Customs Tax Status of Goods

            The Customs Procedure Codes (CPC) and the Tax Status of goods are inextricably linked. The CPC codes indicate what the Tax Status of goods are.

“export taxes from South Africa may become levied for the first time…”

The following definitions are important in understanding the concept of Tax Status in the new Customs Control Act:

Tax” is defined as “an import tax, export tax or domestic tax on goods”.

Taxable” indicates that an “import or export tax has been imposed… in terms of a tax levying Act”.

Tax Levying Act” means any legislation other than the Customs Control Act on which tax is levied. It includes any international agreements to which other legislation applies. It particularly includes the:

–        Customs Duty Act

–        Value-added Tax Act

–        Excise Duty Act

–        Diamond Export Levy Act

–        Diamond Export Levy Administration Act

A Tax Status may be conferred on Home Use goods or goods which attract any other Customs Procedure. The following Tax Statuses may apply to goods:

–        Tax Due Status

–        Tax Free Status (of tax imposed)

–        Tax Refundable Status (on domestic tax such as VAT and Excise duty)

The Customs Duty Act also makes reference to a “Partial Tax Due Status”.

            An interesting development at SARS over the past few years has being the imposition of environmental levies on goods such as plastic bags, tyres, and CO2 tax on motor vehicles.

            Industry rumors are abound that export taxes from South Africa may become levied for the first time in a number of decades. The new Customs legislation makes sufficient provision for the possibility of export taxes.


Customs Compliance in South Africa

Logistics personnel don’t always get taught about customs procedures. DSV’s Customs Manager in Port Elizabeth, Graeme Lennie, has written a free white paper to help businesses avoid some of the pitfalls. To get free expert insight about key aspects of South Africa’s customs rules visit Free White Paper 

How do Customs Procedure ‘Codes’ work?

            Customs Procedure Codes (CPC) consist of three parts. The first part is the Procedure “Category” Code (PCC), for example:

Category Description
A Home Use Procedure
B National and International Transit
C Transhipment Procedure
D Temporary Admission
E Warehousing Procedure
F Stores Procedure
G Tax Free Shops Procedure
H Export Procedure
I Temporary Export and Re-Importation
J Inward Processing Procedure
K Processing for Home Use
L Outward Processing Procedure

            The second part of the code is the Requested Procedure Code (RPC). This is the “Purpose” of the Customs declaration (examples to follow).

            The third part of the code is the Previous Procedure Code (PPC). This is the code of the “Previous” Customs declaration used in the movement of goods under Customs control.

“But don’t worry too much about the acronyms…”

            But don’t worry too much about the acronyms namely PCC, RPC and PPC. Your only real objective is to have a broad understanding of how the CPC and their intended use works. Here is an example of the three parts of a code for A11.00 (Home Use of goods, on imported goods):

Procedure Category Requested Procedure  Previous Procedure
A 11* 00
Home Use Home use on goods, of imported goods None

*The “1”  series generally means Home Use goods

In this example, the Previous Procedure is “00”. Whenever you see a “00”, it means that there was no Previous Procedure. In other words, there was no previous Customs clearance for the goods being cleared.

            Taking this example further, if you had cleared the goods directly into a bonded warehouse (E – Warehouse Procedure), and you subsequently cleared the goods out of the warehouse as Home Use goods (A – Home Use Procedure), the codes would look as follows:

  Procedure Category Requested Procedure  Previous Procedure
First Clearance E 40* 00
Ware-housing Clearance of imported goods into a customs warehouse under the Warehousing procedure None
Second Clearance A 11 40*
Home Use Home Use of goods… …previously placed under the Warehousing procedure

*The “4”  series generally means Warehouse goods

Notice the “40” in each of the two codes. In the first clearance, the “40” (because of its centre position) means that the goods are being placed into a bonded warehouse. In the second clearance the “40” (now at the end position) means that the goods are being taken out of the bonded warehouse where they were initially cleared. The “11”, which now takes precedence in the centre position, means that the goods are being cleared for Home Use. One needs to have an understanding of how the codes work and how the positioning of the codes affect the status of goods.

