Posts by Mike Poverello

I have spent the best part of 28 years in the service of South African Customs, and a further 5 years as a free-lance consultant to the customs industry as well as an advisor on several customs systems modernisation programmes with international ICT and consulting firms between 1998 and 2002. Like many of my peers and numerous colleagues worldwide, "customs" is not another government department, but an institution which has as much a 'corporate identity' as it is an arm of government. Perhaps, I'm guilty of nostalgia at times gone by, but it nevertheless concerns me what is happening to so many customs administrations. First, many have by government decree merged into what is otherwise known as a 'Revenue Authority', with some success - as is the case with Customs in South Africa. A more recent development sees the customs being removed from its traditional 'treasury' base into 'Border Security Agencies'. Some fortunate administrations appear to have retained their independance which makes the organisational mandate and objectives more focussed and attainable. Through this 'blog' I wish to share my experiences and encourage those of you of like mind to collaborate.

FIATA – Launches Paperless FBL Solution

Picture: Glenn Carsten-Pieters

FIATA is proud to bring its members a pragmatic solution to move from paper documents to paperless FIATA BLs, which can be issued directly through their everyday tools. The FIATA solution improves the level of security of the FIATA BL in comparison to the paper version, making use of blockchain technology to authenticate the documents and provide an audit trail. Conscious of the various challenges which remain to be overcome to achieve worldwide adoption and legal recognition of electronic exchange of data, the paperless FBL is an answer to the needs of the industry for improved access and exchange of trade documents. The document issuer can decide in which format (s)he wishes to share the original unaltered document with its stakeholders: in paper form or as a PDF. Based on its eFBL data standard, FIATA has developed an API service, available free of charge to all software providers, allowing them to connect with FIATA to create secured paperless FBLs.

As of today, seven software providers have already signed an agreement with the Federation to implement the solution: AKANEA, CargowiseCargoXedoxOnline (Global Share), InfoSysTech-ISTNabu and Usyncro. We are very pleased to announce that the paperless FBLs can start to be issued as of today with edoxOnline, InfoSysTech-IST and Usyncro who have already finalised the implementation.

FIATA encourages all TMS’s, eBL providers and other software providers to join them and implement their solution to offer this new service to their customers. All technical specifications are available on FIATA’s GitHub repository.

 The solution, developed by FIATA partner Komgo, will help to reduce fraud risks, as each document is recorded on an immutable ledger and will be verifiable at any time by all stakeholders interacting with the document. Stakeholders will be able to either scan the QR code at the top right of the document, or directly upload the PDF on FIATA’s verification page to access the document audit trail which will

  • certify the validity of the document,
  • the identity of its issuer, and
  • the integrity of its content.

Souleïma Baddi, CEO of Komgo, when asked to comment on the paperless FBL launch said: ‘Documents are the bedrock of international trade, but they don’t operate like we need them to and they’re susceptible to fraud and forgery, that happens quite often.

Trakk is the digital ecosystem of trust for trade documents. I am thrilled to see FIATA joining all companies, financial institutions, warehouses and others who are using Trakk to protect their documents against fraud.’

‘WiseTech Global congratulates FIATA on the launch of their electronic bill of lading.’ The company continued: ‘This initiative will support transparency and security across the supply chain and will help companies to accelerate their digitalisation efforts. It was a pleasure to work with FIATA on this initiative. CargoWise customers will be able to request a connection to FIATA’s eFBL from June 2022.’ 

‘FIATA is very excited to embark on this important milestone of its digital journey which paved the way for great opportunities for the future of freight forwarders’, said FIATA Director General Stéphane Graber.

For more information, visit FIATA’s dedicated webpage

WTO launches new WTO data portal

The WTO has launched a new WTO data portal to provide easy access to key databases offering trade statistics and information on WTO members’ trade-related measures.

The new portal allows users to navigate a wide range of WTO databases covering trade in goods, services, dispute settlement, environmental measures, trade-related intellectual property rights and more. 

One of the databases is the “WTO Stats portal“, which allows users to access and download time series statistics on trade in goods and services on an annual, quarterly and monthly basis. It also contains market access indicators providing information on governments’ bound, applied and preferential tariffs as well as non-tariff information and other indicators.

