Dunedin Chamber of Commerce.
Report of the Sub Committee
Working of the Customs Tariff.
he Sub-Committee having carefully perused the Tariff, and inquired into the various decisions given under it from time to time, came to the conclusion that the only satisfactory basis for such a report as this would be the evidence of experts. It was therefore made known that we required information, and would be prepared to take the evidence of any one desiring to give it. A ready response was given, and a large number of gentlemen connected with the various classes of importing houses in the city were examined.
|1.||That anomalies exist in the Tariff which are a constant source of trouble to both importers and the Customs officers.|
|2.||That many of the decisions given under it are inconsistent and contradictory.|
|3.||That goods in many instance are dutiable or exempt according to the purposes for which they are said to be intended to be used.|
|4.||That similar goods may be subject to duty at one port, and admitted free to another; and that from the nature of things this cannot be always guarded against, however careful and expert officers may be.|
|5.||That the uncertainty whether goods will be considered subject to duty or not frequently causes loss to the importers, as such goods are necessarily withheld from sales, pending the decision of the head of the department at Wellington.|
We consider that a few alterations in the Tariff, whereby the classification would be simplified, and a strict adherence to its provisions in its administration would prevent much loss of time and labour to both importers and Customs officers, and remove most, if not all, the present perplexing anomalies, without in any way interfering with the principle on which it is based.
We attach a summary of the evidence on which our report is based, arranged under general headings, which we commend to your careful attention.
This class of imports is more affected than any other by the ambiguity of the Tariff, arising from the constant introduction of new fabrics which tax the knowledge of the Customs officers to say whether duty should be charged or not; the variety of purposes for which the same article can be used; the difficulty of arriving at the exact proportion of wool or cotton contained in certain manufactures, etc.
As it is often a very nice point whether goods are free or dutiable, different conclusions are arrived at at different ports, resulting in the same goods varying nearly 20 per cent, in value throughout the Colony.
As it is the custom in this trade to sell goods to arrive it is often found that the profit is swept away owing to duty being levied on arrival upon goods which appeared to the importer rightly exempt.
The following examples will help to illustrate what is complained of:—
Cotton Dress Prints.
Coloured Cotton Shirtings.
Blind Cord and Tape.
Spades and Shovels,
Those interested in this business complain of the evasion of duty by some importers, resulting in the loss of revenue to the country, and strongly urge the assimilation of duties.
Wines and Spirits.
Importers of these goods complain of a recent regulation, which allows one sample only to be taken from a shipment in wood, instead of a sample from each cask as was previously allowed. This restriction is all the more vexatious, as each cask has to be gauged, and a sample taken out of the cask for the purpose of ascertaining the strength. A sample from each cask is necessary to enable the importer to examine the character of the shipment, as it frequently occurs that the contents of a parcel of the same brand, more particularly of whisky and brandy, vary page 5 in quality and colour. Since the recent regulation has been in force, considerable inconvenience has been occasioned by the cancellation of sales on account of a shipment varying somewhat from the sample drawn by the Customs.
The practice followed here with regard to samples is different from that adopted by the neighbouring Colonies, where there is evidently more consideration given to the requirements and convenience of importers.
The Committee trusts that the Conference in Wellington will cause the recent regulation restricting importers to one sample from a shipment of spirits to be withdrawn, and arrange that samples of spirits and wines should be allowed duty free to the extent of one pint from each quarter-cask, and one bottle from each parcel of cases, if required by the consignee.
Some means should be taken by the Customs to regulate the gauging of the quantity and strength of case spirits, so that all consignees should be put on a uniform footing. By the present system it frequently occurs, for example, that two parcels of Hennessy's brandy arriving to different consignees by the same ship, which, although invoiced of the same contents, are yet assessed by the Customs one parcel a gill, or even two gills, more than the other.
The attention of the Committee has been called to the serious loss and inconvenience caused to importers by inconsiderate alterations of the Tariff. The following will illustrate what is complained of:—
Towards the end of the session of 1880 an Act to alter the Customs Tariff was passed, providing, among other things, that on and after 1st March, 1881 (thus giving six months' notice), duty on case spirits should be charged on the reputed contents: that is to say, cases of geneva—which should contain four gallons, instead of under three gallons, to which the competition of trade has reduced them, and cases of brandy and whisky, which are supposed to contain two gallons each, but which are imported at several gills under that quantity—should be charged duty on four gallons and two gallons respectively, thus doing away with the inducement to import small contents.
Importers here hailed the change as a step in the right direction, and made the necessary arrangements for importing only full contents; but, to their dismay, towards the end of the session of 1881 the clause in the Act of the previous year, providing for duty being charged on the reputed contents of case spirits, was repealed without warning, involving all those who had observed the requirements of the Act in serious loss.
Under this head we would suggest that samples should be allowed duty free to the extent of a half-pound for ten cases of each quality and make, if required by the consignee.
In making the foregoing suggestions the Committee wish it to be clearly understood that they do not in any way intend to reflect on the Custom House officials here, whose uniform courtesy and consideration to importers the Committee very gladly acknowledge.
Thomas Brown, Convener. Dunedin,
September 19th, 1884.
Printed at the Evening Star Office, Bond street, Dunudin.