AS a general rule, any article imported into the Philippines will require the prior accreditation or registration of the importer/consignee with the Bureau of Customs (BOC) before said article may be released from customs custody. There are a few exceptions though to this rule on prior accreditation, among them, where the importation involves ‘first and last importation’, mails, diplomatic pouches and importations with de minimis value.
In addition to this rule, customs brokers dealing with the customs clearance and release of importation have to be accredited with customs. Without such accreditation, a customs broker professional will not be able to practice his profession with customs.
The customs office presently handling the accreditation of importers and customs brokers is the Customs Accreditation Secretariat (CAS) under the Legal Service. Due to reported complaints from the trading sector with regard to the present accreditation system, customs is now presently reorganizing the system.
Accordingly, the planned reorganization will involve the implementation of the electronic profile registration of all entities dealing with customs — customs brokers, customs bonded warehouses, surety companies, freight forwarders, shippers, consolidators, airlines and shipping lines.
Previous Accreditation System
Prior to the issuance of Customs Administrative Order (CAO) No. 3-2006A, the accreditation of importers was handled by the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS). Among the requirements then for the accreditation of an importer are the submission of certain documents (e.g. registration papers with BIR, SEC, SSS, local government units, etc.) and the physical inspection of the office or warehouse of the importer.
In addition, customs brokers were required to register with each and every collection district or port of entry. A customs broker may only provide brokerage services in the port where he is registered. To illustrate, a customs broker registered with MICP will still need to register with NAIA customs.
The issuance of CAO 3-2006A resulted in the centralization of the accreditation of both importers and customs brokers under a single office — CAS, Legal Service. One of the main considerations for the creation of the CAS then was the need to provide a risk management and control measure for profiling and identifying unscrupulous importers at the start of the accreditation process.
The creation of the CAS, however, has created its own problems. For one, the accreditation of importers has become a very tedious and costly process. Lawyers with the CAS have been reported to raise objections on the accreditation of an importer based on legal and technical issues totally unrelated to existing customs laws and regulations.
For customs brokers, the accreditation process is likewise a very complicated process, much more difficult than renewing one’s license with the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC), or registering with SEC as a general professional partnership, or securing a tax identification number and VAT registration with BIR.
As one customs broker said, the accreditation of a customs broker professional should merely involve the submission of his credentials and should not result in a separate registration process. As is it now, accreditation to practice one’s profession can accordingly become as difficult as taking the customs broker licensure examination.
Client Profile Registration System
Parallel to the planned reorganization of the present accreditation system is the implementation of the BOC Client Profile Registration System (CPRS). This system is part of the ongoing customs modernization program and will involve the online submission of the profile and data of any and all entities dealing with BOC through existing VASP providers.
BOC is expected to issue soon the necessary rules and regulations on this new system. The new rules will likely include the requirements for submission by the registering entity of digital photos, electronic signatures and other necessary documents. For custom brokers, the CPRS will mostly require the use of the digital signature in the filing of an import declaration.
While the submission of the profile will be done electronically, various customs offices will still conduct a review and verification of the information submitted. When necessary and under certain parameters, customs will still conduct physical inspection on some of the registering entities.
We expect major improvements soon with the implementation of the proposed changes to the present customs accreditation system. Still, we do not foresee that everything will be done online, or that manual intervention or unnecessary discretions will be eliminated. In any case, this is a long overdue step in the right direction.
The author is an international trade, indirect tax (customs) and supply chain expert. He is the Editorial Board Chairman of Asia Customs & Trade, an online portal on customs and trade developments affecting global trade and customs compliance in Asia. He was also Bureau of Customs Deputy Commissioner for Assessment and Operations Coordinating Group (2013-2016). For questions, please email at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com