26 February 2010

MAF's Latest Trade-Impeding Money Grab

MAF Biosecurity has issued a new 'law' (under delegated authority) to start detaining thousands of low risk containers, physically inspect all six sides of each box, while charging importers $100 per hour plus fees.

Under the current system, importers send their declarations to Customs, who in turn pass a copy on to MAF. If the quarantine inspectors decide that they need more information about a container, based on the declared contents, exporter, importer, origin, etc., they place a 'hold' on the container and the importer needs to apply for a permit. If the container is deemed to pose a biosecurity risk, an inspection may follow. The vast majority of containers pose no risk and are released immediately.

The new system, called "the 12 hour rule", will work in the same way, except that if the importer fails to lodge his Customs clearance twelve hours before the ship's arrival in port, then the containers will be placed on hold, even if they are not flagged as being of interest. To get possession of their goods, importers will have to pay for an inspection at the rate of $100 per hour, plus fees. The obvious purpose of this is punitive, since the containers at issue are not considered to pose a biosecurity risk.

The reality is that MAF has nowhere near the capacity to inspect thousands of low risk containers. That is why it is proposing to give itself another month to "work with industry [...] to help them comply". We predict that several things will happen: [1] there will be an increase in risk, with many officers being diverted from biosecurity work to punitive inspections of no-risk containers; [2] containers will clog up hub ports, such as Tauranga and Napier; [3] there will be an outcry from importers who will have to pay hefty fees to MAF coffers and incur demurrage and container detention costs; and [4] the whole thing will collapse under its own weight and become yet another example of an over-reach blunder by MAF.

Over the last ten years, the number of people employed by MAF (along with the salaries paid to their managers) has ballooned. Are you feeling bio-secure yet? Elected politicians are the only effective check on the onslaught of bureaucrats in empire-building mode. The last lot (Labour) were ideologically inimical to business and allowed the bureaucracy to expand by one-third. We had higher hopes for this government.

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