Reviewing the e-commerce clearance process: the experience of Argentina
Members of the E-Commerce Internal Working Group, Argentina Customs
The WCO defines cross-border e-commerce as “All transactions which are effected digitally through a computer network (e.g. the internet), and result in physical goods flows subject to Customs formalities”. Like many countries, when talking about cross-border e-commerce shipments, Argentina Customs includes shipments transported by postal operators and express couriers.
In this article, we will not describe the procedures in place to process these specific flows of goods. Interested readers can consult the WCO Compendium of Case Studies on E-Commerce. Instead, we will explain how the Administration is reviewing its legal, policy and operational framework in terms of alignment with the WCO Cross-Border E-Commerce Framework of Standards and other WCO guidance material.
Argentina Customs created an Internal Working Group with the mandate of undertaking a diagnostic on cross-border e-commerce soon after the WCO Framework was adopted in June 2018. The Group consisted of 12 officials in charge of project coordination, process reengineering, technical and operational matters, and institutional relations. All had extensive knowledge of the discussions which had taken place at the WCO E-Commerce Working Group since 2016 or at the WCO Permanent Technical Committee. Some had also supported the WCO Secretariat capacity building efforts on e-commerce by participating in the WCO Global Conferences on Cross-Border E-Commerce and in regional and national workshops, among other things.
The Internal Working Group members held regular (virtual) meetings with various departments to discuss issues such as advance information, risk management, revenue collection and security. In July 2021, the Group came up with a diagnostic report, a list of recommendations and a roadmap for their implementation.
The diagnostic addressed each standard of the WCO Framework: for each standard, a list of questions was drafted, with the aim of shedding light on existing procedures and practices related to the standards.
The diagnostic highlighted the need to develop specific import and export regulations adapted to the various existing e-commerce business models. To this end, it recommended setting up four working groups (WGs) to address the following topics:
- Advance Electronic Information and Risk Management (WG1)
- Trade Facilitation and Control (WG2)
- Revenue Collection (WG3)
- Security (WG4).
One of the members of the Internal Working Group, Ms. María Florencia Róvere, participated in the WCO Fellowship Programme from May to June 2021. The research work she carried out under the supervision of WCO Secretariat experts was related to cross-border e-commerce. As a result, Argentina Customs was able to incorporate a series of recommendations drafted together with the WCO. Among those is a list of the data which could be required and which takes into account WCO Reference Data elements for cross-border E-Commerce (download Table 1).
The Internal Working Group then organized a meeting with focal points from each Customs Sub-Directorate General. They discussed the conclusions of the diagnostic and the roadmap, agreeing on the way forward in terms of priorities and working methods. Each focal point agreed to participate in the four working groups, and that representatives from their area (or Sub-Directorate General) would participate in the working groups when needed. A report listing the actions to be carried out was then submitted to the Director General of Customs, who gave her consent to begin work on implementation.
In mid-August 2021, the working groups began meeting virtually. They established a work plan with performance indicators and deadlines, based on the initial diagnostic report.
Members of WG1 on Advance Electronic Information and Risk Management started mapping out stakeholders in the e-commerce chain, harmonizing data required under the current clearance process, aligning the sets of data with the WCO Data Model, and discussing the use of anticipated data, including their usefulness and relevance.
Members of WG2 on Trade Facilitation and Control worked on clarifying procedures for re-dispatches and returns, outlining the UPU Customs Declaration System (CDS) functionalities, and building flowcharts.
Members of WG3 on Revenue Collection identified problems associated with payments, and analysed complaints and assistance requests (for example, concerning the returns process, payment methods, and delays in the accreditation of payments). They also started reviewing collection models.
Finally, Members of WG4 on Security looked at how to clarify issues relating to prohibited/restricted merchandise and address the way in which problems associated with such goods can be reduced. They also analysed possible liaison with security forces regarding investigations.
In line with WCO Framework Standard 11 on public/private partnerships, all groups agreed to set up working tables open to private sector representatives to enable the latter to keep informed of the Administration’s progress and to express their views. The Administration started a stakeholder analysis and mapping exercise to ensure the process was inclusive.
The plan at a later stage is to invite other government agencies to participate in the working groups. Afterwards, the working groups intend to request technical assistance from the WCO, once implementation of the work plan is more advanced.
The review of policies and procedures related to e-commerce is an ambitious task, but one which Argentina Customs is confident it can complete successfully with the help of this new collaborative approach.