The data portal will be regularly updated to take account of new systems and updates.

The WTO data portal is available here. The WTO Stats portal can be accessed directly here.

New Global Alliance of Special Economic Zones to boost development

 A special economic zone in the Dominican Republic.

UNCTAD joined hands with seven global, regional and national associations representing over 7,000 special economic zones (SEZs) to launch a global alliance on 17 May.

SEZs are geographically delimited areas within which governments promote industrial activity through fiscal and regulatory incentives and infrastructure support.

They go by many different names, including free-trade zones and industrial parks, and are widely used by developed and developing economies.

The Global Alliance of Special Economic Zones (GASEZ) seeks to drive the modernization of these zones across the world and maximize their contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan said: “The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides an opportunity for special economic zones to attract investment by putting SDGs at the forefront of their value proposition.”

Ms. Grynspan added: “A new model of sustainable special economic zones is therefore rapidly taking shape and they are contributing to more inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies in the countries where they operate.”

Pooling expertise

The alliance pools the expertise of its members to increase collaboration between SEZs, advocate on their behalf and enhance their contributions to sustainable development.  

SEZs are faced with new challenges and opportunities that require them to adapt and innovate.

Some challenges are related to the COVID-19 pandemic, with new lockdown measures in some parts of the world or disruptions due to the war in Ukraine.

Other challenges and opportunities are longer term, stemming from changing global value chains, including reshoring and nearshoring, and increased digitalization and investments in digital assets.

In addition, ongoing global corporate tax reforms require governments to re-evaluate their fiscal tools and incentives, which SEZs have traditionally relied on.

Many zones are also embracing the SDGs and targeting investment related to these goals.

Towards a global platform

During the alliance’s launch, its founding members expressed their desire to make GASEZ a global platform to catalyse partnerships and bring on board more stakeholders, including governments, the private sector and international organizations.

John Denton, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), said: “We support this important initiative…Through collaborative efforts you will be able to help improve SEZ services to business and at the ICC global network we stand ready to work with you to achieve this objective.”

Deepak Bagla, president of the World Association of Investment Promotion Agencies, said: “As supply chains re-organize themselves in a post-pandemic world order, we have a great opportunity where we can work together and create economic zones which will be based on the core pillars of sustainability, of efficiency, of creating jobs and helping us all working together with our complementarities.”

Founding members 

The alliance’s founding members include the Africa Economic Zones Organization, the Free Trade Zones Association of the Americas, the Green Partnership for Industrial Parks in China, the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation, the National Association of Foreign-Trade Zones of the United States of America, the World Free and Special Economic Zones Federation, the World Free Zones Organization and UNCTAD. The Alliance’s members represent 7,000 special economic zones in 145 economies, employing over 100 million people.

Source: UNCTAD, 17 May 2022

The Subtleties of Red Tape 

Picture – Vincent Branciforti

The following article by Dr Richard Grant, originally featured in BizNews on 19 April 2022.

It might be hard to imagine that ‘red tape’ could be your friend. Although we never actually see the red ribbon or tape that was once used to bind government documents, we do see the ponderous power of its spirit when experienced as in the Britannica Dictionary definition: “A series of actions or complicated tasks that seem unnecessary but that a government or organisation requires you to do in order to get or do something.”

Dr Richard Grant who does not have a suppressed memory of the stress, frustration and wasted time that so often come with the need to deal with a government bureaucracy to obtain a document, or to get something done? Who has not asked, “Can’t we just cut through all this red tape?” I can certainly commiserate. But be careful what you wish for.

Those old red ribbons or tape that bound those documents were merely a physical manifestation of the existence of law. Although the king might have been absolute in his power, he would keep that power only through a set of rules that would constrain the subsidiary power and reach of those who acted in his name. Throughout the ages, each government officer or bureaucrat has had his own personal desires and interests that could be quite different from those of the legitimate government leaders or of the ‘will of the people’. The rules imposed on them by the king or parliament serve not only to ensure that the king’s will would be done by the bureaucrats, but also to protect the king’s subjects from the personal whims of those same bureaucrats.

