Customs checks at Vietnam ports: importers fear huge cost, spoilage

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The Zeusi Panama was stuck at Nha Rong-Khanh Hoi port in HCMC while Sosalco, which imported 24,000 tons of salt aboard the ship, was awaiting a quality certificate to unload the consignment

Changes to customs procedures that now require quality checks of certain imports before they leave the port have got firms worried about cost and the risk of goods spoiling.

The Ministry of Finance's Circular 128, effective November 1, moves the quality checks from importers' warehouses to ports, and companies fear that the country's drawn-out customs procedures will mean they have to leave their shipments at ports for a long time.

Professional agencies, who do the testing, sometimes have to seek permission from customs to carry them out somewhere else in case of inadequate facilities, and companies fear this will make the process even longer.

A spokesperson for Ho Chi Minh City-based firm G.B said the new regulation also means firms have to pay huge fees for keeping their consignments at ports.

Two months ago, before the system was changed, it took the firm 41 days for a check on its shipment of children toys, the spokesperson said.

Tran Quang Phung, chairman of salt trader Sosalco, whose salt cargo was stuck aboard a ship at a HCMC port, said often warehouse space is lacking at ports while it takes at least 10 days for the check.

Importers often have to leave their goods aboard ships, he said, revealing his company paid US$5,000 per day in costs while the ship was at the port in addition to the fines slapped on the ship.

The new circular aims to "kill" firms, he added.

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper quoted Le Quang Nhat, director of Nha Rong-Khanh Hoi port, as saying the new regulation is threatening to overload his port.

Even Tan Cang-Cat Lai, Vietnam's biggest and most modern container port, fears gridlocks.

Government explanation

Bui Le Hung, chief of customs supervision and management at HCMC customs, justified the change by saying importers often used to sneak substandard products into the market without having them checked.

Management had been "lax," he admitted, adding that the Ministry of Finance had ordered customs to make the change after considering various measures.

A senior executive of the General Department of Vietnam Customs, who requested anonymity, admitted to Tuoi Tre that officials had indeed anticipated congestion at ports and high costs for firms.

Another unidentified customs executive acknowledged the difficulties faced by firms, but said they can be prevented if relevant agencies cooperate effectively.

At a recent meeting with businesses based in the south, Deputy Minister of Finance Do Hoang Anh Tuan called for better cooperation between customs and inspection agencies, saying the checking process should take less than two days.

Customs officials held a meeting Tuesday with counterparts from several ministries including health and science and technology to speed up the checking process.

An unidentified customs official said before the meeting that his agency was keen that the number of items that need careful checking should be reduced. The official also said that some goods could be checked at importers' warehouses.

The customs department plans to allow certain goods like cars and medical equipment to enter the country without thorough checks.

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