Customs codes cause chaos

| 11/07/2014

(CNS): Local business owners and overseas shoppers are tearing their hair out as they battle with the new code system recently implemented by the customs department. According to a number of CNS readers, the new system is causing untold delays and creating another bureaucratic barrier to business. Custom officials have admitted that there are some teething problems but said they are doing their best to help importers and running workshops. Nevertheless, customers say that the time dealing with customs has increased significantly and officers are not yet able to answer their questions about the new system, which has increased the number of codes from some 300 to over 5,000.

The Chamber of Commerce president raised his concerns this week in response to growing membership complaints about the delays and urged customs to find solutions.

“We have had representations from some of our members who have expressed concerns about the new system,” said Johann Moxam. “The biggest issues would appear to be around the amount of time it is taking and the lack of customer support. We would encourage the acting collector of customs and the department to continue their educational seminars and focus groups and be open to the suggestions and legitimate concerns of business owners.”

He said it was imperative that Cayman has a system that works for all. “With anything new, it takes time to sort out all the issues. We would encourage customs and business owners to work in partnership to find a resolution to this matter," he added.

Frustration appear to be running high, however, as the delays in collecting goods see business owners or their employees wasting the best part ofthe working day wrestling with the paperwork that comes with the code expansion.

According to Collector of Customs Samantha Bennett, the law introduced a new harmonized commodity description and coding system used in more than 250 countries worldwide but it requires far more detail and the process was time consuming. 

“The system will improve, however we are just moving through the teething pains of a new IT system, new change in law and new process requirements,” she said.

With plans for the introduction of an online process in the autumn and more staff, the collector hopes to see the process speed up.

The aim of the law and the harmonized codes, which was rolled out in March, is to provide the government with more accurate data on the imports coming into Cayman. It will enable Cayman to collect data, allowing customs to monitor controlled goods, the origin, transport statistics and prices. It will also help with the compilation of Cayman’s national accounts and economic analysis. Officials have also stated that it will bring the country in line with international standards.

Related Viewpoint: New Customs Tariff Law (2012)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The codes are not the problem.  The inept customs service is the problem.

  2. Anonymous says:

    If this is really about 'statistics'  then this is clearly the wrong approach.  It has already been identified that the simple statistic of the number of countries is incorrect and with such a complex system it is a breeding ground for more errors which will produce inaccurate statistics.  So what is going to be achieved by all this extra labour and time?

    A rise in the price of consumer products is the only real outcome.  What a foolish government we have.  The collector of customs should be removed and replaced with someone, that will fulfil the duty of collecting revenue and not statistics which only serve the politicians for their own political gain, after all, the line between statistics and lies is very thin.

    • Anonymous says:

      You are correct. If the purpose of this coding system is for statistics gathering then let the Department of Economics apply the codes and do the appropriate statistical information gathering. It apprears they are trying to avoid this burden in their department by having the codes tagged at the point of entry which of course slows down the importation process which is the wrong thing to do. It slows things down and ends up increasing the cost of living in an already too expensive destination.

      In a perfect world, the suppliers would code their invoices and everything would be handled seamlessly by computers. But the world is not there yet. We still deal with paper and inputting data from paper to computer should not be the job of importers or Customs. If some department in government wants to code every item imported then let their department do this at their leisure after the goods are cleared and the paperwork completed.

      The slow down we are experiencing right now is not a "teething" or learning period. This extra coding step will keep the process slowed down forever until it is taken away fro Customs and performed  elsewhere.

      Tell your elected representative that the law must be changed and to put an immediate stop to this insanity. We elected this government in hopes of preventing this type of fiasco. Let them show us that we as  voters made the right choices and to clean up this mess the previous government left for us.

  3. Anonymous says:

    If this is the way C.I.G & Customs wants it , so be it. As a retail supplier, I've given the entire task of Customs over to a broker who charges for the clearance. Also there are some items now that were at 22% duty , that have changed to 25% , purely due to the description within the harmonized coding. So with the increase in duty , the additional cost of the brokerage to the total landed costs will result in a raised local retail cost , once the profit margin is added.  This wont affect the affluent consumer in the grand scheme of things for most small purchases , but it is going to drive up the cost of living for many. Cayman will surely keep edging closer & closer to many of the other more expensive places to live.

    • Anonymous says:

      Correct. We will be putting up our prices. It cost me a staff member 8 hrs to clear customs last week and all our documents were correct, which took us 4 hrs in the office to complete… This unfortunately costs me therefore I have to increase my retail item. As the writer above notes, maybe the statistics depth should get off their à…s and do their job…

  4. Anonymous says:

    It is true. I too checked and found there are only about 196 countries in total on planet Eearth.

