India eyes spring for electronic manifest rule start

India eyes spring for electronic manifest rule start


Containers stacked at a port.

India customs authorities have held public information sessions at various port locations to provide industry stakeholders with more insights into the new digital program. Photo credit:

Indian authorities and trade stakeholders are progressing regarding a new, tighter customs program involving cargo manifest rules — a 2018 regulatory reform held in abeyance, after pushback from ocean carrier/port user groups over inadequate timelines and various compliance problems.

The new rules essentially require ocean carriers and associated cargo interests to complete their manifest submissions electronically and considerably prior to the vessel’s arrival at or departure from Indian ports — akin to procedures required under the 24-hour advance manifest rule for US cargo and recent regulatory changes in China.

The new policy, titled the “Sea Cargo Manifest and Transshipment [SCMT] Regulations 2018,” will come into force March 1 — a rescheduled date after two missed deadlines, Aug. 1 and Nov. 1.

“This regulation supersedes the earlier regulations of Import Manifest [Vessels] Regulations, 1971, Export Manifest [Vessels] Regulation, 1976 and Transportation of Goods [Through Foreign Territory] Regulations of 1965,” a government notice stated. “The new regulation stipulates changes in timelines and requirements for advance notice by shipping lines [vessels] arriving in India and exports through shipping lines [vessels] out of India.”

As noted, under the SCMT framework, import general manifests (IGMs) need to be filed prior to the vessel sailing out from the last foreign port of call — meaning before entering Indian shores, whereas export general manifests (EGMs) are to be submitted prior to the vessel sailing from the Indian port of loading.

“The submission of arrival and departure manifest[s] shall have to be complied with by the ASC [authorized sea carrier]/ASA [authorized sea agent] before departure from the last port/customs station of call to every Indian customs station and departure then on respectively,” the notice said.

Similar rules for transshipment cargo

The program involves similar rules for transshipment cargo when transported between a port and an inland container depot (ICD) or a container freight station (CFS) — requiring cargo interests to file manifests prior to the departure/arrival of a train or a truck hauling that freight.

Currently, IGMs are generally filed 48 hours before vessel arrival for long-haul voyages and roughly 10 hours prior to vessel arrival for short-haul voyages — such as feeder and coastal operations. For EGMs, carriers currently have three days for online filings and seven days for manual submissions from the vessel sailing time, according to industry sources.

Furthermore, customs authorities have held public information sessions at various port locations to provide industry stakeholders with more insights into the new digital program and address their concerns. 

While no major changes to those rules are expected, officials, during a meeting at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) on Jan. 18, appeared amenable to some of the suggestions made by carrier-trade representatives, which included an extended cut-off time for manifest data amendments.

“One thing Customs is particularly firm about is that they will be implementing the notification as planned and no more extension[s] will be allowed,” an industry source said.

India’s transport industry is in the midst of widespread technological transformation and ease-of-doing-business reforms. The new customs program — designed to keep pace with a rapidly changing global freight environment — complements a revamped, nationwide port community system that went live on Dec. 11, 2018.