difficult in some countries for Customs officers to be aware of all existing regulations affecting importations. This has led to a lack of uniformity in the application of law. It provides increased opportunities for the circumvention of Customs law, which in its turn has a substantial impact on national economies. Customs can expect an increased workload from increasing international trade and traffic. The problems of smuggling, fraud and evasion of duties will continue to rise in many parts of the world. The world’s Customs Services do play a major role in the fight against illegal drug trafficking. Though it cannot be determined what percentage of illicit drugs Customs Services detect and prevent from reaching the market, the total tonnage that has been seized is a very substantial and impressive figure. More and more Customs administrations are beginning to realize that the survival of Customs depends on the transformation of its ‘bag-opening gate-keeper’ image into one of ‘the facilitator and protector of society’.
Customs Services will, therefore, be expected to meet the increased workload and the increased enforcement problem by better organization, modernization and improved techniques including computerization and new technology.
In many countries Customs see themselves as an integral part of the international trade process. Every trade transaction involves at least two Customs interventions – one at exportation and the other at importation. It is clear therefore that the manner in which Customs Services conduct their business has a substantial impact on trade efficiency.
Governments throughout the world recognize the value of Customs Services in their national economies and realize that the service being provided by Customs is one they cannot easily dispense with. As a result, Customs Services around the world are re-examining the way they operate and deal with their customers to meet the increased enforcement problems and to protect their communities.