[RIO DE JANEIRO] Researchers in Brazil will no longer be hit with big import duties on research equipment, following changes made to legislation last week. Previously, taxes were levied on imports regardless of whether they were bought or donated.
The new decision extends the scope of a 1990 law that exempted from import taxes any non-profit organisations registered with Brazil's National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) that were undertaking or funding research or teaching. Individuals are now also covered by the law, as long as they register with CNPq.
Stevens Rehen, a Brazilian researcher associate at the Scripps Research Institute, in La Jolla, California, United States, says the change in legislation will benefit Brazilian scientists. But, he adds, high taxes are not the only difficulty they face when importing equipment. Bureaucracy is also a serious problem.
"I have to weigh every item I want to send to Brazil and get a consular invoice for each," says Rehen. In 2003, while at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Rehen received donations of research equipment, including microscopes, computers and slide scanners, worth more than US$200,000. Once the material arrived it was held by customs officials for six months, and the university was charged US$10,000.
The problem is not new. Rehen recalls that when the university ordered a machine for the laboratory he was working in as an undergraduate, it arrived more than six years after he finished his doctorate.
And, according to Rehen, when the material finally arrives, it is often outdated or broken (see Brazilian officials destroy rare fish specimens). He says disagreements between different government agencies encourage the delays. Brazil's Internal Revenue Service, for instance, recently blocked some imports, stating that CNPq was in debt, he says. CNPq denied the statement.
In June, the government responded to these problems by launching an 'easy import' programme (see Brazil eases rules on scientific imports). But Rehen says that the situation still needs to improve.
"Different governmental sectors should have better communication between them," says Rehen. "New customs officials, with knowledge in biological areas, should be employed." He adds that researchers have a part to play too: "They need a better understanding of how the law works."