A.V. Vijayakumar, Chairman, Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India (FFFAI) shares an update and status of customs brokers industry regarding effects of COVID-19. He informs that federation is doing regular follow ups and sharing representation with the Ministries to protect industry’s interest and at the same time improving the economic activities.
In the first phase of lockdown of 21 days with no public transport; air, road or rail, moving around was a challenge and it was intended to be so to overcome possible spearing of the virus. In the process, all commercial activities such as manufacturing, trading, production, supply, etc., came to a standstill. Despite the relaxations provided by the government and more activities got permission to function, this is yet to take off. If our EXIM cargo activities are considered, during the first phase of lockdown, only about 10-15 per cent of the volume would have been handled across the country. Factors that can be attributed as reasons for diminishing the normal capacity of EXIM cargo handled are:
1) Lack of transportation facilities – be it for commuting or for cargo
2) Factories/warehouses/manufacturing units including for import or export cargo not functioning
3) Non availability of adequate drivers to operate transport vehicles
4) Shipping lines/forwarders not operating fully resulting in challenges to obtain delivery orders
5) Customs houses performing with minimum officers for processing of documents, though online activities have been enhanced,
6) Ports/terminals/CFS/ICDS operating with limited resources to carry out normal activities
Despite all the restrictions and harsh realities at field level, customs brokers across the country are endeavouring their utmost to provide support for handling of import or export cargo. Initially getting permit to commute during lockdown was a major challenge. Subsequently with support of state administration and regional police, this concern is partly resolved. FFFAI has so far pursued various concerns with multiple Ministries and to illustrate few:
A. Ministry of Finance:
• Implementation of paperless concept, online Out of Charge (OoC)
• Waiver of late filing charges, penal charges – demurrage/storage by custodians, detention by carriers, interest on deferred payment of duty, interest on GST / TDS for delayed payment
• Insurance cover for our staff treating them as frontline warriors
• Reduction of rate of tax – both for GST and IT for our industry
• Working capital and term loans form bank at nominal interest
We have succeeded in getting the first two concerns done.
b. Ministry of Commerce
• Waiver of penal charges for imports by air cargo
• We have sought for full exemption on cargo storage unconditionally as against the present conditional partial relief.
• For sea shipments, we have suggested that there should be a direction to custodians or carriers that they should abide by the Circular of DG Shipping and no penal charges should be collected during lockdown period.
•Revival of industrial activities at manufacturing, production, industries for restoring normal activities for EXIM cargo.
C. Ministry of Shipping
•Waiver of penal charges for sea shipments; suggested that there should be a direction to custodians or carriers that they should abide by the Circular of DG Shipping and no penal
charges should be collected during lockdown period
D. Ministry of Civil Aviation
•Waiver of penal charges for imports by air cargo, have sought for full exemption on cargo storage unconditionally as against the present conditional partial relief
However under the present dispensation, delays in handling of export-import cargo are inevitable and unavoidable. Till all restrictions are lifted and normalcy is restored, any delay is unavoidable and beyond our control as a customs broker. When external factors contribute to delays, accountability cannot rest on us and we are confident that the industry and our clients will understand and appreciate our position.