It is this latter feature that we are most in danger of losing. The protection of citizens from the arbitrary powers of government bureaucrats and their superiors is a key feature of those countries that are not only the most prosperous and free, but also most respectful of their citizens. That is the essential purpose of the rules and conventions that we call red tape. Without such controls, each bureaucrat with whom we deal would have potentially unlimited dictatorial powers. The red tape limits the size of the bureaucrat’s fiefdom and the scope of his powers within that fiefdom, thereby limiting the reach of his power over us.

Our problems with bureaucracy arise, not from the bureaucracy itself, but from the government (elected or otherwise) that creates more programmes and regulations for the bureaucracy to manage and enforce. As governments interfere more in our lives, bureaucracies must necessarily grow and become more powerful. That is what pushes out more red tape to bind ‘we the people’ rather than the bureaucrats and government officials.

When the people demand that the government do more for them, they are in essence asking the government and its officials to take on greater power and to have greater influence over our lives. That is when red tape becomes a visible and pernicious issue in daily life. Increasingly, we find ourselves dependent on some bureaucrat’s permission to conduct even the most basic aspects of our lives. To what extent do we need a bureaucrat to determine what we may buy and sell, what we must pay for petrol, from whom we are allowed to receive medical services, how we may produce and buy food, and how we might educate ourselves and share information? We might even find that we need a bureaucrat’s permission to venture out of our homes, and to do so with our faces uncovered – again.

The highest form of red tape is the national Constitution, whether explicitly written or by evolved convention. It is the Constitution that specifies and thereby limits the powers of the government and its officials. It is the set of rules within which the lesser rules, such as legislation, are made. A true constitution is necessarily far more difficult to change than is mere legislation. Just as giving a referee the power to change the rules in the middle of a rugby match would ruin the game, giving a legislature the power to change the rules that constrain it, would unleash the seekers of plunder and dictatorial rule.

Those who would live in a free and prosperous society must remember that the purpose of a constitution, and the red tape necessary to enforce it, is to constrain the power of the government, not of the citizens. When citizens experience increasing interference in the normal conduct of their lives from government regulators and other officials, the solution is not to cut through the red tape, but to push back on that red tape to bind more tightly the legislators and executives who empowered the bureaucracy.

A free and prosperous people are those who bend red tape away from themselves, instead to encircle their government and its officials, to limit their bureaucratic powers, and to tie it tightly.

Original Article

SARS Head Accreditation and Licensing, elected Vice Chair for WCO SAFE Working Group

Ms Rae Vivier, Head Accreditation and Licensing at the South African Revenue Service, has been elected by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) Member States as a Vice Chair for the WCO SAFE Working Group.   

The role of the WCO’s SAFE Working Group is to advise, as appropriate, the Policy Commission, the Permanent Technical Committee and the Secretary General on the full range of issues concerning the SAFE Framework of Standards. Such issues include matters relating to implementation and amendments concerning the SAFE Framework and further developing and monitoring other World Customs Organization (WCO) initiatives and related Customs matters that impact the operation of the SAFE Framework of Standards.

In accepting her election at the SAFE Working Group Meeting which took place on the 11 – 13 April 2022, Ms Vivier indicated that she was truly humbled by her election to the position and that it is an inordinate privilege to serve all 184 members and the WCO for the next 4 years.

Even though South Africa has been instrumental in the development of key instruments and tools designed by the WCO, it is a first time that the African continent will be holding such a leadership role in this key international platform i.e., SAFE Working Group.  The Vice Chair position will subsequently assume the role of Chair of the SAFE Working Group after two years.

Source: SARS

SARS – Rhino horn found in luggage at OR Tambo International Airport

Customs officers of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), in collaboration with other government departments, intercepted the luggage of a female South African passenger at OR Tambo International Airport which contained twelve (12) pieces of rhino horn weighing  30.7 kilograms.

The interception of the rhino horn came after the SARS Customs and other government officials received a tip-off regarding a passenger travelling to Dubai.

The Customs team reacted swiftly and accompanied the female passenger to the Customs area for further Customs inspection. The two luggage bags and a box were inspected by a baggage scanner that identified irregular images suspected to be rhino horn.

