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MODERNIZATION OF THE DJIBOUTI CUSTOMS ADMINISTRATION Two World Trade Organization (WTO) rounds have had a profound impact on global commercial exchanges. The Doha discussions highlighted the willingness and the desirability of North and South countries to do business together, whereas the Cancun meeting tried to set trade conditions in which there would be more exchanges and fewer barriers. Be it as it may, becoming a nation of traders or a trading hub necessitates a modern and performing national customs administration. Traditionally, customs have played a three-prong role: monitoring the financial parameters of incoming goods, acting as an internal economic check and balance system, and ensuring national security. It is no secret that Africa has been a laggard in that respect and that the Republic of Djibouti was not an exception. Typically, its customs procedures have been utterly bureaucratic, manual, costly, and lengthy. It was not before 2005 that the term “customs” appeared in the Djibouti government’s legal framework for the very first time. Assisted by the Dubai Customs (DC) World authorities committed to South-South partnership, Djibouti made a strategic decision to turn the page and to modernize its customs organization. This agreement with the DC World was in keeping with other similar arrangements such as the tax free zone, the Doraleh port, and the airport. The new performance-based approach focused not only on securing revenue but also on customer satisfaction and employee involvement. This quantum leap rested on the following actions°: • Revamping of administrative direction and procedures with new objectives • Training of various personnel • Reorganization of functional teams operating in the port itself • Computerization of most transactions • Break down of work schedules in three eight-hour shifts, 24/7 • Set up of an open line to expose cheaters and extortionists The adoption of the MIRSAL software (ISO approved by the Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance) has made it possible to clear merchandise through number identification. This process has eliminated the face-to-face between customs agents and business owners, resulting in more speed in clearing customs and the virtual elimination of corruption between parties. High performance ports are now adopting the practice of beginning to clear through customs cargos that are leaving a port so that the process is completed when a transporter reaches the other destination. However, an increased volume of goods from the gulf countries and South Asia is creating a challenge for port authorities who are using selective checks with a container scanner to control the trading of counterfeit merchandise. To counteract this new development, various regional port authorities will need to harmonize and share computerized data. Djibouti still uses the so-called Brussels value to clear merchandise through customs even though it signed the 1994 Marrakech agreement that aimed at applying a uniformed transactional value or WTO value. The government has gradually inched towards using the transactional value but it recognizes that there is an enormous financial risk until such a time that a duly constituted dossier on value profile of merchandise is put in place and kept up-to-date. This will require personnel training in fraud detection, information exchange, and the knowledge that particular goods must be targeted for inspection. In spite of the fact that there exists no rule of origin on non preferential customs merchandise, Djibouti and Ethiopia have a privileged arrangement by virtue of their close economic ties. However, the COMESA agreement contains such rule. The Djibouti Chamber of Commerce holds the authority for certifying goods that are subject to non reciprocal rules as well as those in transit. Its role is likely to be expanded to act as the one-stop certifying body for goods that originates from countries that belong to COMESA. In any event, the revamped customs administration will be called to collect the TVA on imports, role that vests in this entity a critical budgetary mandate. MOHAMED OMAR IBRAHIM PhD