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New customs turmoil as Russia abandons UN convention

New customs turmoil as Russia abandons UN convention

Russia will no longer recognize a UN convention that established an international customs transit system aimed at speeding up the movement of goods from Aug. 14, the Federal Customs Service has announced, raising the specter of new import hassles at customs.

Customs officials have not explained the rationale behind the decision, leaving shippers baffled.

“No one knows what motivated Russia to unilaterally make this unreasonable decision,” said Marek Retelski, a senior official with the Geneva-based International Road Transport Union, which represents the entire road transport industry worldwide.

Retelski oversees the organization’s TIR department, named after the TIR Convention concluded in 1975 under the auspices of the United Nations.

TIR provides for simplified customs procedures by allowing goods to be sealed in the country of origin and to only pass through customs again in the country of destination. In transit countries customs officials are provided with a document from a booklet that entitles the transit country to customs duties.

“The decision will hit importers during the high season, September to October,” said Anton Guskov of the Association of Trading Companies and Manufacturers of Consumer Electronic and Computer Equipment. “Prices will rise, and some items will be delayed.”

In a statement announcing the decision, the customs service wrote that the Association of International Road Carriers, or ASMAP, had failed to meet its obligations to pay promised customs duties, with its debt rising from 7.3 million rubles in 2010 to more than 20 million rubles today.

ASMAP has presented a different picture. In a letter to the customs service, its CEO, Andrei Kurushin, said that of 105 claims for payment of customs duties worth 92.3 million rubles, 87 claims have been paid, 10 were challenged in court and found to be unfounded, and eight — valued at 11.5 million rubles — are under consideration. A senior EU official, Algirdas Semeta, has offered support for the account.

Russia’s withdrawal from the convention will mean that companies will have to produce an original certificate showing that they have paid customs at the border and will no longer be able to provide an electronic declaration, said Marina Lyakisheva, adviser at the DLA Piper law firm.