Challenges, trends and classic mistakes: interview with a customs expert

What are the biggest administrative challenges in cross-border goods transportation and customs processing? Which classic mistakes can Swiss exporters avoid and which trends are taking shape? Discover all this in our interview with customs expert Karl Strohhammer.

Trucks before customs inspection

Mr. Strohhammer, you’re an expert on customs processing. What are the classic mistakes that Swiss companies can easily avoid with customs?

In my experience, there is often a lack of the most basic specialist and background knowledge of the practical and legal correlations when companies are dealing with customs, both in Switzerland and abroad. What mainly comes to mind here are the various possible procedures, the customs tariff, the free trade agreements and customs preferences, as well as rectification of errors and complaints.

More and more goods are crossing Switzerland’s borders. Which trends can you see in international goods traffic? 

At the moment, goods flows are increasing ever more due to the distribution of labor internationally and online commerce. In my opinion though, huge growth rates are a thing of the past. For manufacturing businesses, it could once again be more worthwhile producing goods locally. Alongside the development of wages in many countries and new manufacturing processes, increasing protectionism – with “trade wars” being the key concept here – is one thing to watch.

Where do you think the greatest challenges lie for Swiss companies – established firms as well as start-ups?

Ever more information is available from different sides. Even just filtering out what is relevant to your own activities is pretty difficult. On top of this, it’s worth keeping an eye on the ratio between expenditure and benefit. What can I manage myself, and where does it make sense to use targeted external support? In any case, it’s worth building up the relevant knowledge within the company. Outsourcing is not an option if the export or import activity accounts for a major share of the company’s sales.

Digitization is affecting the area of customs too. What do you think is the future for customs in the age of DaziT? Is customs administration soon to be a matter of just a few clicks?

Even in the past, most customs matters could be dealt with electronically. The current IT landscape for customs is nevertheless outdated and needs major further development. The challenge with customs is meeting the needs of the various interest groups and at the same time orienting the customs organization towards the future economy.

All those involved in commerce still need specialist and background knowledge.I think it's naive to think that with the new digital possibilities everything will be taken care of by itself.

Online trade seems to make it easier to sell goods beyond Swiss borders. Is that really the case? Where are the stumbling blocks in international e-commerce?

The same customs provisions apply to online trade as to conventional goods traffic. Any simplifications or concessions must not lead to any fraud in the small shipments that are typical of online trade, for example in declared valuations, banned substances, etc. The customs authorities in the various countries will do everything they can to get a better handle on these risks. From an entrepreneurial perspective, correct master data is therefore becoming ever more important and form the basis for successful international e-commerce.

About the expert: Karl Strohhammer

Karl Strohhammer is Senior Customs Expert at ZFEB+ | and was formerly a section chief at the Oberzolldirektion, the Swiss customs directorate. His specialist focus is on practical matters in the areas of customs tariffs, agricultural agreements, free trade agreements and non-customs statutory waivers. He now supports Swiss companies with matters of customs legislation.


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