This led to a physical inspection of the luggage and box in which twelve (12) pieces of rhino horn, weighing 30.7kg were found. The passenger together with the rhino horn were handed to the South African Police Service after which a criminal case was opened for further investigation.

Between July 2020 and December 2021, a total of 125 pieces of rhino horn, weighing 452 kilograms, were seized at OR Tambo International Airport.

  • December 2021: Six (6) pieces of rhino horn, weighing 4kg declared as ‘Personal Effects’, bound for China.
  • December 2021: Five (5) pieces of rhino horn, weighing 10kg declared as ‘Scanners’, bound for Malaysia.
  • July 2021; Thirty-Two (32) pieces of rhino horn, weighing 160kg declared as ‘Live Plants, bound for Malaysia.
  • February 2021: eighteen (18) pieces of rhino horn, weighing 63kg declared as ‘HP Cartridges Developers’, bound for Malaysia.
  • December 2020: seventeen (17) pieces of Rhino Horn weighing 72.4kg concealed in a geyser bound for Malaysia.
  • September 2020: six (6) pieces, weighing 4.9kg declared as “Coffee Beans”, bound for Malaysia.
  • July 2020: forty-one (41) pieces, weighing 137kg declared as “Fine Arts”, bound for Malaysia via Doha.

SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter expressed his sincere thanks to Customs officers and their counterparts from South African Police Service for working diligently to curb the smuggling of rhino horn and many related crimes.

He said, “We will leave no stone unturned to detect and prosecute these criminal syndicates and individuals who break the law.  SARS and the law enforcement agencies will spare no efforts to ensure they are brought to book.”

For more information, contact SarsMedia@sars.gov.za

The Most Produced Cash Crops in Africa

Agriculture makes up nearly 20% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy—a higher percentage than any other region worldwide. 

From Nigeria to the fertile land across the East African Rift Valley, the continent is home to 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land

Given the massive role of agriculture across the region, this infographic from Zainab Ayodimeji shows the most produced cash crops in Africa and their share of total global production.

To view the Top 20 Cash Crops, link to the Full Article here.

Source: The Visual Capitalist

SAFE Working Group urges greater harmonization of AEO programmes

Picture – Nazarizal Mohammed

The 26th/27th Meetings of the SAFE Working Group (SWG) were held successfully from 11 to 14 April 2022. The virtual meetings brought together more than 260 delegates representing Customs administrations, the Private Sector Consultative Group (PSCG), other international organizations and academia.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Pranab Kumar Das, WCO Director of Compliance and Facilitation, highlighted that the SWG had reached an important juncture as the new three-year SAFE review cycle 2021-2024 was about to enter into discussions. It was pointed out that 17 years after it was first published, the SAFE Framework of Standards (FoS) had garnered substantial interest from WCO Members. During the meetings, Guyana became the 172nd WCO Member to express its interest in implementing the SAFE FoS. 

With a view to continued enhancement of the AEO criteria and provisions to strengthen the SAFE FoS, WCO Members made several new proposals to revise the Framework. The SWG also received feedback from the private sector on the urgent need to enhance the harmonization of SAFE and AEO implementation. In this context, the SWG heard a presentation by the WCO Anti-Corruption and Integrity Promotion (A-CIP) Programme on maintaining the integrity and transparency of AEO implementation.

On this occasion, the SWG reviewed and adopted the new Work Plan for 2022-2024, which reflected the critical activities the SWG will carry out over the next two years until 2024, in parallel with the SAFE review cycle. The SWG also received an update on the development of new features for the Online AEO Compendium (OAC) and the other extensive work underway in collaboration with other international organizations in the areas of security and facilitation.

Against the backdrop of the WCO’s theme for 2022, the panel discussion on “Scaling up Customs Digital Transformation by Embracing a Data Culture and Building a Data Ecosystem” attracted significant interest from Members and the private sector. The experienced speakers from Member Customs administrations, the private sector and the Secretariat enriched the discussions by sharing their best practices on using data for enhancing risk management and monitoring AEO programmes.

