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Customs (departments) in Thailand and Philippines going in opposite directions

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   29 June 2010

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In today’s news is a story out of the Philippines that the Customs Department of the Philippines government has signed on to the Revised Kyoto Convention to bring its customs procedures up to world standards through simplification of its procedures and greater transparency.

This seemingly “small” development was greeted enthusiastically by the local business community and the various foreign chamber of commerce groups operating in the country.

The United States Council for International Business predicted in new stories that countries that fail to keep pace with world-class standards for customs administrations, such as those promulgated by the WCO and the World Trade Organization will find it increasingly difficult to attract new business, trade and foreign investment, as business cannot afford high logistics costs imposed by customs inefficiencies.

The only other Asian countries that have signed on to the Revised Kyoto Convention are Pakistan, India, Malaysia and Vietnam. That means most of the Asean countries, the seven other countries, remain mired in the customs dump heap.

A good example is Thailand’s Customs unit.

The department is of course under the Ministry of Finance, headed by Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij.

Mr. Korn recently told the press that of all the government departments, the Customs Department ranked the highest in complaints.

Another interesting piece of news about the department came when Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva recently revealed that the practice of giving a prize to the agent that scored the highest fine on an importer had been discontinued.

In other words, the department’s mission is not necessarily to process items shipped into Thailand in a fair and transparent manner at a reasonable cost. The mission is to twist out of importers and citizens the greatest amount of duty.

However, if one has lived in Thailand for any length of time and tried to make an online purchase or have almost anything shipped in, this is nothing new. Many businesses simplydo not ship into Thailand, simply because they have learned that the Customs Department is to say the least, not user-friendly.

The situation does not seem to be improving.

A foreign country’s agriculture representative recently told this writer that a recent meeting he had with Mr. Korn yielded no change in the situation.

Thailand is a country that makes a great deal on money from its exports and it would seem such a country would be sensitive to having an improved customs unit for imports, especially since the Asean common market arrives in 2015. The current situation is certainly a double standard.

Thailand is going to try and make another stab at reforming its beleaguered police department and perhaps after that, the next reform move should be with customs.

Thailand could upgrade its international image by joining the Asean nations who have signed the Revised Kyoto Convention and improve its customs system. Right now, in addition to its political difficulties, it has fallen behind Asean members, the Philippines and Vietnam, in upgrading this important link with the rest of the world.

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