    How and where did the Collector of Customs come up with her statement that more than 250 countries in the world"  are using this system?????????????

    I hope and expect this to be made clear since it appears to be either a typo, a misstatement or deliberate deceitful propoganda aimed at trying to justify this enormous fiasco.

    Lower all duties to a flat 15% across the board then stand back and watch Cayman thrive!

    I do however believe there should be an extra heavy duty levied on extravagant luxury items like yachts, planes, expensive automobiles etc to help offset the great divide between rich and poor. Such a tax would also help to make up for the lower flat rate of 15%.

    Our legislators represent us and are quite cabable of changing or abolishing laws that do more harm than good. This one is doing more harm.



    • Anonymous says:

      Who do you think you are to suggest a simple, reliable, workable customs duty system?

      Are you a foreign consultant who charges exorbitant fees to thegovernment?

      Just joking, I agree with you completely. 

    • Anonymous says:

      AND the Cayman Islands is not counted among the 196. The 193 or 196 countires listed (depending on the reference site you choose) are independent countries (as recognised by the UN)….however if you count all the various territories of the listed countries the number of "countries" rises considerable….so maybe that was the number Ms Bennet was referring to?

  5. Nicholas Robson says:
    One has to ask who this system is benefiting? If businesses are going to have to dedicate a great deal more time as well as employing more staff this new “harmonized system” wilk only increase prices of goods for everyone in the Cayman Islands.
    If this system is only being implemented for the purposes of statistic gathering I questionwhether  statictics are important enough to justify a increase in the cost of living.
    These islands are already an extremely expensive place to reside and increasing the cost of living will only exacerbate social issues here where many people are already struggling, particularly with the cost of energy.
    Nicholas Robson
    Cayman Institute
  6. Anonymous says:

    Chaos is not the word. I went there on Saturday. There were no codes for what I wanted. I asked and was given erroneous information. People had been there for hours.

    We know what the duty rates are. Big government has no business with any more information.

    This is either total incompetence or the annihilation of small businesses.

  7. anonymous says:

    How can you expect a new system to work when it was quite apparent that the old system was still being learnt? Nobody had any grasp on what was happening then. It appeared as if they were making it up as they went along. I suspect nothing has changed and doubt things will.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I wish Customs would also consider this.


    Using 8 digit codes allows for up to 100 million possible unique numbers. We currently have a code list consisting of 5000 codes (many of which are unneccessary). Do we really need 100 million possibilities? These long numbers take extra time to enter and are more susceptible to transposing errors.


    A better way would be to use alpha-numeric codes. That is a letter of the alphabet and a 3 digit number. Using all the letters of the alphabet and 3 digits will allow for over 18 thousand unique codes.


    There is no reason why we need to adopt a coding system used by much larger countries. The codes are for us to use for ourselves, not for the rest of the world to access.


    As the saying goes, “Work smarter not harder!”

    • Anonymous says:

      CORRECTION >>>>>

      1. There are 196 countries in the world today. Taiwan is not considered an official country by many, which would bring the count down to 195 countries. Although Taiwan operates as an independent country, many countries (including the U.S.) do not officially recognize it as one.


    • Anonymous says:
      • AND ANOTHER .

      so which one do we follow???


  9. Knot S Smart says:

    As promised earlier I wish to disagree with the excuses used by Customs to support this new 5000 category system.

    Ms Bennett – with the greatest respect to you and your supporting reasons for implementing this monstrosity of a system upon a business community that is already enduring more than enough hardship – please would you shed some light on these questions:

    1. Which 250 countries from this list of 199 countries that exist in the world, are already using the Harmonized Tariff Code? Please provide the list to CNS for us all to see. Please see the link for 199 countries that make up the population of planet earth:

    2. Exactly how will this new code allow Customs to monitor controlled goods? 

    3. How will this help Customs to monitor the country of origin of goods imported into the islands?  We import mainly from America but a large percentage of the goods are made in other countries e.g. China, Korea, Japan, South America etc. Since we are importing from America and listing that on our origin, how does this help Customs to determine the real origin of the products?

    4. Who will benefit from these detailed 5000 list of different imports? New people who are starting a business as the statistics department representative claimed at your training session? You really believe that? You are going to kill existing businesses so people who have not yet invested a dollar in Cayman can obtain useless information?