As a way forward, the SWG agreed that efforts will be reserved for a comprehensive review to assess and monitor SAFE implementation for greater harmonization of AEO programmes globally.

Source: World Customs Organisation, 25 April 2022

Satellite Maps – Shanghai’s Supply Chain Standstill

China has mandated a strict “zero COVID” policy since the onset of the global pandemic, which has led to tight lockdowns across the country whenever cases have started to spike. 

Recently, lockdown restrictions have been enacted in major cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai, as China deals with one of its worst outbreaks since Wuhan in December 2019.

These cautionary measures have had far-reaching impacts on China’s economy, especially on its supply chain and logistics operations. Shanghai’s port system, which handles about one-fifth of China’s export containers, is currently experiencing significant delays as a result of the recent government lockdown.

Shipping volume has dipped drastically since early March this year, right after partial lockdowns began in Shanghai. By the end of March, as restrictions continued to tighten up, shipping activity dipped nearly 30% compared to pre-lockdown levels. And while activity has recently picked up, it’s still far below average shipment volumes prior to the recent lockdown.

While the port is still technically operating, shipping delays will likely cause hiccups in the global supply chain. That’s because the Shanghai port is a major hub for international trade, and one of the largest and busiest container ports in the world.

How Bad is the Back-Up?

Here’s a closer look at satellite imagery that was captured by the Sentinel-1 satellite, which shows the current congestion at Shanghai’s port as of April 14, 2022. In the image, a majority of the white dots are cargo ships, many of which have been stuck in limbo for days.

Traffic has been building up at the Shanghai terminal. As of April 19, 2022, over 470 ships are still waiting to deliver goods to China. If you’d like to check out the Shanghai ports most up-to-date traffic, this live map by MarineTraffice provides real-time updates.

Much of these delays are due to transport issues—an estimated 90% of trucks that support import and export activities are currently offline, which is causing dwell time for containers at Shanghai marine terminals to increase drastically. 

Wait times for at Shanghai marine terminals has increased nearly 75% since the lockdowns began. Delays at the Shanghai terminal have sent ships to neighboring ports in Ningbo and Yangshan, but those ports are beginning to get congested as well.

The global impacts of this current bottleneck are still pending, and depend greatly on the length of Shanghai’s lockdown. According to an article in Freight Waves, this could turn into the biggest supply chain issue since the start of the pandemic if China’s marine shipping congestion isn’t cleared up soon.

Read Full Article Here!

Source: Visual Capitalist, article by Carmen Ang and Graphics by Nick Routley, dated 21 April 2022

Golden Triangle – The World’s Worst Special Economic Zone

Picture: Wiki Commons

The Golden Triangle SEZ in Laos is mired in scandal and criminality, but the silence from SEZ authorities on the matter is deafening.

In February 2022, authorities raided the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Laos, freeing dozens of Chinese women from forced prostitution.

For years, the Golden Triangle SEZ has been home to numerous illegal industries including human trafficking, wildlife smuggling and drugs production. Despite this, the zone has announced significant expansion plans.

SEZs are business parks or cities that have been granted exemptions from most national-level economic regulations. They often enjoy tax breaks, different labour laws, special visa rights, import/export exemptions and streamlined regulations. There are more than 7,500 SEZs in 100 countries worldwide. The overwhelming majority of SEZs are legitimate centres of industry. They play key roles in the global tech, manufacturing, supply chain, logistics and tourism industries. However, a small minority of SEZs, such as the Golden Triangle, have been implicated in serious issues that threaten the credibility of the entire industry.

The shame of the Golden Triangle SEZ

On 5 February 2022, Laotian police raided the Golden Triangle SEZ, rescuing six women who were victims of human trafficking. The women came from impoverished backgrounds in southern China. Recruiters told them that they could have lucrative jobs as telemarketers in the Kings Roman Casino, the anchor tenant of the zone. When they failed to meet sales quotas, their employers declared that they were in debt. The women were then brought to local pimps, who separated the ones considered beautiful from the rest. Some of the women were sent to brothels; the others were forced to work in the laundry service of the casino.

