Customs move to re-check Chinese imports aimed at plugging “under-valuation”

India’s Customs officers at Mumbai and Chennai have started scrutinising cargo containers originating from China to check massive “under-valuation” of goods, a former Customs Commissioner has said, amidst reports that New Delhi was hitting back at the Dragon for the recent skirmishes along the border that killed 20 Indian soldiers.

Since Tuesday, stakeholders in India’s export-import (EXIM) logistics chain have been grappling with an “internal, oral instruction” from the Customs to all custodians of cargo including port terminals, container freight stations (CFS) and airports to hold all containers that have originated from China until they are re-examined and cleared by the Customs.

Port terminal and CFS operators contacted by BusinessLine said that they had not received any written instructions from the Customs in this regard, making it all the more intriguing.

“Sounds more like a bit of sabre-rattling to me…. with nothing overt happening out there,” said a port terminal executive in Mumbai. “Things would back up very quickly, if so. Few little tweaks here and there, slow down here and there in clearing containers sends a (political and diplomatic) message,” he added.

A few CFS executives in Mumbai BusinessLine spoke to said that the Customs unwritten move could be designed to harass India’s second-largest trading partner while stating they were yet to receive any such “oral instructions”.

The former Customs Commissioner mentioned earlier said that there was “rampant undervaluation” of Chinese goods coming into the country and the re-examination of goods was aimed at plugging that practice which was hurting duty collections.

“India’s imports from China is huge, that’s why the re-examination is targeted at consignments originating from China,” the Customs Commissioner, who superannuated in May and has knowledge of the issue said, asking not to be named.

He further stated that such re-examinations are always carried out by officers without any written instructions from the top. “If any such formal, written instructions are given, China can take India to the World Trade Organization (WTO). India does not want to get into all that. But, you know what is happening on the border,” he added cryptically.

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