As a member of the World Customs Organization, the Convention of Temporary Imports and the International Convention on Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, Russia is obligated to adhere to internationally accepted customs regulations and practices. In January 2004, Russia implemented a new Customs Code as part of its efforts to WTO accession. The new code reduced the time for customs clearance from ten to three days. It also offered the advance declaration of cargo before its arrival at customs. Other important changes introduced by the new Code included:
• Restricting the Russian Federation State Customs Committee from issuing contradictory additional regulatory acts
• Making possible the settlement of disputes with Customs authorities directly in a court of law
• Establishing a definitive and comprehensive list of documents that must be submitted for Customs clearance
• Limiting the maximum time for the Customs clearance process to three days compared to the previous ten
• Prohibiting the Customs authorities from refusing to accept a declaration that contains inaccurate information, if this information has no impact on the defrayal of Customs payments, or does not place restrictions in foreign trade
• Allowing clearance of goods through any Customs office
• Providing urgent Customs clearance for perishable goods, express cargoes, or time-sensitive materials for the mass media
After several years of working under the Russian Federation's new Customs Code, the government and business community have acknowledged that amendments are now needed. While well-received by all parties concerned as a first step in 2003, most liberal and progressive provisions of the Customs Code proved to be difficult to apply. Additionally, customs practitioners have found that the Code, designed to meet WTO requirements, still leaves much to the discretion of customs authorities. In fact, on the official customs website, authorities acknowledge that personnel may not be adequately trained, international standards in trade logistics are not fully utilized, salaries for senior customs officers are do not reflect the economic significance of their decisions and “the level of corruption of customs authorities of the Russian Federation is still high.”
Over recent years, the priorities for customs modernization included improvement of customs regulations, implementation of IT systems and enhanced dialogue with market participants. There is also a clearer understanding of the continued need for customs to take effective action against significant levels of grey market practices and to implement effective control coordinated on a global scale. However, many examples of arbitrary practices by local customs officials still exist and are encouraged by ambiguities in the customs legislation. Small and medium-sized enterprises remain most vulnerable to these arbitrary practices.
In a country where clearing goods through customs can still be more art than science, and significant delays remain common, the new import structures are seen as taking Russia a step further along the road to reduced barriers to foreign trade, conformity to world trade practices, and membership in the WTO.
The customs value is generally considered to be the CIF (cost-insurance-freight) price of the goods imported. A customs-processing fee is also levied. If customs officials do not agree with the customs value of goods declared they are authorized to request additional documents that support the declared customs value. It is often normal practice for customs officials to request the Shippers Export Declaration (SED), which they consider to be a sufficient proof of the customs value. However, presenting SED is not mandatory and the importer can present other available documents, including an official company letter that attests to the shipment’s correct value.