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Customs Focus Of WTO Parley

The U.S., China, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries turned their attention to streamlining customs processes in this week's WTO talks.

GENEVA — The U.S., China, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries turned their attention to streamlining customs processes in this week’s World Trade Organization talks.

With quota restraints lifted from the apparel and textile sectors, complex customs rules remain one of the primary nontariff barriers to imports. Given the growing importance of just-in-time shipments in most industrial sectors, negotiators suggested that a key breakthrough could be the development of a system that allowed customs authorities to release goods into a country even if the amount of duty to be paid on the shipment was not determined.

The U.S., in a written submission, suggested that goods could be cleared for entry before duties were paid if the shipper posted a bond or deposit.

“As long as payment of duties can be guaranteed, the physical custody of goods is unnecessary, and can be merely obstructive and impose an unnecessary burden on managing inventory,” the U.S. proposal said.

Australia and Canada in a joint submission backed the idea, which they said may offer businesses “greater certainty and predictability as to cash-flow management and shipping times.”

In its submission, South Korea said the costs of processing imports and exports could be reduced if WTO members agreed to adopt standard documents for tracking imports. The proposal also suggested that WTO members might use pre-arrival processing, post-clearance auditing and other risk-management measures to expedite the release of merchandise.

The South Korean delegation noted that such a change would reduce the need for storage space at ports, and the risk of theft and spoilage.

Japan pointed out unpublicized fees required for import and export declaration outside normal office hours are also a problem. A way to deal with this, Japan suggested, is for WTO members to agree to a periodic review of fees and charges.