Window to the future

Customs and Rijkswaterstaat are collaborating on the further development of the Single Window for shipping and air. Businesses are advised to prepare themselves for the coming changes.

The realisation of a Single Window Trade & Transport came another step closer on 1 September this year. On that day the data interchange for the customs processes Entry, Exit and Provisioning and Bunkering were coupled to the existing Maritime Single Window (MSW). What does this expansion of the platform for electronic data exchange with the government mean for the business community? Ronald van den Heuvel, project manager MSW at Rijkswaterstaat*, and customs officer Sip van der Weg explain.

The underlying basis for the Maritime Single Window for shipping is a European guideline for the multiple use of data that has been supplied once only. In other words, where businesses used to be required to provide the same information repeatedly for different government bodies, they are now only required to do so once. The flow of notifications relating to the arrival and departure of ships, as well as the crew and passengers present, is now coupled seamlessly with the MSW. Where a portion of those notifications, such as reports concerning the people on board, used to be sent by fax or e-mail, for example, that now takes place entirely electronically.

Uniform procedure
“We’ve made the choice in the Netherlands to expand the MSW step by step”, Van den Heuvel explains. “Entrepreneurs who are active within other modes of transport, for example roads, railways and inland shipping, may also start to use the platform in due course. Moreover, the manifests intended for the customs processes Entry, Exit and Provisioning and Bunkering are now sent by this means in relation to both sea freight and air freight.”

Van der Weg: “Where many member states have chosen a different path, we found it the obvious choice to include those air freight notifications as an extra stream. After all, our Customs Manifest, also known as DMF, is a neutral system: it makes no difference whether you entered your goods by sea or by air. Moreover, in this way we are able to create a uniform and fully electronic procedure for submitting and receiving customs notifications, and that is far easier for both the government and the business community. Take the Exit process, for example. Up till now, paper copies of the manifest were also required to be sent. That will not be necessary from now on: a digital notification plus annex is all that’s required.”

 Thanks to this expansion, we can now say that there is a Single Window for shipping and air** – the next step towards a general Single Window Trade & Transport. This trend fits in perfectly with the development of a coordinated border management and one-stop-shop for inspection of goods, with integrated controls by various different government bodies.

Excellent cooperation
Rijkswaterstaat took the lead in working out the details of the EU guideline underlying the MSW. Since most of the notifications involved are intended for Customs, an alliance between the two organisations was clearly the way forward. Van den Heuvel: “As from day one, the collaboration has been excellent. This has involved, for example, a few customs officers working for a while within my project team. In fact, it’s the only way to complete such an assignment successfully. This may appear on paper as a purely IT-related project, but in practice it’s mainly an organisational task that needs to be completed in collaboration. On the one hand you need to pool your strengths with parties such as Customs, Seaport Police, Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, the port authorities and Logius, while on the other hand you constantly need to maintain intensive communication with the market sector. This can’t be achieved by simply allowing everyone to adjust their own system. The Single Window for shipping and air must be able to function throughout the whole public-private chain.”

Van der Weg and Van den Heuvel have so far observed a certain reticence within the business community. “Not everyone is immediately able to see the advantages of the platform”, says Van der Weg. “You hear comments such as: ‘The system’s working fine as it is, why change it?’ It’s true that sometimes people are afraid of creating yet more work. However, the quantity of notifications will not change; you will only need to submit those via a different route, which is one-off, electronic and in a new format.”

“Businesses do need to prepare for this in good time”, says Van den Heuvel. “However, the feeling of urgency is lacking in some people, even though both Customs as well as Rijkswaterstaat have been actively informing entrepreneurs for years about what’s coming. The experience gained during the changeover from the Overheidstransactiepoort to Digipoort showed that this really is necessary. In fact, that changeover entailed no more than changing a government e-mail address, which was prepared and communicated thoroughly in advance. However, it still seemed to come as a surprise to a number of companies.”

Step-by-step plan
Connecting up with the MSW must be realised by 29 December this year at the latest. “Anyone who has not achieved that on time will no longer be able to fulfil their customs obligations”, warns Van der Weg. “And if you can’t submit any notifications, then your logistics grind to a halt. No one profits from that. This is why we aim to make companies aware of the consequences. Those who have not yet made a start will need to do so, and soon. We’ve contacted around 140 parties so far – software developers and parties that facilitate the market with a port community system. We also advise everyone to check whether their own software provider has its affairs in order. Furthermore, if you organise your software internally, then it’s important for you to get in contact with Logius. This means that the pressure is coming from two sides. On the website of the National Helpdesk you can find a description of the whole connection process set out in a detailed step-by-step plan.”

Greater harmonisation
“Despite the reticence which is visible here and there, a large number of businesses indicate that they do wish to follow this path”, according to Van der Weg. “You see that a large portion of the business community is following the development towards coordinated border management and one-stop-shop controls with special interest. We’ve heard many people say: ‘What’s next? Coupling with inland shipping or road transport?’ At Customs, together with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, we are looking into the possible following steps. Moreover, we are seeking to have active consultations with the European Commission in order to achieve greater international harmonisation. The market urgently needs that as well.”

* Rijkswaterstaat: the Department of Waterways and Public Works.

** The Single Window for shipping and air is available for electronic notifications submitted to Customs, Royal Netherlands Marechaussee/Seaport Police and NCA SafeSeaNet.

Dot on the horizon
A second dot on the horizon, besides a Single Window Trade & Transport, is the exchange of data on a European scale. This could be achieved, for example, through a network of national Single Windows. Van den Heuvel: “The idea is that the data relating to a ship, which is submitted to us after its arrival at Rotterdam and before it continues on to Germany, can be used again in Germany. Customs services already share information directly, but this type of forward notification could also work well via the SW. However, we’re unable to achieve that yet, which is partly due to a lack of international harmonisation and standardisation. Naturally, this concerns the differences in national legislation, although it is also due to the fact that the SW is based on a guideline and not a regulation. This means that the separate member states were able to make their own choices by the implementation, and it has been organised slightly differently in each country.”

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