BE-Gate to help Belgian airports overcome customs hurdles for e-commerce

A consortium of ports and airports in Belgium are banking on “BE-Gate,” a digital initiative being rolled out by the country’s customs assessor, the Ministry of Finances, to streamline cross-border customs procedures ahead of planned regulatory changes.

The EU Commission is set to remove an exemption on imports that has been popular with overseas e-tailers, particularly those in China. At present, neither value-added-tax (VAT) nor duties are assessed on goods valued at less than €22. This could change by January 2021, the Commission’s target date to abolish the VAT exemption. The new policy is expected to present challenges as millions more items will need to be assessed VAT by customs authorities, with online companies required to collect VAT even if the transactions take place through warehouses outside of the E.U.

According to an introduction to the service published by the ministry, BE-Gate aims to simplify data exchange by enabling e-commerce stakeholders, including importers, exporters, transporters and declarants, to share a number of notifications through a single transaction. Data is exchanged in a “customs-approved” data format, and can easily be shared with the Ministry of Finance and other stakeholders.

Cleared goods are released immediately upon arrival, while customs officers are presented with any pre-submitted information for packages requiring additional screening. Steven Verhasselt, commercial director at Liege Airport (LGG), is optimistic that early use of BE-Gate will allow shippers to familiarize themselves with the system before the €22 exemption is annexed and all e-commerce imports are subject to VAT. Easing customs processes for e-commerce will be especially important to LGG going forward, as the airport is in line for development as the European hub for Alibaba’s logistics arm, Cainiao. LGG is also the selected site for Alibaba’s Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP), designed to promote cross-border e-commerce trade between China and Europe and introduce more small- and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) into Alibaba’s network.

With an overarching customs framework in place, software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies are also working to help airlines and forwarders configure their IT systems to interface with platforms like BE-Gate.

“The need to capture as much customs data early in the supply chain and to efficiently transmit the required data from seller to broker and customs is not only an opportunity to reduce costs but almost becomes an operational necessity,” said Martin Meacock, director of product management and customs for Descartes’ European region. Meanwhile, LGG utilizes Nallian’s Air Cargo suite cloud platform, which offers customs functionality including export VAT recovery and e-commerce declaration.