    5. How will this help the country's national accounts bearing in mind that most departments in government are years behind in compiling accurate accounts of their own spending?

    Ms Bennett – to be fair to you, this system is not your fault. You and your department are just the messengers in this case, and it is your unfortunate job to justify it. I really feel sorry for you. But as the head of Customs you are the best person to inform the Premier that neither the public, the business community, nor your department are ready for this system.

    The sensible thing to recommend is that we go back to the old system for a year or two and slowly implement the system in stages, after your department are up to speed with this. In the meantime those importers who wish to get started using the 5000 codes should have to bring their entries for dropoff and pick them up in a few days. You need additional staff to handle those drop-off importers so that those who wish to stand in line and use the old system can have a faster processing time.

    And finally – who caused this mess? Well I will save that for another post.

    In the meantime I urge the Premier and your government – do not ignore this major crisis to the business and general community. We did not elect either the Statistics Department, or the Customs Department, nor the not so smart government that implemented this law in 2012 – We elected you and the PPM…

    Kindly solve the problem as quickly as possible…


  10. Anonymous says:

    A problem with Cayman is that it is always confusing itself with large 1st world countries in North America or Europe so you have civil servants mimicing large 1st world countries ways of doing things.

    Hence this current public relations disaster. A little ounry of 50,000 needs a complex system that overwhelms an import dependent society?


  11. Anonymous says:

    The flow of goods through our shops, markets and stores is like the flow of blood through the body. When something causes a blockage, injury usually results.

    The system HM Customs is trying to implement is acting as a blockage to the regular flow of goods to Cayman. As a business owner I know that time is money. Hours and days of delay in receiving goods ends up adding cost and inconvenience to the retailers and wholesalers. This will show up in next years economic survey.


    A better way to make this change would be to temporarily revert back to the old system which has worked well for decades while the kinks are ironed out and the roll out is fully functional and ready for use. A "teething" period is not good for the economy or for business. This reminds me of the roll out of Obama Care in the way the website was ill prepared to handle large volumes. Customs is now very aware of the complaints and knows what needs fixing. I suggest that the fixing is done on their dime, notours and this new process be delayed until it is truly ready to be implemented. Proper staff training and a proper amount of staff is necessary. When the system is ready and ALL of Customs is up to speed, then roll it out.

    It appears that we are trying to fix a problem that didn't exist. IF IT AIN'T BROKE DON'T FIX IT!

    We must remember that the role of Customs is to assess and collect iimport duties and watch for contraband goods. When their job creates a bottleneck in the regular flow of commerce then a red flag should go up..

    Adopting this system because hundreds of other countries use it is lame. If we keep trying to be like everyone else then we will become like everywhere else and loose out uniqueness. There will be no reason to come here at all. It is time to think and do for ourselves in the best ways that suit our situation and stop playing follow the leader.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Lady Sam please ditch the new Customs system and reinstate the one you had 3-4 months ago

    please !!!!!!!

    • Ole B says:

      Ole B this is another example of our people implementing , that's wa they call it nah ( proud I got da one right) what someone tells them about, and not giving careful thought as to whether it suits us entirely. Ole B ya remember the counting system from Nrw Zealand that KT and GM brought for us? Man they tell me Zoe B it will take all the Turles in the ocean, I.e. The numbers of them to reconcile the Government books from that time till now. Oh what a mini that was, and now this one is wa a doozie haha ole B catchabon on the Sprucewood ya hear.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Helping big businesses, are you kidding me? Small businesses have it easy, they only have a handful of codes to research. Can you imagine what Foster's, AL Thompson's and Kirk's are going through right now? They must have a huge backlog. I woud be rioting if I had to clear that many goods.   

  14. Anonymous says:

    i gave up receiving items through customs years ago. what with ther stink ass attitudes and slow processes and then unable to find stuff even though they sent me a slip. i then witnessed officers charging people large ammounts of cash and smiling to themselves after they left then serving friends and charging them 3 dollars for a box of items clearly listed as higher than that. i got my items then called my family to stop sending me anything at all. when i see this article it just makes me smile to be honest. do what you want i dont use you guys.

    • Anonymous says:

      19:22. Judging from the tone of your post ,I can guess where the attitude was really coming from.