In January, eight women staged a daring escape where, in the middle of the night, they met up with human rights activists who helped them escape the zone’s fence. After repeated complaints by the authorities, they carried out the raid, which would rescue six more women.

Authorities have now rescued 50 Thai women from the Golden Triangle SEZ, although, according to Laotian authorities, there may be up to 200 more women of other nationalities still trapped there. Some of the women have reportedly been enslaved there for up to a decade. In 2012, 50 women were rescued after similar complaints led to a similar bust.

Laotian authorities are powerless to act – the Golden Triangle’s status as an SEZ means that authorities cannot enter in the absence of a formal complaint. The zone is run by the Chinese-owned Kings Roman Corporation, based out of Hong Kong.

On 29 January, the second-largest drug seizure in Asian history occurred right outside of the Golden Triangle SEZ. Authorities caught four men in a nearby village attempting to smuggle 36 million pills of methamphetamine to Thailand. Authorities speculated that the meth was produced in the Golden Triangle SEZ, and was ultimately destined for lucrative markets such as China and Australia. An Australian federal police official stationed in the area estimated that between 60% and 80% of all of Australia’s methamphetamine came from the Golden Triangle region.

The World Wildlife Fund also warns that the Golden Triangle SEZ is a hotbed of wildlife smuggling. Endangered species such as tigers, elephants, bears and pangolins are sold and butchered there for use in Chinese traditional medicine. The number of illegally held animals has significantly increased since the beginning of 2022.

Why can’t Golden Triangle SEZ be closed down?

Human trafficking, methamphetamine production and wildlife smuggling barely scratch the surface, however. The zone was built on stolen indingenous land, workers are routinely unpaid and forced to work against their will, and the zone regularly dumps toxic waste into local streams.

SEZ officials do not deny any of the human trafficking, drug smuggling or wildlife smuggling. However, they say that this is being done by tenants and not by the zone itself. SEZ officials have agreed to pass new labour rules designed to protect women in the zone, but critics worry that these are just token reforms.

Despite everything, Laotian authorities are unwilling to shut down the zone. This is partially due to pressure from the Chinese, but also because the rest of the country outside of the zone is also chaotic. Local authorities are barred from entering and international inspectors are routinely turned away.

Instead, the government of Laos is doubling down. The Golden Triangle SEZ is currently building a new international airport to attract more Chinese tourists. Zone management is also investigating a possible expansion of the zone, which might result in more land expropriation from nearby communities.

The expansion of the Golden Triangle SEZ should be seen as an embarrassment to the global SEZ industry. Despite this, none of the major international SEZ trade associations – the World Free Zones Organisation, the Africa Economic Zones Organisation, or the Free Zone Association of the Americas have publicly condemned the Golden Triangle SEZ.

International SEZ organisations must issue statements publicly condemning the Golden Triangle SEZ. Doing so would cost them nothing – a single press release, an email blast to their newsletter audiences and a public statement condemning the project. It would, however, have a significant impact – it would give activists in Laos and the Mekong region more ammunition to pressure the government to shut down the zone. It would also send a message to international investors to stay away. Failure to properly address zones such as the Golden Triangle actively damages the credibility of the SEZ trade associations. It creates a false perception that these groups stand to gain by enforcing the status quo. In reality, international zone associations have everything to lose by failing to publicly condemn bad SEZs.

Strongly worded statements will not solve the problems of the Golden Triangle and other SEZs that fall below the required standards of decency, but they will send a message to the Golden Triangle – and other problematic zones – that they are being watched.

Source: Investment Monitor, article by Thibault Serlet, 28 March 2022

WCO/WTO – “The role of advanced technologies in cross-border trade: A customs perspective”

The WCO and the World Trade Organization (WTO) held a webinar to launch their joint publication on Customs use of advance technologies.  The event attracted more than 700 attendees and provided insights into how advanced technologies can help Customs administrations facilitate the flow of goods across borders. The publication titled, “The role of advanced technologies in cross-border trade: A customs perspective” provides the current state of play and sheds light on the opportunities and challenges Customs face when deploying these technologies.

