Electronic archiving of customs documents

Electronic archiving of customs documents

The dematerialization of administrative documents is part of a global trend aimed at simplifying and securing data exchanges between the various economic players and the authorities. In this context, the electronic storage of documents accompanying the placing of goods under a customs procedure is of particular importance. Digitizing and electronically archiving these documents enhances the efficiency of customs procedures, while ensuring better traceability and information integrity.

Electronic storage of customs documents offers numerous advantages. It facilitates document management and consultation, reduces the costs associated with physical handling and storage, and enables greater responsiveness in the event of customs controls. However, this transition to digital requires compliance with certain regulations and technical requirements to guarantee the security and conformity of archived data.

The aim of this article is to present the procedures and obligations relating to the electronic preservation of customs documents. We will explore the legal bases for this practice, the types of documents concerned, and the procedures and best practices to be adopted for efficient and compliant management of electronic archives.

Context and principles of electronic preservation

The electronic storage of customs documents is part of a well-defined regulatory framework. The European Union Customs Code (UCC ) plays a central role, making dematerialization a widespread means of storing and transmitting information between economic operators and customs authorities. In addition, national regulations specify the specific procedures to be applied, ensuring harmonized practices throughout the European Union.

The objectives of electronic storage are manifold. It aims to ensure dataintegrity, confidentiality, traceability and availability. These objectives are essential to secure digital exchanges and archiving, thus facilitating customs controls and subsequent audits. In addition, electronic storage reduces the costs associated with the physical storage of documents, and improves operators' reactivity in the event of a request for access to documents by the authorities.

It's important to distinguish between obligations and options available to operators. Electronic storage of documents is not mandatory, but it is recommended. Customs operators can choose to digitize their documents, while retaining the option of presenting the originals in paper format. This flexibility enables operators to adapt gradually to dematerialization, while complying with regulatory requirements.

Legal bases

The electronic retention of customs documents is governed by a solid legal basis, mainly derived from the Union Customs Code (UCC). Several articles of the UCC define the obligations and procedures for document retention.

Key CDU articles include:

  • Article 6: It details the means ofexchanging and storing information between economic operators and customs authorities.
  • Article 15: This article deals with obligations to communicate information to customs authorities.
  • Article 51: This stipulates the minimum document retention period, which is at least three years from the end of the year in which the transaction took place.
  • Articles 103 and 354 bis of the Customs Code: They set the time limit for recovery of customs debt at five years.
  • Article 163: This concerns documents accompanying customs declarations.
  • Article 25 of the CDU implementing regulation: It describes the conditions required for an efficient system for managing commercial entries and transport documents.
  • Article 351 of the Customs Code: The statute of limitations for customs offenses is six years for misdemeanors and three years for infractions.
  • Article 95, 1bis of the Customs Code: This provides for a decree defining the procedures for keeping the documents needed to apply customs provisions.

Additional national provisions reinforce these legal bases. The implementing decree of April 26, 2013, for example, specifies the conditions under which customs documents must be kept, whether in paper or electronic format. It also requires that native paper documents, even digitized ones, be kept in their original form so that they can be presented to the authorities if necessary.

These legal foundations ensure that the electronic storage of customs documents meets high standards of security and compliance, facilitating controls and audits while guaranteeing data integrity.

Scope and procedures for electronic storage of customs documents

Electronic storage of customs documents covers a wide range of relevant documents, including transport documents, commercial invoices, import and export certificates, and various other documents required for customs formalities. These documents are essential for placing goods under a customs procedure, and must be available for customs controls.

There are specific rules for storing paper and digital documents. Paper documents can be digitized, but must always be presented in their original format when requested by customs authorities. Digitization must be carried out in such a way as to ensure that the digitized documents are faithful and complete reproductions of the originals.

The distinctions between native paper and digital documents are crucial to the proper management of archives. Paper-native documents are those originally created in paper form, often characterized by handwritten notations, stamps or wet-ink signatures. These documents can be digitized to facilitate their preservation and transmission, but the original must be preserved and available.

Digital native documents, on the other hand, are created and stored in electronic format from the outset. Their preservation must guarantee theauthenticity andintegrity of the data, and they must be stored in their original computer format. Operators can use secure electronic archiving systems, includingtime-stamping and traceability functions, to ensure that these documents remain available and unaltered for the required duration.

Electronic storage of customs documents therefore requires a precise understanding of the types of document and the specific procedures for each, to ensure efficient management that complies with legal requirements.

Storage and safety

The digitization and electronic archiving of paper documents must meet strict requirements to ensure reliability and compliance. Paper documents must be scanned in such a way as to create faithful and complete copies, with a tolerance for non-reproduction of colors if they are not meaningful. Digitized files must be compressed without loss of information, and each document must be accompanied by a secure electronictime-stamping device, such as a server stamp or electronic signature. Document integrity must be ensured to prove that no alteration has taken place.

