Chamber hits out at hike in customs fees

The introduction of additional customs administration fees which come into effect from 1st September are yet another example of the government championing increases in government efficiency whilst lumbering the private sector with yet another tax. The new taxes, although relatively small, will cost some businesses thousands of pounds a year and will make Gibraltar less competitive for goods imported for onward delivery known as T1 shipments. Fees are also being levied for processing temporary import licences and for export licences. These  taxes are an additional cost for local freight agents who have no choice but to pass it onto their clients. This erodes Gibraltar’s competitiveness at a time when local companies are trying to position themselves to deal with the upheaval and uncertainties of Brexit.

If the government can do this to local businesses then the time has come to consider introducing a similar administrative charge for personal imports bought online.

Over the last ten years or so the taxpayer has paid several million pounds for the upgrade of the ASYCUDA  IT system used by Gibraltar Customs. The rationale for doing this was that it would greatly improve the efficiency of clearing goods and collecting import duty and so improve the government’s cash flows. Soon after the new system was implemented, Gibraltar Customs embarked on a campaign to employ more than 70 additional customs officers.

Despite the introduction of the new system, there are a number of processes which are still performed manually and are not part of the ASYCUDA system. The net effect of this means that paper forms, invoices and cargo manifests still have to be taken to Customs and then be collected. Payments to Customs can only be made physically by cheque which requires additional journeys to Customs to clear goods.

The process for importing foodstuffs is just as cumbersome as forms and certificates need to be completed and delivered physically to the Environmental Agency at the EPU.  It is true that ASYCUDA has certainly improved things but there are still a lot of manual processes required to import and clear goods. These should all be brought fully online if local businesses and the government are to enjoy the full benefits of the ASYCUDA platform. 

Similarly, when family friendly hours were introduced across the public sector in 2015 the government promised longer public counter hours and more efficient government. The net result was that the civil service got the family friendly hours but the promised improved efficiency has remained a distant wish.

In April this year new fees were introduced to register each new vacancy at the ETB.  E-government which has been promised by the government for many years is still not available and local businesses have to waste time going to and from various government offices to submit forms, pay licence fees or obtain an official stamp.

All these activities performed by public sector employees have previously been paid for by the taxes raised by government either directly through licence fees or by company taxes.  The government has become far too accustomed to increasing taxes on business and to introducing new taxes which make it far more difficult for local companies to compete.