The publication outlines the key findings of WCO’s 2021 Annual Consolidated Survey and its results on Customs’ use of advanced technologies such as blockchain, the internet of things, data analytics and artificial intelligence to facilitate trade and enhance safety, security and fair revenue collection. 

The joint publication highlights the benefits that can result from the adoption of these advanced technologies, such as enhanced transparency of procedures, sharing of information amongst all relevant stakeholders in real time, better risk management, and improved data quality, leading to greater efficiency in Customs processes and procedures.

In his remarks, WCO Deputy Secretary General Ricardo Treviño Chapa said, “Technologies will assist implementation of international trade facilitation rules and standards, such as the WCO Revised Kyoto Convention and the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. We are therefore delighted to be partnering with the WTO, to ensure that our work in assisting our Members’ digital transformation journeys is complementary, that we bring all relevant partners to the same table, and that we avoid duplication.”

In her opening remarks, WTO Deputy Director-General Anabel González noted, “Advanced technologies offer customs an opportunity to take a big leap forward on trade facilitation. Take blockchain. Its widespread application could help us make trade both more transparent and less paper intensive. That would reduce trade costs, which is good news for everyone, especially small businesses, which are disproportionately affected by red tape at the border.”

The webinar presented the main findings from the WCO/WTO paper and featured presentations by BrazilNigeriaSingapore and the Inter-American Development Bank. For a greater uptake of these technologies, the speakers underlined the importance of continuous sensitization of Customs and other stakeholders, the need for interoperability and implementation of international standards, the relevance of engaging in dialogues at international level, as well as having a strategy and space for innovation and testing at national level.

The full publication can be accessed here.

WTO – Trade in Knowledge

The WTO has launched a new book entitled “Trade in Knowledge: Intellectual Property, Trade and Development in a Transformed Global Economy” on 31 March. At the launch event, a wide cross-section of contributors to the publication discussed how their research and analysis had a bearing on current issues lying at the intersection of development, trade, technology and the diffusion of knowledge.

Drawing together insights from a diverse range of leading international scholars and analysts, the publication explores how to build more inclusive, up-to-date and precise ways of measuring knowledge flows, discusses how more nuanced and effective use of these data may guide policymakers and provides insights into the prospects for knowledge-based social and economic development, moving legacy models and adapting to the realities of the contemporary knowledge economy. The book also proposes ideas for updated systems of governance that promote positive sum approaches to the creation and sharing of the benefits of knowledge as a public good, with a view to informing planning for development.

The book’s table of contents is available here.

Source: World Trade Organisation

USA – White House Announces New Initiative to Improve Supply Chain Data Flow

Last year, the ports and the private sector moved a historic amount of goods with record holiday sales and delivery times below pre-pandemic levels. Currently, real retail inventories excluding autos are six percent higher than at the end of 2019 and products at grocery and drug stores are 90 percent in stock, just 1 percentage point below pre-pandemic levels.

The US government is also focused on addressing the longer-term weaknesses in our nation’s supply chains, the result of decades of underinvestment, outsourcing, and offshoring instead of investment in long-term security, sustainability, and resilience. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) is now making a generational investment in our ports, highways, and other parts of our physical infrastructure, which will help speed up the movement of goods and lower costs. But we can further strengthen our goods movement supply chains by making a similarly bold improvement in a digital infrastructure to connect the supply chain.

To take the first step toward addressing this challenge, the US government is announcing the launch of Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW), an information sharing initiative to pilot key freight information exchange between parts of the goods movement supply chain. FLOW includes eighteen initial participants that represent diverse perspectives across the supply chain, including private businesses, warehousing, and logistics companies, ports, and more.  These key stakeholders will work together with the Administration to develop a proof-of-concept information exchange to ease supply chain congestion, speed up the movement of goods, and ultimately cut costs for American consumers. DOT will lead this effort, playing the role of an honest broker and convener to bring supply chain stakeholders together to problem solve and overcome coordination challenges. This initial phase aims to produce a proof-of-concept freight information exchange by the end of the summer.

