After adapting to the integrated, nationwide goods and services tax reform that came into force a year ago, ocean carriers operating to/from India, as well as other players in the supply chain, now face a greater challenge complying with new customs rules — dubbed the Sea Cargo Manifest and Transshipment (SCMT) Regulations 2018.
The new regulations require carriers to complete their advanced manifest submissions considerably prior to the vessel’s arrival or departure — akin to the long-running 24-hour advanced manifest rule for US cargo and recent regulatory changes in China.
Under SCMT, filing of import general manifests (IGMs) needs to be done prior to the vessel departing from the last foreign port of call — meaning before sailing into Indian shores, whereas export general manifests (EMGs) are to be submitted prior to the vessel sailing from the Indian port of loading.
Currently, IGMs are generally submitted 48 hours before vessel arrival for long-haul voyages and 10 hours prior to vessel arrival for short-haul voyages — such as feeder and coastal operations.
For EMGs, carriers presently have three days for electronic filings and seven days for manual filings from the vessel sailing time.
The new rules also stipulate a similar procedure for transshipment cargo when transported between a port and an inland container depot or a container freight station — meaning manifests are to be filed prior to the departure/arrival of a train or a truck carrying that cargo. However, it is unclear whether the onus is on the train operator or the trucker regarding this requirement.
"Any authorized carrier who contravenes any provision of these regulations shall be liable to a penalty which may extend to rupees fifty thousand (about $730)," the public notice stated.
New customs requirements delayed until Nov. 1
The new customs notice was to take effect Aug. 1, but its implementation has been delayed until Nov. 1, after industry groups lobbied hard with authorities for more time to prepare themselves for regulatory changes.
The Container Shipping Lines’ Association (India), or CSLA, the local umbrella body of foreign shipping lines, and the Maritime Association of Nationwide Shipping Agencies-India (MANSA), which represents the local ship agents’ community, have been spearheading those efforts. These associations held discussions with government officials on July 19, during which industry leaders highlighted various practical difficulties the revised customs order presents and requested members be given more leeway to comply with new regulations.
CSLA emphasized the fact that delays surrounding manifest submissions could prove to be a disruptive factor for the trade, inasmuch as vessels may encounter longer port stays with additional cost implications for carriers and potential terminal productivity setbacks.
CSLA also said with port modernization and speedier operations, vessels are typically able to sail in less than a day and at times, even in six to eight hours, and, as such, the group argued that it would be nearly impossible for any vessel operator to submit the EGM prior to vessel sailing.
CSLA, however, said it remains supportive of government efforts to improve supply chain efficiency.
In addition, MANSA, in a letter to customs authorities, stated, “Our members earnestly request that any sweeping changes which were not in vogue may kindly be introduced by firstly making a trial run, identifying/rectifying all likely snags/glitches before final implementation of the notification.”
Freight forwarders contacted by JOC.com also expressed concerns that documentation delays — which are very likely — could result in export cargo missing the intended sailing.
Meanwhile, Singapore-based APL on Tuesday issued a customer advisory regarding new customs rules defined under SCMT and called on customers to provide all necessary details in a timely manner.
“The new regulations make it compulsory for shipping lines, exporters, and importers to adhere to the defined timelines for the cargo manifestation for imports arriving in India and for exports out of India, and the transshipment via Indian ports,” the advisory stated.
While there is no denying that the new, tighter regulations pose a considerable compliance burden for maritime logistics providers, those customs rule changes reaffirm a general industry view that India’s government is determined to accelerate reforms, as part of its plan to support the emerging market nation's strong GDP growth.