RICKETTS WALKER... we ask for every single declarant to ensure that they are presenting to us thehonest, correct, and truthful declaration and supporting documents (Photos: Naphtali Junior)
…Customs Agency defends 'right to doubt'

With the holiday season fast approaching and amid trade volume increases, the Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA) is appealing to consumers to make accurate declarations on imported goods.

The agency said, in guidance with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Valuation Agreement, it reserves the right to doubt the truth or accuracy of information submitted for Customs valuation purposes.

JCA commissioner and CEO Velma Ricketts Walker told the Jamaica Observer Business Forum, “We ask for every single declarant to ensure that they are presenting to us the honest, correct and truthful declaration and supporting documents. If it is that we have doubt, then we go through our system by way of our valuation verification unit, and they will do their necessary research and full review to ensure that the information so provided is truthful and represent the honest declaration”.

According to senior director of Kingston Operations Selina Clarke-Graham, in determining the veracity of the transaction declared, the agency, directed by six methods, must arrive at the transactional value of the item — the price paid or payable.

Section 19 of the Customs Act and Paragraph 3 of the Schedule of Customs Act is based on the WTO Valuation Agreement.

The schedule specifies the rules of valuation for imported goods including the methods and the manner in which they may be applied.

These are transaction value, transaction value of identical goods, transaction value of similar goods, deductive method, computed method, and fall-back method.

“The officer will go through all of those steps to determine what the transaction value is. Are there any hidden costs? Did you receive a discount or something to the effect that is not a discount that is attributed to everyone? If it is a discount that is countrywide or worldwide, then it is OK, but when you turn up at Customs and you declare that you got a 50 per cent discount and it's you alone who got that then we have reason to doubt,” Clarke-Graham contended.

“You have to bare in mind too, that Customs has access to certain information that we cannot disclose, so there are times that when customs will know exactly what you paid for [an item],” she disclosed.

As it relates to the importation of personal items, there is a US$50 threshold, or what the JCA calls the de minimis value.

Personal items, according to the agency's guide Importation of Personal Items, are defined as “those goods whose nature, quantity, and intended use indicate that they are for private, personal or household consumption and do not reflect any commercial intent.”

The guide says that packages with a free on board (FOB) value of US$50 or less will not attract customs charges, but “if the value is greater customs charges will be calculated on the full value”.

Clarke-Graham, however pointed, out that consumers also have the right to appeal the agency's evaluation.

“… If you feel that the system has treated you unfairly you can lodge an appeal and if it goes through that appeal process internally, we call it the Internal Review Committee Meeting that adjudicates over that matter, and if you're still not satisfied then you can take that matter to the Revenue Appeals Division, which is external to customs and that is within the Ministry of Finance,” she advised.

She added, “If you're still not satisfied with the outcome of the Revenue Division then you can take it as far as the Revenue Court, so Customs is not the final arbiter on the matter. There is still a process of redress for you”.

Meanwhile, JCA senior director of legal affairs Hazel Edwards also made an appeal to arriving passengers to accurately declare when travelling with cash over US$10,000.

“I want to take the opportunity to encourage people to desist from unlawful activities. Make an accurate declaration at Customs, we are not going to take away your cash. This is an opportunity to simply verify that you're able to be engaged in the legitimate movement of cash. It is not unlawful to travel with large sums of money if you choose to,” she told the Business Forum.

“You can travel with any amount of cash, what is required is that once it is US$10,000 or more, you must declare it. It's very important for us to emphasise that because sometimes people believe there is a limit and therefore don't make a declaration and therefore right off the bat you have run afoul of the Proceeds of Crime Act,” she continued.

She further added, “Our officers are well trained, experienced, and are able to detect when it is that someone appears to be a person of interest. We have strong collaborative relationships with other government partners and we have a high level of visibility on travelling patterns”.

In this 2018 file photo a woman who just arrived on the island hands a Jamaica Customs Agencyofficer her documents.
BY ABBION ROBINSON Business reporter robinsona@jamaicaobserver.com

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