For the preservation of digital documents, it is crucial to guarantee their authenticity and legibility from the moment they are issued and throughout their retention period. Electronic documents must be preserved in their original computer format, and any change of format must be accompanied by parallel preservation of the original format. Digital archiving systems must include security measures, such as back-up facilities, IT continuity plans, and traceability functions to record any modification or access to documents.

Document traceability, integrity and availability are essential aspects of electronic preservation. Traceability ensures that all operations carried out on documents are recorded and verifiable. Integrity guarantees that documents have not been altered since their creation or digitization. Finally, availability ensures that documents can be consulted and presented quickly when needed, particularly during customs inspections. These three criteria are essential for the compliant and efficient management of electronic customs archives, enabling us to meet regulatory requirements and facilitate verification and audit processes.

Storage facilities for customs documents

The geographical requirements for the storage of customs documents stipulate that electronically stored documents must not be stored in countries not bound to France by a mutual assistance agreement on customs matters. This means that storage is permitted inEU member states or in countries with specific agreements with the EU or France, such as Canada, the USA, China and others. This restriction is designed to ensure that documents remain accessible and protected to security standards compatible with French and European customs requirements.

When storing native paper documents, it is advisable to keep them in a readily accessible location, ideally in France or another EU member state. This proximity enables us to respond rapidly to requests from customs authorities in the event of an inspection. Documents must be stored in conditions that preserve their integrity and legibility over the long term, protected from humidity, excessive light and the risk of physical deterioration. A documented and stable organization for physical archiving is also recommended, to facilitate the location and presentation of original documents should the need arise.

These geographical storage and paper document management practices ensure compliant and efficient storage, meeting regulatory requirements while facilitating customs controls and verification of archived documents.

Provision of documents for customs authorities

Operators' obligations for the transmission of documents to the customs authorities are clear and strict. Operators must ensure that all required documents are accessible and ready to be presented quickly, regardless of where they are stored or who is in charge of keeping them. This availability is essential to facilitate customs controls and ensure compliance with current regulations. Documents must be accessible from the operator's principal place of business or head office, enabling a rapid response to requests from the authorities.

For the electronic transmission of documents, the use of secure platforms is strongly recommended. Secure transfer platforms, such as FTP-MAYA, enable documents to be transmitted confidentially and protected against unauthorized access. When sending documents by e-mail, it is advisable to encrypt attachments containing sensitive information. Encryption adds an extra layer of security by protecting documents with a password, which must be communicated separately to the recipient.

By implementing these measures, operators can ensure that the transmission of documents to customs authorities is secure and compliant with regulatory requirements, while protecting the confidentiality and integrity of the data exchanged.

Retention period for customs documents

Retention period for customs documents

The minimum retention period for customs documents is three years plus the current year, i.e. a total of four years. This period ensures that documents are available for subsequent customs controls and audits, providing adequate traceability of transactions and goods movements.

In France, although the minimum legal period is four years, it is recommended to keep documents for a longer period. The recommendations are to keep customs documents for five years plus the current year, i.e. a total of six years. This extension covers regulatory requirements, and protects against any further challenges or checks by customs authorities.

In addition, for certain tax obligations, such as VAT, a retention period of up to ten years may be required. This extended period ensures that all relevant information is available for further tax and customs audits.

In summary, operators must respect a minimum retention period of four years, while following the French recommendations of six years to ensure full compliance and optimum protection in the management of their customs archives. They should also be aware that, for certain tax obligations such as VAT, a ten-year retention period may be required, in accordance with the Loi des Finances Rectificative.

Control and audit of conservation procedures

Audits for Authorized Economic Operators (AEO) are rigorous, and include a thorough examination of document retention procedures. During the AEO audit, the customs authorities assess the archiving methods and traceability of documents, whether in paper or digital format. This examination is based on article 25, paragraph 1, subparagraph h of the CDU implementing regulation, which requires operators to have satisfactory procedures for archiving and protecting against data loss. An archiving test is generally carried out to check that the archiving system is working properly and that documents can be checked retrospectively. Although this audit does not constitute an official validation of the storage system, it does enable us to ascertain that it is working properly and that it complies with regulatory requirements.

Verification procedures for non-EAO operators are also strict, although less formalized than for AEOs. Non-ASO operators may be subject to checks by customs services when applications for authorizations or simplifications conditional on compliance with AEO criteria are examined. These verifications, carried out by the Procedures Management Unit (PGP), concern the traceability of entries and the archiving of customs documents. Customs services may request further details on storage procedures when signing the Delta access agreement or its amendments. This check ensures that documents are correctly stored and easily accessible in the event of an inspection, thus guaranteeing ongoing compliance with current regulations.

