The CBFCA National Conference is currently in session in the Gold Coast and many of the early sessions (including mine) have addressed the relationship between the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service ("Customs") and those who deal with and report to Customs such as licensed customs brokers ("LCB").

The relationship has been described in positive terms by both sides and much has been made of the promise by Customs to engage with industry on issues affecting industry.  There has been a general sense of positive engagement and a willingness to work through interactions.

Accordingly, it was with some surprise during the lunch break after my presentation that I came across ACBPN No 2014/52 which appears to have been released while we were in the conference sessions.  The Notice can be found here.

The Notice raises a serious issue of "identity theft" within the Customs Integrated Cargo System ("ICS") whereby Customs suggest that LCB allow parties to "piggyback" on the identity and details of legitimate traders without checking that the party is, in fact that legitimate trader.  The intent would be that the person incorrectly claiming the identity of the legitimate trader would not receive the same level of scrutiny of their consignments.

The Notice warrants close reading but I would make the following preliminary observations:

  • The issue is, indeed a serious one.  It is also one that LCBs and traders have been raising with Customs for some time! 
  • I have acted for traders whose identity has been stolen in this way which has led to adverse consequences to those traders. Yet, even then Customs cannot share the details of the parties who have stolen the identity which makes it impossible to take protective steps to defend identity.
  • Even though the issue is serious there seems to be no specific reason for it to be released now – it could have been separately raised in any one of a number of forums before release.
  • I am unaware of any general discussions between industry and Customs before the release of the Notice.
  • The Notice is quite critical of LCB in suggesting that they have not taken the issue seriously and have been guilty of focussing more on business building than checking the identity of their trader clients, implicating LCB as part of the problem.
  • The Notice overlooks the fact that many in industry have been complaining of this issue for a number of years and proposed a number of ways that the issue could be addressed, including allowing traders to permanently link to prescribed service providers and requiring payments direct from traders.  These suggestions have all been rejected for various reasons which has always seemed unreasonable.

Clearly this is an issue where LCB need to be careful and ensure that they are acting for those who are, in fact, who they claim to be.  However it seems to be unreasonable to issue the Notice in such critical terms without earlier engagement and discussion.

As always, delighted to assist in developing processes to manage exposure to these risks.