Written by Darrel H. Pearson and Faran Umar-Khitab
The CBSA Business Simplification Initiative Working Group (Working Group) has developed a list of 28 potential improvements that it claims will result in significant improvements in how business interacts with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
The Working Group was formed to assist the Canadian government in relation to its commitment to reduce paper burden by 20% by the end of 2008. The CBSA established the Working Group in consultation with the trade community and provide it with a mandate to make recommendations to the CBSA on measures that would result in significant improvements in how business interacts with the CBSA. The working group is co-chaired by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Director of the CBSA's Business Simplification Team. The working group is also comprised of representatives from the Association of International Border Agencies, the Canadian Society of Customs Brokers, the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters (I.E. Canada), the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Over the past year, the working group has made a number of recommendations to the CBSA to make it easier for businesses to interact with it. I.E. Canada notes that the CBSA's simplification and red tape reduction needs to go beyond the Paper Burden Reduction Initiative and must be ongoing and part of an overall systemic cultural change.
The proposed list of business improvements is divided into three main categories by timeframe. The 2008/2009 timeframe contemplates simple improvements that are easy to implement such as strengthening client services, allowing for electronic filing (e-mail) or faxing of ruling requests, automated download capability for updates to the CFIA AIRS tool, improvements to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) (responsible for import/export controls among other matters) system to improve reliability and system uptime and, among other improvements, providing saveable/fillable electronic forms. Most of these improvements should be relatively easy to implement and should go a long way to reducing business irritants and making the conduct of business a lot smoother.
The other two categories are based on a 2009/2010 timeframe and a "beyond 2009/2010" timeframe and include broader improvements to processes and policies to make them more efficient and in most cases electronic.
One of the most significant improvements proposed for 2009/2010 is the introduction of publication of advanced rulings for tariff classifications on the internet. The most obvious benefit is that it will eliminate the need to issue duplicate rulings and will serve as a knowledge base for clients to check tariff classifications for their products. Tariff classification can be very complex for certain goods and for these goods an advanced ruling ensures that the tariff classification used is considered to be correct by the CBSA. This can also be beneficial to other importers of the same product as they can check the advanced rulings database to see whether a ruling on the product has been obtained before and if so, the ruling would be binding and would apply to their product.
Challenges to this advanced ruling system include the facts that some importers may not wish to disclose their product information or have the information published for public consumption. There are also privacy concerns as to what information can be released and what cannot. Current legislation allows for the publishing of advanced rulings and measures can be taken to protect proprietary information. The other obvious challenge is that if the rulings are on the CBSA website, they will have to be translated, resulting in higher costs and longer wait times for issuance by CBSA. Another consideration is whether to publish all rulings or only those that have precedent setting value.
Currently there are over 2500 advanced rulings requested annually. An online precedent system could greatly reduce the workload for the CBSA while making it faster for the importers to access the information rather than waiting for a ruling.
It should be noted that the importer seeking a ruling must be prepared to live with a ruling against its interests until the ruling is successfully appealed. As well, if the ruling request is successful and it is published, the applicant's competitors will benefits from its efforts and publication will eliminate the competitive advantage otherwise prevailing.
These proposals are represent a meaningful step forward toward facilitation of the relationships between business and the CBSA. The Working Group is making life easier for both the CBSA and the customs and international trade community and this relationship should continue beyond the Paper Reduction Initiative to become a regular CBSA working group.