            For those accustomed to the traditional Purpose Codes, the first clearance (E40.00) would be WH (Warehouse) and the second clearance (A11.40) an XDP (Ex Duty Paid).

            In terms of the Customs clearance declaration, the Procedure Category is cleared at header level. The remainder of the code is cleared at line level.

            For a full list of codes visit the SARS website and search for “Customs Procedure Poster” under the link “Find A Publication” on the home page.

What Are Customs Procedure Codes?

            Customs Procedure Codes (CPC) are not easily explained yet, how they work is fairly simple.

            “Procedure” Codes replace the old “Purpose” Codes. The codes follow a common format and common set of rules which all parties can follow. They are designed to indicate the “Purpose” of an import or export Customs declaration. For example, if you intend importing goods for domestic consumption in a free market environment (i.e. free movement of goods), we term this as Duty Paid (Code DP) goods. In the new Customs Acts the corresponding CPC is Home Use (Code A11.00) goods. The tax status of such goods (in this example) is that duty and VAT will be paid upon clearance for importation. Here are some examples of the old Purpose Codes (for imports):




Duty Paid


Industrial Rebate




Ex Duty Paid


Removal In Bond

Here are the corresponding new CPC (for imports):

Old Code


New Description



Home Use of goods, on imported goods



Placement of goods under the ‘Processing for Home Use’ procedure



Clearance of imported goods into a customs warehouse under the ‘Warehousing’ procedure



Home Use’ of goods, previously placed under the ‘Warehousing’ procedure



National Transit of goods ‘removed in bond’ from port/place of arrival, to place of destination inside the Republic, or a bonded warehouse in a BLNS* country

*BLNS (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland)

            The coding and wording of the CPC can be a bit confusing at first. I will explain these in more detail as I continue blogging.

            The CPC (the coding) is designed to follow the Customs supply chain in a way that links different movement procedures together; for Customs control purposes. It provides the Customs authorities with the ability to manage the supply chain using a systems approach.

            Importers and exporters use the CPC on the Customs Clearing Instructions to guide their Customs Clearing Agents. Customs Clearing Agents in turn use the CPC (as instructed by their clients) on the Customs Clearance Declaration forms (i.e. the SAD 500).

            In summary, the Tax Status of goods, including the Customs obligations and liabilities of parties during the movement of goods can be determined by understanding the Customs Procedure Codes.

Invoices for Postal Clearances

          I have seeing countless private individuals on the short end of the stick when it comes to postal clearances. Just stand at the receiving counter of any post office where foreign parcels are received. You will hear the horror expressed by mostly elderly people who have to pay excessive duties and Vat for parcels sent as gifts from abroad.  

The same often applies to companies (small companies especially) who do not anticipate the rates of duty and Vat payable for postal clearances.

          The consignor is responsible for completing the small declaration which is affixed to the outside of the parcel upon dispatch. If the value of the goods are not declared on it or if no invoice accompanies the parcel, then Customs need to improvise. And yes, they often get this wrong. Declaring inflated values for insurance purposes may also sway Customs toward higher values, leaving you at the short end of the stick when it comes to valuation.

          The Customs Officers at international postal centres are also responsible for tariffing the articles. They are responsible for determining the rates of duty and Vat applicable. If the product descriptions are insufficient, then Customs Officers will most likely use a tariff with higher rates of duty. Twenty percent is a good default rate.

          In addition, most people do not understand how the rates of duty and especially Vat are calculated. They are not aware of the hidden 10% inflation on the Customs value when calculating Vat. Ignorance will leave one with surprise.

          Anyone wishing to appeal the amounts payable must first pay for the parcel to be sent back to the Customs Assessment Centre where the decision was made. This too is a financially counterproductive exercise.

          The best advice I have for sending postal articles is to ensure that the sender includes the commercial invoice with adequate descriptions on the parcel, and to mark the declaration accordingly. Better yet, don’t bother with parcel post if it can be avoided.

