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Future-proof goods traffic systems

How digitalization is shaping customs

Electronic customs systems are already commonplace in Europe's unified customs territory. The most important processes in freight handling have been digitized and optimized across the board, thanks to the use of digital tools in day-to-day business. Transport management software enables the easy and effective creation of transport orders, the optimization of routes according to available capacity, and the selection of the most environmentally friendly transport option. Warehouses can be managed with ease, messages between airlines exchanged in real time, and packages can be clearly tracked from the first to the last mile. Modern customs systems should also be as digital, paperless, and as timesaving as possible in order to prevent stagnation in supply chains. One example from German Customs is the IMPOST application for the import clearance of mail and courier shipments with a value of less than €150. It was introduced to the ATLAS application in 2022.

In this article, we examine the rising digitalization of various transit procedures throughout Europe by taking a closer look at the three largest European IT systems for importing and exporting goods: the German IT application ATLAS, its Swiss counterpart PASSAR, and the Dutch goods traffic system DMS, and demonstrate how an integrated customs software can help speed up transit procedures in cross-border traffic.

Benefits for customs and handling agents

When handling shipments electronically, many freight forwarders and customs agents use customs software that automates declaration procedures and exchanges data via interfaces with the most common commerce systems. Utilizing customs software to declare goods at the border not only speeds up declaration procedures, but also often helps simplify data entry and assists in finding the correct customs tariff number. The question is: how do tax authorities compete when it comes to digitizing declaration processes? Through new and more powerful IT systems, many European customs administrations already offer a way to digitally handle processes and procedures. Time is known to be a cost factor in the transport business and thus has a direct impact on a company’s competitiveness. Therefore, all European customs authorities have had to adapt to the digitization trend and have programmed their goods traffic systems to be future-proof. With good results: Especially during the pandemic, the IT infrastructure of the customs services proved to be effective. Thanks to digitized import procedures, masks and other relief supplies, for example, were cleared faster and thus made available to the population quickly, early on in the pandemic. However, the complexity of European customs procedures places high demands on the customs software to be used. We will take a closer look at three of these examples below.

The Automated Tariff and Local Customs Clearance System (ATLAS)

ATLAS is a modern and highly complex IT system landscape for automated customs clearance in Germany. It electronically maps cross-border goods management processes - from import to storage to export. ATLAS also considers up to 500 legal requirements and regulations from international trade agreements that apply to the clearance of goods in international trade. About a quarter of the EU customs revenue collected annually by German customs comes from ATLAS.

The system is based on a modern architecture: messages to customs are created and sent in XML format. ATLAS also includes interfaces to German authorities and the customs authorities of other EU countries. The IT system thus meets all the requirements for the largely automated clearance and monitoring of cross-border goods traffic in Germany. The ATLAS application enables the declaration in the following procedures:

  • Import
  • Export
  • Shipping
  • ENS declaration
  • Temporary storage
  • Customs warehousing
  • Processing traffic
  • eCommerce declarations (import clearance of postal and courier shipments up to €150)

In addition, ATLAS includes information applications for the electronic customs tariff (EZT), and the ZELOS application for electronic document exchange (request for documents and statements). 

Easier declaration at the Swiss border with PASSAR

PASSAR is the name of the new goods traffic system of the Swiss Federal Office for Customs and Border Security for the digital processing of customs procedures. It is scheduled to go live on June 1, 2023, and will gradually replace the current NCTS and e-dec customs applications. The aim is to use standardized processes to reduce administrative work and the use of paper at the border. Yet, what is new about PASSAR, and why is it superior to the current e-dec and NCTS applications? PASSAR’s most important innovation concerns the transport process: goods that are to be shipped can be declared to the customs system long before they are transported. This converts them into known shipments. Any intended revision can also be specified on the customs side. During transit and export, these goods declarations are then integrated into a transport declaration by means of their registration number. The transport declaration contains additional information on the means of transport for the border crossing. Referencing thus enables automated "activation" of all goods declarations upon arrival at the border.

At this point, decisions made in advance come into effect and, if necessary, are communicated directly to the driver. If no intervention is foreseen, the truck can simply continue its journey. The system can be activated not only from the forwarder's office. Swiss Customs also provides a special mobile app for drivers for this purpose. A license plate recognition system is installed at the major border customs offices, which can automatically activate the goods declarations. Long waiting times at customs borders and complicated declaration procedures with many hard copy documents should be a thing of the past.

European Union Customs Code provides the basis for DMS

In order to align the Dutch customs systems with the Union Customs Code (UCC), the Dutch government decided to introduce a new customs goods management system called "Douaneaangiften Management Systeem" (DMS for short) in 2022. DMS replaces the current goods movement system AGS, as well as the procedure for periodic declarations (GPA/SPA) and, at the same time, covers the existing procedures for transferring goods to a customs warehouse. The initial pilot phase in this project has already been completed, and as of December 01, 2023, all customs declarations at the Dutch border and in the seaports are to be made exclusively via DMS. The transition to a more modern goods movement system required technology-driven processes that can handle highly automated real-time declarations. Dutch Customs has now met this requirement with the introduction of the new goods movement system.

Customs software provides cross-system support

Although electronic customs systems are already commonplace in the European Union's unified customs territory, many companies quickly lose track of the various IT systems used by European customs authorities, and the multitude of processes involved. This is where a customs software like Scope can help: by integrating the most important European IT customs procedures, customs agencies or handling agents can offer their clients an all-round service for customs declarations. With Scope, customs declarations can be created within seconds using predefined templates. A global search field allows Scope to quickly find numerous search terms across modules (e.g. a forwarding shipment with all its associated customs declarations). In addition, Scope automatically checks master data such as office numbers, EORIs or the DPL status of parties in the background. Interaction with authorities and customs representatives is handled via the application's digital interfaces. Customers operating in the German-Swiss border area, for example, can transfer data from ATLAS AES directly to e-dec Import, and from e-dec Export to ATLAS Import. This saves time and ensures smooth customs processing. Scope further speeds up import and export operations by checking the plausibility and completeness of declarations and consolidating all messages from customs in just one system.

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