Consequences of cessation of operator activity

Should the operator cease trading, customs documents must be carefully managed to ensure their integrity and availability to the relevant authorities. The operator may choose to hand over the original documents to the local customs authorities. This ensures that the documents remain accessible for future controls, and that responsibility for their safekeeping is appropriately transferred.

The operator's responsibility for document retention does not disappear immediately with the cessation of activity. The operator's civil and criminal liability may still be incurred during the legal document retention period for operations carried out prior to cessation of activity. It is therefore crucial to ensure that documents are correctly transmitted or archived to avoid any breach of legal obligations.

If thecompany is absorbed by another entity, the absorbing company takes over the document retention obligations of the absorbed company. This means that the company taking over the rights and obligations of the absorbed entity must continue to retain customs documents for the remaining legal period. This continuity ensures that the documents required for customs controls remain available and that regulatory obligations are met.

Compliance and best practices in electronic preservation

The transition to electronic storage of customs documents marks a crucial step in the modernization and efficiency of customs procedures. This process, supported by solid legal foundations such as the European Customs Code (ECC) and national regulations, aims to guarantee theintegrity, confidentiality and availability of documents.

We have explored the various aspects of this transition, from the requirements for digitizing and archiving paper documents, to geographical storage modalities. Operators need to understand transmission obligations and the importance of using secure platforms to guarantee data protection. What's more, document retention times must not only meet the minimum requirements of the CDU, but also follow national recommendations for optimum compliance.

Controls and audits play a key role in ensuring these practices, whether for Authorized Economic Operators (AEOs ) or non-AOs. Rigorous document management in the event of closure ortakeover by another company is also crucial to maintaining continuity and compliance.

In conclusion, electronic storage of customs documents is not just a regulatory requirement, but a best practice that enhances the efficiency, security and traceability of customs operations. By adopting these practices, operators can not only comply with legal requirements, but also improve the management and availability of their documents, thus contributing to a more secure and transparent trading environment.

FAQ

  1. What is electronic storage of customs documents?
    Electronic storage of customs documents enables the digitization and archiving of documents required for placing goods under a customs procedure. This includes technical and organizational measures to ensure data integrity, confidentiality, traceability and availability.
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  2. What are the advantages of electronic storage?
    ‍Electronic
    storage facilitates document management and consultation, reduces physical storage costs, and improves responsiveness in the event of customs controls. It also ensures better traceability and security of information.
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  3. Is it compulsory to store customs documents electronically?
    No, electronic retention is an option offered to operators and is not mandatory. However, even digitized documents must be able to be presented in their original paper form if requested by the customs authorities.
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  4. What types of documents are covered by electronic preservation?
    The documents concerned include transport documents (consignment note, CMR, Bill of Lading, LTA, CIM), commercial invoices, import/export certificates for sensitive goods, authorizations, and any other document required for customs formalities.
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  5. What are the requirements for scanning paper documents?
    Paper documents must be scanned in such a way as to create faithful and complete copies, with a tolerance for non-reproduction of colors if they are not meaningful. Digitized files must be compressed without loss of information and accompanied by a secure electronic time-stamping device.
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  6. Where can electronic documents be stored?
    Electronic documents cannot be stored in countries not linked to France by a mutual assistance agreement on customs matters. Storage is permitted in the European Union or in countries with specific agreements with the EU or France.
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  7. What is the minimum retention period for customs documents?
    Accompanying documents must be kept for at least three years plus the current year, i.e. a total of four years. However, it is advisable to keep these documents for five years plus the current year, i.e. six years in total, to cover regulatory requirements and to guard against possible challenges or additional checks by customs authorities. For certain tax obligations, notably VAT, a retention period of up to ten years may be necessary.
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  8. Are there specific retention periods for certain documents?
    Yes, for example: Goods transport documents must be kept for 5 years (Art. L.110-4 of the French Commercial Code) and customs declarations must be kept for 3 years (Art. 16 of European Council Regulation n°2913/92 of October 12, 1992).
  9. ‍Whathappens if the operator ceases trading?
    If the operator ceases trading, he can return the original documents to the relevant customs department. The operator's civil and criminal liability may still be incurred during the legal document retention period for operations carried out prior to cessation of activity.
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  10. What happens to customs documents in the event of a company merger or takeover?
    In the event of a takeover, the company taking over the rights and obligations of the absorbed company takes over the document retention obligations for the remaining legal period.
  11. What is the statute of limitations for customs offenses?
    Customs declarations must be kept for a period of 3 years. However, it is important to note that customs offenses are subject to a 6-year statute of limitations. In fact, certain customs procedures, such as the procès-verbaux interruptifs de prescription, can interrupt this period. Consequently, customs can demand documents without informing the Registered Customs Representative (RDE). In addition, the Customs Code provides for the possibility of going back up to 10 years in special cases.

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