  15. Anonymous says:

    One flat rate for import duty.  Less costly, less bureaucratic, more effective and more efficient.  You could even do it online.  Produce your receipt and pay your duty and that is it.  Wish they were all like the Port Authority, fast and efficient customer service.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Many things are implemented in other countries but bare no relevance here. Was this an attempt to appease big brother in UK or adopt another piece of international bureaucracy to make us appear “world class”? What in hell’s name was wrong with the old system? And how many years will it take with this system to see where duty revenues are actually going? This all seems like a big smoke screen for another CIG make work project.

    Go on GIG, keep tinkering with critical processes like Immigration and now this and see if anything good comes out of it.  Stop trying to justify your further existence.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Zip codes all over again!


  18. Anonymous says:

    What is the customs code for an Ipad?  Who cares when they fit in your hand luggage so easily!!!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Now I the problem. There are less than 200 countries in the world. If customs can't even get that fact correct there is no way that we should expect them to have the tax code corredt

    • Anonymous says:

      There are less than 200 countries – only if you look at the list of recognised sovereign territories , some of which charge their own duties – such as Cayman. 

  20. Anonymous says:

    Chaos is always the result when you have civil servants being allowed to implement whatever they feel like.

    • Anonymous says:

      That whole department from the head down needs a good cleaning up!!!!! They have people behind the counter, maybe one or two pleasant ones, the others miserable, chatting behind the glass, complaining pretty loud and walking back and forth doing nothing….so hence we have to wait hours for our paperwork…take a number, a good book, a snack/drink and your good to go for the day

      • Anonymous says:

        I would like to personally object particularly on behalf of the gentleman on the far right next to the cashier counter who is ALWAYS pleasant and helpful and has repeatedly gone out of his way to help me. There are others with pleasant and helpful attitudes as well in the circumstances. I can only hope that the new procedures can be justified by the powers that be as I am sure the officers are as fed up as the public is, having to deal with the situation ten hours a day every day.

  21. Anonymous says:

    The introduction of the code system is just a way to make it impossible for small importers to survive, leaving the whole cake to the big business.

    We the consumers are nothing more than  milk cows for government and business.


  22. Anonymous says:

    The last paragraph in this article sums up Government's true reasons….statistics gathering.

    "Harmonized" is hardly a word most would use to describe the new system. More like "unadulterated beurocratic harrassment"!

    Who in their right mind would role out a new system without their own personnel being fully trained and prepared to assist importers? Answer; an entity that doesn't have to concern itself with such things as competition! or accountability!

    • Anonymous says:

      Competition is irrelevant. Private sector is not always the "be-all and end-all"!

      Accountability on the other hand is totally relevant, but does not exist in central government; that is where the emphasis should lie.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Whether this  system is used worldwide or not. It is not the right system for Cayman. It is a more complicated and therefore more costly code. Rather Cayman sould be moving towards a flat import tax. Not only would this reduce costs to importers, it could reduce the number of custom officers.

  24. Anonymous says:

    This affects all of us, even if you do not personally have to go to Customs yourself. Imagine the extra work that Progressive, Jaques Scott, Cayman Imports and the Supermarkets to name a few are having to go through, it will reach us all at the checkout. Why is it everything Gov does just makes more work for everyone else.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Thats what happenes when you put someone in charge who doesn't know a thing about customs.  They were slow from the start, now you put in a new system and all hell breaks lose.  Its no different just worse (just times it by 100 now).  The way the economy is why change something that is going to slow everything down..from the codes the majority of them aren't even needed.  Remember if something isnt broken why fix it???? She isn't impressing the business people. 

  26. Anonymous says:

    Ridicilious, the wait is ten times more. Here is a program that actually makes the private sector less productive, induced by government. If there is any single item to be remebered when voting in the next election is this one. A good reflection of a government action and its main agancy on those who bear the burden and pay the taxes.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ridicilious! Really? What the heck does that mean? No wonder you have problems at customs

  27. T Rankine says:

    Used in 250 countries?? umm ok…

    • Tis true says:

      Not fit for purpose and no user assessment analysis. Whoever is developing this project failed the implementation phase by being completely inept. I am sure the 250 countries actually had a plan and the right talent to launch this. Customs keystone cops and cronyism once again.  Samantha hang your head in shame!

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes. Either Samantha Bennett believes that from her time running immigration, or she got that figure from the ESO. Either way, we are screwed.

    • Anonymous says:

      According to Google there are less than 200 countries on the planet, and I seriously doubt that 100% of them are using this bullshit system.

  28. Anonymous says:

    this is normal compared to other government agencies compare it with immigration, licensing you wait 2-3 hrs to transact a 5 minute process.  The real complainers are the large importers expecting Customs staff to fill out all of their forms.  Just like Customs have to change their processes so do these peeps!

