International Customs Day 2022

The WCO dedicates 2022 to the Scaling up Customs Digital Transformation by Embracing a Data Culture and Building a Data Ecosystem

Traditionally, every year, the Customs community comes together on 26 January to mark International Customs Day. This day of celebration is a unique opportunity for WCO Members, the WCO Secretariat and global Customs’ partners to reflect on a particular theme and to act upon it. 

Thus, throughout 2022, under the slogan “Scaling up Customs Digital Transformation by Embracing a Data Culture and Building a Data Ecosystem”, the Customs community will be focusing on how to operate in a fully digital environment and create an operating model that captures and exploits data from across the trade ecosystem.

Over the years, digital technology has evolved rapidly and Customs can now tap into data from other government agencies, commercially available databases, and open-source information platforms such as digitized global public records and multilingual news sources. 

The extent to which data can be used effectively depends on various factors surrounding data ethics, including privacy, commercial secrecy and legal issues regarding the use of data by Customs and Tax administrations, and the importance assigned to innovation in public administrations. 

To build data ecosystems, or consolidate existing ones, the following enabling actions may be considered:

  • establishing formal data governance to ensure the relevance, accuracy and timeliness of data;
  • making use of the standards developed by the WCO and other institutions regarding data format and data exchange;
  • providing appropriate management of data to ensure that the right people have access to the right data, and that data protection regulations are respected; and,
  • adopting progressive approaches, such as data analytics, to collect and successfully exploit data to drive decision-making.

A robust data culture empowers people to ask questions, challenge ideas and rely on detailed insights, not just intuition or instinct, to make decisions.

In order to nurture a data-driven culture, administrations need to enhance the data-literacy of their staff – in other words, their ability to interpret and analyze data accurately. 

Customs administrations should integrate data science into their curriculums for newly recruited officers and participate in the development of distance learning courses to familiarize Customs officers with the collection and analysis of data in order to forge a data-driven culture. Staff also need to understand the bigger picture, namely the impact of Customs on the effective protection of society, trade facilitation and fair revenue collection. 

On the other hand, Customs administrations are invited to consider leveraging data in their relationships with other actors along the supply chain, as well as making data available to the public and academia as a means of enhancing transparency, stimulating the production of knowledge and enabling dialogue with civil society.

Sharing data analysis with other government agencies increases the role and visibility of Customs in policy-making and in obtaining necessary resources, including donor funding. Disseminating Customs data and information in society is part of governments’ response to the general demand for open governance.

To support Customs administrations, the WCO Secretariat has placed data-related topics on the agendas of several committees and working groups, organized awareness-raising seminars, developed e-learning modules, drafted a Capacity Building Framework for Data Analytics which was adopted by the WCO Council in December 2020, issued practical publications and published articles in the WCO News Magazine.

Moreover, a community of experts has been established, under the name of BACUDA (BAnd of CUstoms Data Analysts), which brings together Customs and data scientists with the objective of developing data analytics methodologies. 

The Secretariat will continue to investigate ways to collect and share data on Customs administrations with a view to enhancing the way it delivers capacity building, and will continue to undertake data-driven assessments and work with international experts to respond to assistance requests.

More measures will be presented in the WCO Data Strategy that the WCO Secretariat is currently working on. The ambition will be to make data a vernacular language among Customs administrations and between the WCO Secretariat and WCO Members. The road ahead is not an easy one, there will inevitably be challenges along the way, but as we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Customs community is united, stronger and more resilient in the face of adversity. 

Dr. Kunio Mikuriya

WCO Secretary General

26 January 2022

WCO – New technology-assisted capacity building: the Virtual Reality (VR) assisted training program

The WCO has announced that it has set up a VR training program with the support of CCF-Korea at the WCO Headquarters on 9th November 2021. 

This program was developed and first established in RTC Korea last September to support customs officials to learn and understand the basic procedures of physical inspection on containerized cargo at a maritime port.

With the help of VR devices and a cyber master, a trainee is requested to select one of three individual scenarios and detect contraband items such as drugs, counterfeit goods and explosives smuggled in imported cargo.

After selecting one case, documents have to be compared and discrepancies identified. The program will show necessary steps to wear safety gear, inspect the exterior of the container, scan it with ZBV vehicle and study the X-ray black/white and coloured images. In the following step, the container is opened and inspected with tools like a chisel, magnifying glass, scanner, etc., at a bonded area of a dedicated warehouse.

RTC Korea, KCS and WCO Secretariats contributed to the program production and provided materials on drug smuggling cases with pictures, advice on preparatory steps, inspection scenarios taking into account risk indicators from the WCO RM compendium.

The length of one training session is approximately 10 to 15 minutes depending on the trainee‘s progress, and the devices for the VR training are the headset, controller, high-end computer, TV screen and kiosk. The program also developed a screen version that Customs officials can play on their desktop computer and notebook and have the 3D experience.   

During the experience session, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, the Secretary General of the WCO, expressed high interest and called on feedback on future activities from those who experience the program to make it more relevant for Members’ capacity building. In this regard, the immediate task is to prove its effectiveness through regional capacity building activities and WCO meetings. 

Dr. Taeil Kang, the Director of Capacity Building Directorate expressed his plans to develop content for other topics including e-commerce transactions, X-ray image screening and uploading on CLiKC and installation in other WCO regions. 

For more information, please contact Sungsig Kim, CCF-Korea manager at the Capacity Building Directorate (sungsig.kim@wcoomd.org).

Brazil launches national AI strategy

Brazil has launched a new artificial intelligence (AI) strategy, which aims to balance ethical use of the technology while boosting research and innovation in the sector.

Following a public consultation, which ran from December 2019 to March 2020, the strategy sets out six objectives. These include to: develop ethical principles that guide responsible use of AI; remove barriers to innovation; improve collaboration between government, the private sector and researchers; develop AI skills; promote investment in technologies; and advance Brazilian tech overseas.

Since Canada became the first country to adopt a national AI strategy in 2017, other governments have raced to develop policies that will reap the benefits of AI while curbing its harms. The OECD now tracks over 60 countries’ AI policy frameworks.

Brazil’s strategy notes that the state needs to encourage entrepreneurship in the sector. “In 2019, while the US invested US$224 million in AI startups, and China US$45 million, Brazil invested only $1 million,” it said.

Trust and ethics

Brazil has adopted the OECD’s five principles for responsible AI: inclusive growth, sustainable development and wellbeing; human-centered values and equity; transparency and responsible disclosure; robustness, security and safety; and accountability.

The strategy is organised into nine pillars or axes. The first pillar – “legislation, regulation, and ethical use” – is thematic and ensures that human rights are safeguarded and that strong regulatory frameworks are established. This includes a commitment to build ethical requirements into tenders for AI-driven solutions.

Another pillar – “qualifications for a digital future” – aims to “prepare current and future generations to cope with the changes and impacts of AI”. The strategy proposes a national digital literacy programme for students, and tech training for teachers, for example.

And a third pillar focuses on how AI can be applied to government for the benefit of citizens, including a commitment to implement AI in at least 12 of Brazil’s federal public services by 2022.

Big opportunities

The strategy is also ambitious about the possible commercial benefits of doubling down on AI.

One pillar of the strategy, for example, aims to identify productive sectors — such as financial services and the law — and applications, where AI would benefit to industry. It proposes fostering links between AI start-ups and SMEs.

And another pillar – “research, development, innovation and entrepreneurship” – points out that Brazil has a good national distribution of AI experts and practitioners, but that they mostly work in academia or the public sector, rather than in private tech firms.

Source: Global Government Forum, article by Josh Lowe, 13 April 2021