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Amendments to Customs Brokers Act tackled anew Committee Source: TRADE AND INDUSTRY

THERE ARE three important issues that need to be resolved in reviewing the Customs Brokers Act of 2004. One is, defining the scope of practice of customs brokers. Two, whether or not corporations are prohibited to engage in the business of customs brokerage. And three, whether or not customs brokers are prohibited to advance charges and fees in behalf of their clients. Quirino Representative Junie Cua, chair of the Committee on Trade and Industry, presented this requisite action during a joint meeting with the Committee on Civil Service, chaired by Rep. Francis ?Blueboy? Nepomuceno (1st District, Pampanga). The joint Committee resumed its deliberations on three bills proposing amendments to certain provisions of Republic Act No. 9280 otherwise known as the Customs Brokers Act of 2004. The said measures are House Bills 2676, 4539, and 4623, respectively authored by Reps. Jesus Crispin Remulla (3rd District Cavite), Eduardo Zialcita (1st District, Paranaque City), and Cua. The authors are one in saying that certain provisions of RA 9280 need to be amended as they are deemed to have adverse effects on the country?s export industry. In his explanatory note to the bill, Rep. Cua stated that while RA 9280 aims to professionalize the practice of customs brokerage, some of its standards, rules and regulations encroach on matters relating to trade, particularly on exports and imports. Similarly, Rep. Zialcita explained that numerous stakeholders in the importation and exportation sectors have raised apprehensions that RA 9280 tends to impede rather than facilitate the smooth and rapid flow of commerce in the country. He averred that among their particular concerns are the prohibition against corporate practice of the activities of customs brokerage and the ban against unauthorized practice of activities related to the facilitation and release of goods even by their owners, which results in slowing down the process of commerce. Rep. Remulla, author of HB 2676, also explained that the present state of the law if not corrected, will actually serve to be in restraint of trade, and hence, violative of the Constitution. During the meeting of the Committee last week, Emma Mijares of the Department of Trade and Industry?s Export Development Council (DTI-EDC) expressed support to the proposed measures saying they aim to fine-tune the law in line with trade facilitation and development objectives. ?(The proposed law) ensures consistency with existing laws and policies that will redound to the benefit of the economy,? she added.

From the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, Inc. (JCCIPI), its president Shinsuke Ike said the organization advocates the amendment of RA 9280 since the law increases cost of trade by slower turn?around time for customs clearance and disregards other related laws and regulations, including the Tariff Code and Customs Code of the Philippines. Moreover, he said RA 9280 discourages foreign investors to continue investing in businesses resulting in the termination of a great number of jobs. Michael Raeuber, a member of the Board of Directors of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP), informed the body that his organization, which is composed of 710 corporate members, has long advocated the amendment of RA 9280. He pointed out that the prohibition of corporations to engage in the customs brokerage business is contrary to the desire and interest of European companies which want to deal with reputable, financially and operationally capable firms that are technically equipped to handle their members? requirements. Rauber also averred that member companies are not willing to entrust their customs clearance requirements to single individual brokers since they cannot comply with bonding, security, financial and transport requirements of corporations. He mentioned that member companies are concerned by the requirement of RA 9280 that their import shipments can only be signed by customs brokers, which is contrary to the desire of owners of shipments to sign customs documents themselves to ensure protection of their interest. ?Our members fear that their shipments may be released without their knowledge, or that shipments purporting to be theirs are brought in and released without their knowledge and consent,? he said. On the other hand, Honorato Colico, chairman of the Professional Customs Brokers Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PCBAPI), stated that the main intention of RA 9280 is to professionalize the practice of customs brokerage and to treat the same as a career and vocation with the primary objective of protecting government revenue and the importer?s and exporter?s interests which will be beneficial to the economy in particular and to the country in general. Lawyer Leonides David and Adriano Rimando also of PCBAPI added that the deletion of Section 6 of RA 9280 is an unfair move which will affect the professional practice of the customs brokers. From the Bureau of Customs (BOC), director Reynaldo Umali stressed that in the professionalization of the customs brokerage profession, he hopes that the problem of smuggling in the customs or in the trading business will be addressed. He said the bureau really wants to establish clear responsibilities to better identify and prosecute violators. He added that the law to be passed by Congress must focus on how to improve and enhance the systems and procedures of the Bureau.

Rep. Cua requested the BOC to submit all available data pertaining to the volume of business transactions, either through importation or exportation, by corporate and non-corporate customs brokers to aid the joint Committee in its deliberation of the said bills in an executive session.