ASEAN Customs Initiative

ASEAN has taken a number of steps to modernize and streamline customs administration within the region, including through the regionwide adoption of the WTO valuation system; the harmonization of customs procedures; and the adoption of common interpretation of the Harmonized Code. ASEAN is currently in the third year of a 1999 - 2004 work program, which focuses in these areas. Other activities have included work on implementing customs post clearance audit (Customs PCA), finalization of the two protocols under the ASEAN Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Goods in Transit, i.e. Protocol 2 on the Designation of Frontier Posts and Protocol 7 on the Customs Transit System, and development of a regional training plan and provision of technical assistance to the new members of ASEAN – Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam.

In the area of tariff nomenclature, work is continuing to establish and implement a common tariff nomenclature for the region, which will be harmonised at the 8-digit level, based on the Harmonised System (HS) of the World Customs Organisation. The process of integrating and harmonising the nomenclature system of ten member countries has proved to be a challenging and complex undertaking. ASEAN is however at the final stages of developing the ASEAN Harmonised Tariff Nomenclature (AHTN), which is targeted for implementation in 2002.

Five ASEAN member countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – have implemented customs valuation method in accordance with the WTO Valuation Agreement. The other member countries are at various stages of preparation to implement the same, with target dates of implementation ranging through 2005.

Customs PCA is another priority area in ASEAN Customs cooperation. Traditionally, customs checking of documents and goods submitted for import clearance takes place before the goods are released. Post clearance audit provides for checking to be performed subsequent to the release of the goods thus allowing for speedier clearance at entry points; thus facilitating trade. The concept of post clearance audit entails a significant shift from current customs practice and requires staff to acquire the necessary skills/techniques to undertake effective auditing. In fact, its introduction would require some significant changes to current goods clearance system, including legislation, to enable the implementation of a post clearance audit system. The establishment of PCA would also facilitate the implementation of the WTO Valuation Agreement, which lays emphasis on the process of verification through post-importation audit. ASEAN has aimed for PCA to be implemented in each member country by 2003.

Partnership with the business community is also an important element in ASEAN customs action plan. The US-ASEAN Business Council has held dialogues with the ASEAN Customs Directors-General for a number of years, and these forums provide a valuable opportunity for the business community to discuss key customs issues and concerns directly with ASEAN officials. In addition, under its Center for Technology Cooperation (CTC), the US-ASEAN Business Council has organized customs training workshops with the customs agencies of the Philippines and Thailand. Another activity currently being pursued is Project ACCESS, under which Customs and representatives from the express services industry are looking into expediting clearance of international express business without compromising Customs control requirements.