One portal, 22 permits
Along with other countries in Europe, the Netherlands has now started using the European Customs Trader Portal and the associated Customs Decision Management System (CDMS) as of 1 May 2019. For the time being only for so-called cross-border authorisations: UCC* authorisations issued in this country valid for more than one member state. From now on, companies that hold or need such a permit will have to make their applications and requests for changes digitally using the new portal. Customs officers Arjan van Hees and Ronnie de Croon tell us why the Netherlands didn’t join the system before. “We wanted to know for sure that it was good enough for us to use.”
The European Commission brought the EU Trader Portal and CDMS online back in October 2017. “Right from the moment they became available in the test environment – in August of that year – our staff made extensive trials of all 22 kinds of authorisations in both systems to see how they worked,” De Croon explains. “We came to the conclusion that neither system satisfied our standards of quality. One problem was that the data elements of applications and authorisations were based on draft legislation that was not yet in line with the published Annex A of the UCC. We could see that both businesses and Customs would run into a lot of road blocks caused by functional issues. That was the reason the Netherlands didn’t go live on 2 October 2017, but instead waited until the biggest bugs had been worked out.”
In that same year the European Commission, in collaboration with the member states, started a project to analyse the then-evident and predictable future bottlenecks. De Croon has been involved in this as the Netherlands’ National Project Manager, while Van Hees is participating in the EU project Uniform User Management & Digital Signature (UUMDS) in the same capacity.
Takes some getting used to
After launching revision 1.2 in the fall of 2017, new releases have regularly followed, each of them resolving various problems. The EU Trader Portal and CDMS finally improved to the point where the Netherlands decided to jump in too as of 1 May 2019. De Croon: “Right now the European Commission is working on the next major release, which will be up and running in June or July 2020. This version is being developed in an iterative process and will be in line with UCC legislation in terms of data elements. Member states, including several of our own customs officers, are intensively active in testing the interim results. This can only be good for the quality of the systems. Companies and customs officers still have to get used to the fact that all communications and interactions via the EU Trader Portal take place digitally. Previously people often made requests by email or by phone for changes in an authorisation.”
In order to get access to the portal, users need what’s called an e-Identification document, which can be obtained from various providers. “e-Identification can be seen as a kind of DigiD for businesses,” Van Hees explains. “It’s a centralised system for digital authentication. Put a different way: you can check to see if someone really is the person they say they are. The concept allows for different levels of security. Dutch Customs has chosen level 3, which works with a user’s name and password, plus verification. The verification might be a text-message or a token. Higher levels carry additional requirements, including certificates or extra security keys.”
“Companies that already use e-Identification don’t have to buy anything new,” Van Hees continues. “You simply have to buy the relevant customs services from the supplier, although you have to make sure you’re getting the right authorisation. By using e-Identification, companies can access well over 400 government authorities, including the Dutch Tax Administration and the Employee Insurance Agency. And for all the services they purchase with e-Identification, they can use the same in-log data – that means for access to the EU Trader Portal, too. Customs approaches this issue as one unified body. Via our own portal there’s a hot link to the EU Trader Portal in-log page, where you enter what kind of business you do with Europe, and whether you’re logging in on behalf of your company or as customs representative. Part of the login procedure is that the European system checks with the Dutch e-Identification provider that you are who you say you are and verifies which authorisations you hold. These have been entered in the so-called business profile, which in turn is connected to the e-Identification service catalogue.”
Van Hees advises companies and customs representatives not to wait too long in acquiring their e-Identification. “Last March in our webinar on the EU Trader Portal we already pointed out that you have to arrange this before it becomes obligatory. That’s because of things like the requirement to authorise different people in your organisation, which takes time – particularly if it’s a big company. Luckily, given the numbers and the kinds of questions that we fielded during the webinar, the message has been received by the target group. Also because people can see the benefit of this digital turn: you’ll be able to apply for all your European authorisations in one go, instead of re-applying to every member state.”
“The UCC regulations also actually prescribe this further digitalisation in order to achieve greater harmonisation in the EU,” De Croon adds. “For example, the UCC lays out in great detail how the application form for those 22 authorisations should be set up.”
Dutch Customs is also going to pluck the fruits of the new system. De Croon: “In the past we had to register each cross-border authorisation issued in a different EU country separately in our own national system. With the arrival of Customer References Services – CRS for short – we’ve set up a centralised European database that gives member states insight into authorisations that have been formerly issued. All customs systems are eligible to use this service in order to, for example, validate their declarations. And on October 1 there will be a new portal supporting applications for AEO authorisations and BTIs (Binding Tariff Information decisions, ed.). Ultimately we’re headed for one single overarching EU portal, where all facilities and systems like DMS, BTI and AEO will come under one umbrella. That will make access even easier, both for us and for our customers.”
* The Union Customs Code entered into force on 1 May 2016.