Invoice as a Certificate of Origin

          There have being allot of rumors regarding the applicability of a COO (Certificate of Origin) form over the past few years. Some say that SARS have done away with the need to produce a DA 59 (the form traditionally used to as a COO).  

          But first, a generic COO form is different from an “origin certificate” related to trade agreements, i.e. EUR1 Form, SADC Certificate, and so forth. I have often seeing people confuse a COO form for a EUR1 certificate, thereby using it to benefit from a preferential rate of duty when not entitled to such. This is a classical mistake because the COO forms issued by some foreign Chambers of Commerce look similar to those used in trade agreements. The secret is to read what the respective form actually stands for, i.e. EUR1 versus Certificate of Origin. Do not take the look of the form for granted.

          The SARS DA 59 or COO does in fact still exist and is still in use. My understanding of what happened which led to the confusion regarding the use of the DA 59 came when SARS published a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) containing minimum Invoice Requirements (the most recent revision is number SC-CF-30 dated 31 March 2011). The SARS SOP states that the “country of origin” must be reflected on the commercial invoice as a minimum requirement. Therefore, in industry circles it became generally accepted that the origin of goods may be specified on the invoice in lieu of a DA 59.

          In some ways, the invoice can be regarded as a certificate of origin, although SARS do still reserve the right to verify the authenticity of origins.

          In specific instances, the DA 59 Form may still be requested by SARS in order to verify such things as anti-dumping, safeguarding and countervailing duties, and import restrictions.

Invoice Discounts

          Most small discounts of a few percentage points may be acceptable to SARS when clearing goods through Customs. The problem arises when the discounted amount is excessive.

          Naturally, the Customs legislation requires that any / all discounts must be reflected on the commercial invoice. The nature or type of discount must also be reflected on the invoice, i.e. 5% discount for advance payment.

          Determining whether the percentage of discount is excessive or not, requires knowledge of one’s industry. Anything outside of industry norms will be regarded as excessive. In any event, any discount of more than 2 – 5% will likely result in a Customs valuation investigation of some sort. The Customs intervention of discounts is important for:

·         Determining if duty and Vat is being avoided

·         Anti-competitive behavior affecting the domestic economy

·         Generally protecting the domestic economy

Unfair competition normally arises when the buyer and seller are related to one another, and if such a relationship is restrictive in any way or form. In other words, if the relationship restricts other parties in the importing country from benefiting from the same discount.

          The type of discount being offered, and when the discount was offered will also affect the applicability of the discount in the Customs valuation. Generally, discounts must have being offered and applied prior to the shipment being dispatched. In other words, the discount must have being an element in fixing the price. Also, the consignee must have earned the discount legitimately.

          The SARS Policy SC-CR-A-05 dated 24 January 2014 titled Method 1 Valuation on Imports provides an array of important information regarding discounts. If in doubt, this policy should be consulted in depth.

          In the same vein, any commissions, royalties, kickbacks and the like must also be reflected on the commercial invoice.

Invoice Proof of Payment

          Proof of payment is often required by SARS Customs in order to verify the correctness of invoice amounts.

          [The SARS requirement for proof of payment is no longer aligned to the way that banks operate…]

          Occasionally proof of payment from a bank can be hard to come by. I have seen companies work very hard, sweating in fact to obtain proof of payment from a bank thinking that this is the only option available.

          The SARS Policy SC-DT-C-13 dated 27 November 2015 covering Refunds and Drawbacks offers the best description of what is required as proof of payment, namely… “from financial institution clearly indicating the beneficiary and the applicant, method of payment, currency transfer and invoice related to the transferred currency”. Most requests from SARS require this to be bank stamped and signed.

          The SARS requirement for proof of payment is no longer aligned to the way that banks operate in this technologically advanced environment. Many banks do not print, stamp and sign the payment advice. Today, special arrangements must be made for this to happen. In addition, most companies today make bulk payments with long annexures of invoice amounts consolidated into one amount. This can get tricky as a method of proof.

