Wednesday 2 December, 2020

Update: Customs Division clarifies import fees

Update July 16, 2020: 

The Customs and Excise Division of the Ministry of Finance has issued a statement clarifying import fees following claims of allegedly unfair taxes and duties for various online items.

The Division provided information on the calculation of the Custome Value (CIF) and showed an example of CIF fees for clothing and a laptop. 

The Division noted that other charges such as fuel surcharge, miscellaneous fees or handling charges are not customs charges. 

The Division also noted that where invoices are not provided or the declared values are 'found to be unacceptable', the public is advised that the customs value shall be determined in accordance with the Sixth Schedule of the Customs Act. 

The statement was issued following an online petition which called for a review of regulations guiding customs fees. 

The development comes after several reports of allegedly exorbitant shipping fees for online purchases. 

 

Original story: 

A petition has been launched online calling for a review of online charges made through the Customs Division under the Ministry of Finance. 

The petition, titled 'Stop the abusive, excessive valuation charges by T&T Customs Division on local businesses', was launched online via change.org a few days ago and has 1,000 online signatures so far. 

The petition was launched by 'Citizens for Fair Customs Reform TT' and called for more accurate calculations on items ordered online. 

'Starting at or around early 2020, there has been a noticeable change to the way in which Customs & Excise division has been evaluating packages inbound to T&T.'

'For the past few months, VAT, Duty & OPT charges seem to be skyrocketing on products that have been re-ordered, across the board, from "basic" items through "luxury" items.'

'If the law is ambiguous, the process for evaluating packages needs to be amended to accurately reflect:

- VAT based on the *actual* CIF value of the shipment

- Duty based on the *actual* CIF value of the shipment- OPT where applicable for *personal* purchases'

The group said many are also dealing with economic difficulties at this time.

'We already have enough issues with inflation, high unemployment and other issues affecting our local businesses; we cannot afford to be perceived as "price gouging" to our customers, especially not at this time.'

'If you intend to setup protectionism styled charges for items that can be manufactured locally, then that needs to be stipulated in great detail as well. As far as i am aware, we do not manufacture intricate electronics locally.'

'We want our voices to be heard. Please share your proof of excessive taxes here or email to citizensforfaircustomsreformtt@gmail.com'

The group said they may seek legal advice moving forward.

'If our voices are not heard, we will seek legal advice on how we can win this as a community.'

Some who signed the petition also left comments in support.

One woman said: 'Rates are double and triple the price of the actual item.'

One man said: 'I was overcharged drastically on a package that I normally pay less than half of what I usually pay.'

Another woman said: 'They are overdoing it with the prices especially for small items.' 

Finance Minister Colm Imbert said via Twitter that the Customs Division is able to allocate a value to items which don't have a value or where the invoice is deemed not genuine. 

Trinidadian customers are also required to pay an Online Purchase Tax of seven percent on each item. 

Imbert's response came after media reports from e-couriers who claimed that customs charges were unfairly high, driving them out of business. 

Section 22(1) of the Customs Act states that if a dispute arises over the 'proper rate or amount of duty payable on any goods imported into or exported from Trinidad and Tobago', the importer must deposit the duty demanded of him/her.

This charge will be deemed to be the proper duty payable, unless proceedings are commenced within three months.

The Act also states that if the duty deposited is not the proper duty and a lesser duty is payable, the difference between the deposit and the payable duty will be returned to the importer/exporter.

Customers wishing to query customs taxes and fees on their online items can contact Customs House (Port-of-Spain) at 625-3311.

See the petition here: https://bit.ly/2Zv6Ymt

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