Despite efforts to educate the shipping industry in the complex compliance requirements of the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS), importers are continuing to face delays and additional costs. While ignorance of the law on the part of shippers is part of the problem, there have also been complaints about the inefficiency of the NRCS in the Application of the law. The organisation was established to administer compulsory specifications and other technical regulations, and all products imported into South Africa that fall within the scope of the NRCS must be registered and tested by the SABS/NRCS against South African National Standards.

While no one has an argument with the motivation behind the legislation – ensuring that South Africa does not become a dumping ground for substandard products – the rules are
extremely complex, with errant importers often paying a hefty price for non-compliance, says Value Logistics divisional director Stephen Segal. And the devil’s in the detail – as a recent shipment of pasta illustrates. “One of our customers was awarded an agency for a brand of pasta that was already packaged in 250g, 300g and 500g packages,” Segal told FTW. “But you’re not permitted to bring in 300g packages because it’s not an international standard – the reason being that if you want to compare costs, there will be nothing to compare it with at a supermarket. “If we hadn’t advised the importer of the compliance issue, he would have brought in the whole container and suffered the consequences.”
Labelling is also a big issue – as is container weight. “The importer is required to send all products to the NRCS. A customer recently imported tuna fish with a labelled weight of 418g – but the label didn’t stipulate that the weight included the water. When it was sent for testing, the water was drained which meant the recorded weight was 413.4g – so we had to change all the labelling to read 418g including water and give the weight of the water.

While we received an embargo release, this has been ongoing since January and the cargo has not been released.” Bob Broekman of Belfreight, who has also seen many customers’ shipments stopped, believes there are two issues at play. “One is the Act itself and another application of the Act. The Act is floored and aimed at generating a steady income stream with letters of authority only valid for two years. “Secondly, the NRCS is understaffed, not co-operative and nonresponsive – and is therefore not facilitating
Fair trade but causing trade and the economy to stagnate. I’m almost tempted to suggest a heading ‘South Africa is Closed for Business’, not only because of the NRCS but also because of new BBBEE rules, the potential ban on trucks during peak hours, the new customs
control act and its punitive measures – and so the list goes on.” Broekman is currently dealing with a consignment that has been stored under embargo in his Durban warehouse since November 2014. “The client submitted applications in November but the NRCS rejected the test report as it was older than the permissible date. The client then proceeded to have new test reports issued by TUV Germany which came at great expense. New reports were submitted in January and the client has been communicating with just about everyone on the NRCS payroll ever since – with hardly ever a constructive reply. When they did respond in May it was found that they were still working off the old test reports and not the new ones sent to them in January, receipt of which was acknowledged. The client is now on the brink of bankruptcy and I stand to be corrected but I think they have instituted legal proceedings against the NRCS. “We have seen no improvement in the efficiency of the NRCS – other than in its bank account no doubt.” The SA Association of Freight Forwarders has weighed in on the issue and in March requested that its members report on any issues regarding the NRCS to project manager Helen Watson.

“We are currently holding monthly meetings with Border Police, the Border Control Operational Coordinating Committee (BCOCC) , SA Revenue Service and shipping lines and have tried our very best to get NRCS at these meetings – but they’re a no show every time,” said Watson. She told FTW that it had been raised as a very serious issue with BCOCC and that Saaff was awaiting a response.