Release time


Release is a critical step in the clearance process as it involves the decision by government agencies (mostly coordinated by the Customs) in cross-border trade for the importer/exporter or his/her designated agent to remove goods from the designated Customs control area (usually the Customs office at the border, port or airport) and to continue delivery of the goods to its destination (see also the definition of release in the Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC)). Release should be separate from clearance, i.e. the assessment and payment of applicable duties and taxes should take place after the release of goods, usually against provision of a security.

Problem statement

The time required by the government to release goods is one of the most relevant performance indicators and has a tremendous impact on the cost of trade. The faster and more predictable the release process, the better the trader can plan, manage and optimize supply chains. The release process involves coordination of the various agencies (health, agriculture, environment, others) and their respective decisions to admit the goods to enter or to leave the country. Lack of coordination often leads to duplicate inspections and a longer release time than is necessary. Often the release of the goods takes place only after the duties and taxes have been collected, i.e. release and clearance of the goods are not separated.

Implementation guidance

According to Standard 3.40 of the Revised Kyoto Convention, Customs shall release the goods as soon as they have been examined or the decision has made not to examine them. This provision makes reference to appropriate actions such as providing a security that should enable separation of the release of goods from the time consuming process of assessing and collecting applicable duties and taxes. Many additional measures can lead to a substantial reduction of the overall release time. Customs and other government agencies should look into removing paper declarations and rely fully on electronic declaration processing (see also Customs automation). Customs should process and risk-assess electronic goods declarations prior to the arrival of goods, so that the goods can be released immediately upon arrival. Customs should also apply de minimis regimes to expedite the release process for all shipments under a specified value. The risk assessment process should include all relevant government authorities to enable a single release decision and to coordinate the time and location of any necessary physical inspections. The opening hours of Customs, other government authorities and private sector stakeholders at the border, in the port or at the airport, should be coordinated and meet the needs of business. Governments should also consider conducting a time-release study based on standards and guidelines published by the WCO in order to establish a continuous improvement mechanism aimed at optimizing the release process.

Additional information (references, examples, etc.)

The World Bank "Doing Business" reports as well as the Logistics Performance Index (LPI) both place great emphasis on the time required to release the goods. The World Customs Organization "Time Release Study" is a useful tool to conduct studies on the individual time required to release and, if conducted periodically, allows for improvement programmes. The WCO Immediate Release Guidelines contain important trade facilitation measures for expediting the release of small, low value and non-dutiable shipments, supported by the ICC Customs Guideline # 9. For example, Japan Customs conducted its 9th Time-Release Study in 2009. Since the first TRS in 1991, the time required for release for sea cargo in Japan was reduced from 7 days (1991) to 2,6 days (2009), and for air cargo from 2,2 days (1991) to 0,7 days (2009).