Recent supply chain disruptions have raised national awareness of the need for improved information exchange. Supply chain stakeholders deserve reliable, predictable, and accurate information about goods movement and FLOW will test the idea that cooperation on foundational freight digital infrastructure is in the interest of both public and private parties. FLOW is designed to support businesses throughout the supply chain and improve accuracy of information from end-to-end for a more resilient supply chain.

Resiliency—the ability to recover from an unexpected shock—requires visibility, agility, and redundancy. The lack of digital infrastructure and transparency makes our supply chains brittle and unable to adapt when faced with a shock. The goods movement chain is almost entirely privately operated and spans shipping lines, ports, terminal operators, truckers, railroads, warehouses, and cargo owners such as retailers. These different actors have made great strides in digitizing their own internal operations, but they do not always exchange information with each other. This lack of information exchange can cause delays as cargo moves from one part of the supply chain to another, driving up costs and increasing goods movement fragility.

View the entire Fact Sheet here!

Source: White House, 15 March 2022

WCO News – First Edition 2022

WCO News features an article by the Secretariat on the WCO Data Model – the common language for border management-related processes which enable information to flow seamlessly across different IT systems. The article focuses on the latest data requirements and processes which have been included in the Model through collaboration with stakeholders in the maritime, food safety, waste management and postal sectors. In addition, it offers some practical guidance to Customs administrations which are considering adopting the Model and calls on economic operators to use it in their commercial processes also, as it covers some of the data elements found in commercial documents such as the invoice, packing list and bill of lading.

This is followed by an article by the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) introducing various projects dealing with the collection, analysis and sharing of data. The author also emphasizes that a culture of innovation has emerged within BURS, and that the working environment supports creative thinking and the generation of new or improved products, services and processes.

The third article presents the results of, and lessons learned from, the first International Survey on Customs Administration (ISOCA), which was co-managed by the WCO and the IMF with the aim of collecting quantitative and qualitative data on Customs administrations and enabling comparisons to be made between countries that share common features. A higher number of participants is required for the Survey to provide a global view of the roles played by Customs administrations, and of their practices. I hope more administrations will participate in future editions of the Survey, which will be simplified to strike a better balance between the need for accurate data and the burden of data collection.

In the next article, Dominican Republic Customs introduces the tools it has developed to measure the time required to release goods and support the Government’s Release in 24 Hours (D24H) Programme, whose objective is to turn the Dominican Republic into the logistics epicenter “par excellence” of the Caribbean region.

A further article takes us to Niger, where the Customs Administration recently financed a study into the use of satellite imagery to analyze cross-border trade flows. The article presents the information collected and explains how it will be used to reorganize operational services and provide efficient links within the territory.

The final article in this Dossier sheds light on the need for harmonization in the digitization of trade documents. This article by the ICC introduces the ICC’s Digital Standards Initiative (DSI), a collaborative cross-industry effort to advance the digitization of trade globally through the adoption of a set of standards.

Many other articles published in this edition of the WCO News directly or indirectly touch on data and on the role that information technology plays in making us more efficient. And this is true of all the editions of our magazine. You have heard or read it many times: in today’s world, it’s all about data. Data is strategic, and we all stand to gain by sharing experience and expertise on how best to manage it in a holistic way.

Source: WCOOMD, March 2022

Abu Dhabi Customs joins TradeLens

Abu Dhabi Customs hosted a workshop recently with key Importers and Exporters discussing how TradeLens and digitized transportation documentation has the ability to streamline processes in customs declaration processes.

 “Abu Dhabi Customs is excited to work with a group of importers and exporters to explore the benefits that collaboration using blockchain can offer to all those involved. This joint approach is critical to create time savings in the process and to improve access to international trade to all entities that trade with Abu Dhabi. We really believe TradeLens will be bringing a lot of benefits to our ecosystem here in Abu Dhabi”. – Yanal Qasim Mohammad Alkhasoneh, Division Director – Information Technology, Information Technology Division  

“The collaboration across public and private entities towards a single shared goal was immensely encouraging. The gathering of industry leaders, authorities, and ocean carriers to jointly and openly address international transportation documentation highlights the desire to improve existing processes using innovative digital tools like TradeLens”. – Thomas Sproat, Global Head of Network TradeLens

Source: TradeLens, 9 February 2022