PACKING declarations have been in operation since around 1998/1999. International sea freight trade into Australia has changed dramatically since that time; sea freight shipments to Australia have increased year-on-year, as have issues at the border.

Current issues
In the past three years the government has changed the packing declaration three times, causing issues for suppliers who are familiar with using one template over another.

The other issue is that the packing declaration template approved and created by the government fails to cater for suppliers or packers in other countries who do not have English as their first language.

During the past 21 years, the effectiveness of a packing declaration has become relied upon far too much and to an ineffective degree. If the correct box is crossed, the goods avoid an inspection and can be delivered to the importer. Some may say that the practice over 21 years has become far too much “ticking and flicking” and not enough inspecting and verifying.

The Department of Agriculture has charged customs brokers about $3900 in “Approved Arrangement” fees each over the past three years. Customs brokers do most of the import compliance work yet we are required to pay the Department.

In New Zealand, they do not require packing declarations for less than a container load shipments; the Ministry for Primary Industries requires all LCL shipments are inspected as they are unpacked from the full container load.

Rural versus metro
Going back a while, the Department of Agriculture created a process where if a FCL was to be unpacked in a metropolitan area, the container would not need to go for a tailgate inspection. The purpose of the tailgate inspection is to ensure the inside of the container is clean and does not have seeds or other prohibited material.

The only containers which are required to have a rural tailgate are those containers which are to be unpacked in rural postcodes. The amount of times rural tailgates fail at the inspection due to there being prohibited material inside, has always made me wonder, “if these rural tailgates are failing, what would happen if the metropolitan containers were to be inspected?”

Layers of paperwork
In order to customs clear a typical sea freight shipment through Agriculture [Quarantine] where the goods are Manufactured Wooden Articles from let’s say China, we would require: commercial invoice; bill of lading; packing declaration and; a fumigation certificate.

In September 2017, the Department introduced something else. All MWA goods that have been fumigated now need an extra layer of paperwork, a fifth document which typically is to be on the letterhead of the manufacturer or supplier and must be consignment linked, signed, dated and state:

The [goods which have been fumigated] have been stored in an appropriate way to minimise the risk of infestation or contamination by pests of biosecurity concern between the date that the goods were treated and when the goods were exported.

The Department has stated the storage certification provides evidence the goods have been stored in an appropriate way that limits the risk of infestation or contamination by pests of biosecurity concern for the entire length of time between the application of an appropriate treatment to the goods and their export to Australia.

Cargo Online Lodgement System
Customs brokers and other support staff would be aware that when the Department introduced the Cargo Online Lodgement System in 2017, it required companies to tick a box when they submit a shipment for processing that states:

By selecting the check box you declare that the information provided in this form is true and correct. Providing false or misleading statements, information or documents to the Commonwealth, or to any other person in purported compliance with the law of the Commonwealth, is a serious offence under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) and is punishable by up to 12 months imprisonment.

Customs brokers and other support staff would not necessarily know if the information is correct or not, as they are agents for the importers.

Mitigating risk is one thing but mitigating these risks with layer upon layer of paperwork does not solve the issue, it just allows the issue to become larger and unworkable.

* Peter McRae is the founder and CEO of Platinum Freight Management

This article appeared in the November 2019 edition of DCN Magazine