American Shipper

China goes easy on 24-hour rule

China goes easy on 24-hour rule

Chinese authorities have informally indicated plans to allow a grace period of three to six months before enforcing a rule that container lines electronically file manifests 24-hours prior to loading at a foreign or domestic port, according to OOCL and several maritime industry sources.

   In a customer advisory posted on its Web site, Hong Kong carrier OOCL said China Customs has verbally confirmed it will not issue penalties for mistakes made by carriers in trying to comply with the new rule, effective Jan. 1.

   Company spokesman Frankie Lau stressed that ocean carriers are still obligated to comply, but that China Customs will grant leeway as long as submitters make their best effort during the break-in period. Vessel operators that miss the 24-hour filing window or submit incomplete cargo lists because of computer system or other challenges will get a break, but are taking a risk if they opt not to file at all, he said.

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   The advance manifest rule applies to both imports and exports, and to bulk ships, with varying requirements for each situation. Carriers must also transmit their arrival times at Chinese ports. China’s effort mirrors, and goes beyond, U.S. cargo security policy, which requires carriers to submit the manifest 24 hours prior to loading at a foreign port.

   The fact that China Customs has only made oral assurances to some maritime parties instead of publishing an official policy has created confusion in industry circles.

   A maritime trade lawyer said he’d heard from shipping lines and other sources in China and Hong Kong that the Asian nation had granted a six-month grace period during which time carriers are expected to do their best to submit the electronic cargo declaration. Although there are provisions for freight forwarders and non-vessel-operating common carriers to also file the manifest, he said the main responsibility lies with the carrier. He spoke on background because he had not officially confirmed the information.

   A mid-level manager contacted at a major shipping line that does business in China also said his company understands that China will not enforce the 24-hour rule until June. There is so much uncertainty about the rule, however, that the carrier has not posted any instructions to its customers yet on how and when they are supposed to submit shipping instructions and cargo documentation in order to meet the deadline and get loaded on their vessel of choice, he said.

   German carrier Hapag-Lloyd said in its October newsletter that China Customs will allow a three-month grace period, until March 31, during which carriers will not be penalized for errors or failure to comply.

   OOCL said it has been invited by Chinese authorities to run parallel tests and continue active discussions about the best method of transmitting the data as regulators move away from the old paper-based reporting system.

   China Customs must also prepare its systems to accept the electronic forms and to manipulate the data for analysis.

   APL, Maersk, COSCO and China Shipping are also participating in the pilot testing, according to an industry source who is not authorized to talk to the press and did not want his job status jeopardized by such contact.

   OOCL announced it would phase in compliance with the Chinese 24-hour manifest rule on a service-by-service basis, beginning Jan. 2 with the CCX-OOCL Southampton voyage 12W from Los Angeles.

   “Please note that in order to process your cargo information with China Customs before cargo loading, your shipping instruction must be received at least two working days prior to the cargo load port cutoff,” the customer message said.

   The OCCL advisory is available here. ' Eric Kulisch