          Many companies make term payments, i.e. 60 x days or 90 x days from shipment date. I have seen companies make early payment in order to obtain some form of proof in order to expedite live shipments or refund applications with SARS. While there is nothing wrong with doing this, it does defeat the objective of the term payment in the first instance.

          But, the objective of proof of payment has less to do with the payment advice and more to do with proving the value of the goods, namely the price paid or payable. There are other ways of proving the value of the goods namely:

  • Proof of payment from a previous Customs clearance of identical goods (if already paid)
  • Putting up a PP (Provisional Payment) as surety to SARS pending proof of payment
  • Suppliers price lists proving the price of the goods to be paid

These can often be negotiated or discussed with SARS Officials, although the prerogative to accept these remain in the hands of SARS.

Invoice Charges and the Freight Statement

          We have seeing allot of controversy in the recent past created by the need for freight statements. Why has this become so important?

          It has to do with the costs, charges and expenses reflected on the commercial invoice. Charges are often deducted from the Customs value as non-dutiable charges. As usual, this affects the Customs value and hence, the duties and Vat payable. This was also discussed in the blog titled… “Terms of Sale on a Commercial Invoice”.

          SARS Customs simply do not trust that the dutiable and non-dutiable charges specified on a commercial invoice, is the price that was ‘actually’ paid.

We often see charges such as freight and insurance specified on an invoice verified differently on a freight statement. This is because charges quoted at time of export are often based on estimated amounts. When the cargo is physically freighted, the actual amounts (which are occasionally different from the estimated amounts) become due; hence the need for a freight statement.

          But, what is a freight statement? Where would you obtain them?

The SARS Policy number SC-CR-A-05 dated 24 January 2014 covering Method 1 Valuation on Imports refers to freight statements as… “third party invoices”, or a “transport document”, or a “specific freight statement from the international freight carrier or freight forwarder.”.

          The Freight Forwarding Agent will most often have access to the freight statement for example, in the form of a HBL (House Bill of Lading). But this will depend on the charge, who directly contracts for the charge, and the mode of transport. Freight statements can be hard to come by. This happens when the Freight Forwarding Agent in the export country is different from the Agent in the import country. Freight amounts are very confidential. Most companies do not want to divulge such statements to third parties even though it is lawfully required by SARS. There are ways to overcome this problem but this level of depth is best left for another blog. You may also contact me via this blog to find out more.

Tariff Heading on an Invoice

          The global Customs community is becoming increasingly harmonised. But please be cautioned about the use of a tariff heading on an invoice.

[This will certainly get the attention of Customs officials who like to stop such consignments.]

          As an importer or exporter of goods you may be tempted to insist that the tariff heading should be reflected on the commercial invoice. While there is nothing wrong with this, it is not a mandatory Customs requirement. Not in South Africa in any event.

          The World Customs Organisation established the Harmonised System for the global classification of goods at a six digit level. Countries which work at an eight or ten digit level do so independently. Headings at eight (South Africa) or ten digit levels do so in order cater for domestic tariff and regulatory requirements.

          While headings are globally harmonised at a six digit level, this does not mean that classification will always be identical from one country to another. A product recognised under one heading in South Africa, might be tariffed within a different tariff heading in Germany for example.

          The simple reason for this is that different people see things differently. This is exasperated by classification in different countries in relation to culture, language, education, technological advancement in some countries (or a lack thereof in others), and so forth. Tariffing at an eight or ten digit level, (which adds to the complexity of the tariffing process) may in itself be the cause of differing opinions.

          Because inconsistencies in the tariffing of goods from one country to another do exist, headings may occasionally be misaligned. This will certainly get the attention of Customs officials who like to stop such consignments. The status of your tariff headings will depend on how you manage the tariffing process with your supplier or consignee.

          Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with having a tariff heading on a commercial invoice, so long as the classification process is managed well.