  29. Anonymous says:

    "…It will enable Cayman to collect data allowing customs to monitor controlled goods, the origin, transport statistics and prices. It will also help with the compilation of Cayman’s national accounts and economic analysis. …"


    So this detialed data is going to be used productively by a government that cannot produce an auditable set of books?


    What a waste.

    • Anonymous says:

      Like having to provide your companies financial statements for the 'survey".

  30. Anonymous says:

    was there today  and took 30 mins to process whats all the hype about? last week I ws there took 45 mins but invoice was longer 10 items.

    • Anonymous says:

      You must work at Customs, can we hire you to do our clearing?

    • Anonymous says:

      You must have "I have an incurable, fatal, contagious disease" stamped on your forehead. I was there from 10:00 am one day about a month ago until 6:00 pm. That's right. 8 hours with a single claim form. I kid you not. Thankfully it does seem to be getting a little better. 

    • Anonymous says:

      To 10/07/2014 21:37, you are full of s..t…no way on the face of this earth did you clear out of their under 45 minutes….now now custom officers stop blogging or having family members doing it for you to make yourselves look good

  31. Knot S Smart says:

    Well I must say that I saw this one coming…

    The problem with this country is that we have civil servants who themselves could not survive in the real world  – yet they are creating bureaucracy and dictating hardship for the private sector that creates the very wealth that indirectly pays the salary for their cushy jobs…

    Yes this system is used in a good number of industrialized countries, but we are three very small islands where we have a completely different economic structure. For example this system is ok where you have large corporate importers who import by the container load of one or two different items,  and then distribute those items to retailers.

    In Cayman we have a few major players and a lot of small businesses who must import a large variety of items per shipment in order to survive. The three or four larger players are all retailers and if they do sell wholesale to small businesses, then they turn around and compete against the same small retailers that they sell to…

    The silence of the large businesses in this matter is because they know full well that this new system gives them an economic advantage and harms small businesses. For example a large business like a supermarket that employs 100 people might need to hire one dedicated person to deal with customs – their employee costs increases by 1%. On the other hand a small business that employs say two people will still need one person to deal with customs – their employee expenses increases by 50% – how can they compete?

    So we know why the larger businesses are quiet – and that is because they know that this will break the back of many small businesses thereby giving themselves (large retailers) a larger market share and more profits…

    I would like to refute the excuses being put forward by Customs to support this system – but will leave that for another post…




    • Anonymous says:

      Knot S Smart is in fact quite sharp, and has hit the nail on the head.  Helping Cayman's big businesses at the expense of the small ones, has to be the real reason for this new coding system.

      There is no possible other reason for it, as the "statistics" produced by this very detailed coding will never be used for anything in a small economy like ours.  Isn't it enough to know that 100 light bulbs were imported at 22% duty rather than how many were halogen, LED or incandescent — all still at 22% duty?

      This new system is a ridiculous, unnecessary and even scandalous waste of ime and money.  If in fact the only reason is to help big businesses, then be honest about it and propose levying a lower rate of duty on the large importers.  The public can then opely debate th matter.

      Quite regrettable that the Chamber of Commerce doesn't question the justfication for this new system, let alone oppose it.  But then again, if Knot S Smart is right, this does make sense.

  32. A Struggling Merchant says:


    This is an incredibly dumb  move. Did anyone even consider the inconvenience for the merchants, tourists and traveling Caymanians?  Over 5000 codes?  WTF next?

  33. Anonymous says:

    The computer program is written for larger economies than cayman has

    Not small batches of trinkets.

    The system is designed for places like port everglades dealing with whole cotainer loads of like goods

    Quit the system and ask for a refund

    • Anonymous says:

      That would mean that someone would have to admit they were wrong. 

  34. Anonymous says:

    I have no problem with the harmonized code system, it's an international standard that will help Cayman long term. But Customs should not enforce the law until they get their act together. Get the online system upand running where customers can upload their invoices. Hand writing dozens of tariff codes (sometimes 100's) on the old paperwork is ridiculous and time consuming for everyone. Time is money in the real world. Get the technology to support the system before you enforce it. It's a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. 

    • HELP? says:

      And how pray tell will this system help Cayman in the long term?

      If you mean by providing statistical information for competitors to access or for the government to "fine tune" their tax regime, I hardly consider that help. 

      In the final analysis the help must always outweigh the headache.

      This new system does not meet that requirement.