Man of the moment for customs of the country

With EU-UK trade negotiations at their endgame at a time when Samskip is on the verge of digitalising its customs declarations, Carlos Tjon-Kwan-Paw is in high demand as the multimodal transport operator’s “go-to customs guy”.

Samskip Manager, Customs, Carlos Tjon-Kwan-Paw joined the multimodal operator in August 2020 at a critical moment for a transport group whose largest single trade lane is between the UK and Continental Europe.

Inquiries over post-Brexit options are coming thick and fast from customers, colleagues and contractors alike, he says, with latest UK contingency plans to airlift Covid-19 vaccines adding another doubt to port waiting time expectations - deal or no deal.

For a customs and excise professional whose working life has been wholly focused on studying, practicing and mentoring others in the discipline’s processes and procedures, it is surely a testing time.

However, Carlos sees things differently:  “In some ways, my career has been leading up to this moment,” he says. “I thought the job description had been written for me.”

With experience in customs agency work, bonded warehouse management, project leadership of a customs EDI transition and a period with a US chemicals shipper, Carlos has seen processes from multiple angles. He is also fully qualified as an import and export specialist, and in licensing and taxation. In addition, he has lectured on customs at Scheepvaart & Transport College.

Nevertheless, with 800,000 container loads in transit every year and offices in 35 countries, customs as experienced as part of multimodal group Samskip is a different proposition.

Samskip Logistics Director Global Forwarding Martijn Tasma, comments: “We need to be responsive: different routes involve different customs requirements, while different departments have different documentation needs; then there is the additional challenge of the mode of transport. Shippers want the assurance from our in-house team that customs are being taken care of and, when things change, that they are fully briefed.”

Digital route

“Customs is a dynamic part of international business and I always like to be moving forward,” Carlos says. “Samskip was committed to digitalising its customs procedures and I had experience at a smaller scale, but the current project has needed to be completed quickly - as well as carefully - because of Brexit.”

In a first intervention, Carlos steered Samskip’s transport departments towards a software solution to enable digital declarations – an EDI and data management package ready for implementation without further development.

In early December, Carlos was taking the import and export parts of the system live, overseeing staff quality assurance training and re-checking all procedures. “I have seen the impact digitalisation can have for an organisation and its customers in reducing time and eradicating inputting errors and I am very much looking forward to all declarations going digital from January 1, 2020,” he says.

Brexit matters

In many respects, rigorous study of the subject and extensive practical experience mean Carlos takes a straightforward view of the customs process. “After all,” he says, “we are dealing with customs regulations and they are already known; what is important is knowing which rules apply and when.”

Even so, with post-Brexit EU-UK trade talks on a knife-edge, the need for timely and business-sensitive advice is particularly intense. Part of the solution has been to expand Samskip’s dedicated team of customs specialists, from five to eight initially.

“We are offering guidance on the pros and cons of using bonded warehousing until the importer is ready to buy, on customs clearance done in the UK and VAT registration, and on managing cashflow should WTO rules apply,” he says.

 “We are also advising on the implications of DAP (delivery at place) versus DDP (delivery duty paid) to  make sure that customers fully understand the impact of Brexit. But most important part is listening to every customer who is experiencing difficulties due to Brexit and advising them on an individual basis on the solution that fits or can improve their own process.” 

Frictionless trade

Whatever the issues arising, Carlos is fully committed to ensuring that customs documentation itself will not be a source of trade friction.

“There is no doubt that this will be a stressful time for EU-UK trade, and we have advised customers to factor in longer lead times for border controls, while there is an element of the unknown on port waiting times. What we can do is ensure that resources are in place on our side to minimise waiting times."

Shippers in the Netherlands can contact Samskip’s customs specialists direct in Rotterdam on all matters related to transport, he says, while if they don’t have a customs agent in the UK, its UK offices can handle clearance.

“Of course, shippers will continue to work with customs agents they’ve got to know over the years, but they should be aware that there is the option for Samskip to manage the whole customs process. In fact, we have the option to offer a one stop shop solution for all containers moving between the UK and Europe, including transport and customs documentation.