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Meeting set to review postal imports

Meet to focus on e-commerce, security amid seizures of drones, fake currency and PM’s concern

March 07, 2017 10:12 pm | Updated 10:12 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Finance Ministry will convene an inter-ministerial meeting next week to review a surge in postal imports of consumer goods through e-commerce as well as related security issues following seizures of high-altitude drones, bullion and fake currency in such parcels.

The meeting comes in the wake of the concern expressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi over public grievances received by the PMO on issues relating to the import of goods through the postal network and courier services.

Boosting security

Ahead of the meeting, the Central Board of Excise & Customs (CBEC) has already begun the process of a “holistic review” of norms covering imports and exports through post to address these concerns and help in taking remedial actions, government sources, who did not wish to be identified, told The Hindu.

The measures include a move to tighten security by upgrading x-ray machines for non-intrusive scanning of mail parcels, they said. These steps will have an impact on the procedures for clearance of goods imported through post, they said.

The meeting will also aim to address inadequacies in data capture as the availability of comprehensive figures on imports by post and courier, facilitated by the e-commerce route, is currently lacking, the sources said. While some data is being captured by manual mode, it is not as reliable as information compiled through the CBEC’s electronic data interchange system.

A recent PayPal-Ipsos report showed that shoppers from India spent about ₹58,370 crore in 2016 while shopping online from international websites (mainly sites of U.S., Chinese and British firms). Still, given the irritants that include prolonged delivery time, high customs duties and transactions in foreign currencies, websites offering products that were not available in India, and those promising free delivery and transactions in local currency saw better sales.

To ensure the implementation of more corrective legal, procedural and infrastructural measures, the CBEC – which will make a detailed presentation at the meeting on the issues relating to laws, procedures and infrastructure surrounding postal imports – has sought suggestions from other ministries/departments including the Directorate General of Foreign Trade in the Commerce & Industry ministry as well as the Department of Posts in the Communications ministry.

The Centre has also sought comments from stakeholders including e-commerce and courier firms. Several measures covering imports and exports via post have already been proposed in the Finance Bill 2017, including amendments in the Customs Act, 1962, to include Foreign Post Office and International Courier Terminal in the definition of a Customs Station, as well as to define Foreign Post Office and International Courier Terminal.

The proposed amendments to the Customs Act also seek to empower the CBEC to notify Foreign Post Offices and International Courier Terminals as well as to make regulations to provide for the form and manner in which an entry may be made in respect of goods imported or to be exported by post.

Besides, the Finance Bill 2017 proposes amendments in the Customs Tariff Act, 1975, to cover goods imported through courier service as well as personal imports by courier, sea, or land.

The developments assume significance in the context of promotion of exports and imports via the e-commerce route. As part of a mid-term review of the Foreign Trade Policy 2015–20, the Commerce ministry will meet stakeholders to address exporters’ concerns about certain “restrictions”.

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