When shipments are stopped by Customs can we ask them to give us a reason for halting the shipment?

Question

When shipments are stopped by Customs, the Customs Authorities will not explain why they have done this. How can we force them to give us a reason for halting the shipment. This is on shipments to Abu Dhabi. Tariff numbers are never mentioned as a reason, nor need for Export Licenses.

(This question was asked at one of our recent webinars on Export Controls. You can listen to this webinar on our recent webinars page at http://opentoexport.com/info/webinars/)

Answer

The power to detain goods is authorized under section 159 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. There is no provision under this section for a customs officer to give a reason at the time of detention but the general reasons for detention are listed under section 52 of the same Act.
Spot detentions at port of exit are often because an officer suspects the goods or the end-use(r) may be controlled under the Export Control and Dual Use Regulations and therefore may be subject to an export license. If this is the case customs will usually request further technical information which will be passed to a duty officer at the Export Control Organization for evaluation.
This can be a frustrating experience as the exporter has little option but to allow this procedure to take its course and it can take several days before a decision is made as to whether the goods require a license or not.
If the ECO decide that an export license is required then an application will have to be made retrospectively, with no guarantee that the application will be successful.

Answer

Abu Dhabi can be a particular hotspot destination for customs seizures due to the fact that in the past it has often been a transhipment point for goods being diverted to unauthorised destinations.

At a previous company we had a shipment seized because the pieces being shipped looked as though they could have been converted into gas centrifuges when in reality they were going to be machined in the UAE and then returned to the UK. It took over a week to obtain all the information that the customs authorities wanted to see – going back to the source of the metal – before it was released.

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