WCO – COVID-19 Update

Counterfeit medical supplies and introduction of export controls on personal protective equipment

The WCO reminds the general public to exercise extreme caution when purchasing critical medical supplies from unknown sources, particularly online. The use of these goods may cost lives. 

While the world is gripped by the fight against COVID-19, criminals have turned this into an opportunity for fraudulent activity. There have been an alarming number of reports quoting seizures of counterfeit critical medical supplies, such as face masks and hand sanitizers in particular. 

Customs and law enforcement agencies in China, Germany, Indonesia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam, to name but a few, have reported such seizures in the past three weeks. 

Moreover, there was a significant increase in seizures of counterfeit and unauthorized face masks and hand sanitizers during Operation Pangea XIII, a collaborative enforcement effort by the WCO, Interpol, Europol, Customs administrations, Police forces and other law enforcement agencies. This Operation, held from 3 to 10 March 2020, resulted in the seizure of 37,258 counterfeit medical devices, of which 34,137 were surgical masks. 

Online retailers have also announced a surge in sales of counterfeit goods. In particular, a US company reported the removal from its marketplace of a million products claiming to cure or prevent COVID-19. Tens of thousands of listings were removed because of price hiking, particularly for products in high demand such as masks. In one operation, US Customs and Border Protection seized counterfeit COVID-19 test kitswhich had arrived at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) by mail from the United Kingdom. This seizure triggered a joint investigation by the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crimes Unit (PIPCO), the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), resulting in one arrest and the seizure of 300 more kits and 20 litres of chemicals for the production of such kits. 

Given the shortages and the activities of market speculators, another important trend is the introduction of export licences for certain categories of critical medical supplies, such as face masks, gloves and protective gear. In particular, on 11 March 2020 Vietnam adopted Decision 868/QD-BYT by the Ministry of Health, introducing export permits for medical masks. The European Union (EU) introduced a temporary export licensing scheme for personal protective equipment as of 14 March 2020 (see Commission implementing Regulation 2020/402). Other countries, such as Brazil, India, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine, have also followed suit. 

The EU’s dual-use export control regime will also continue to be applied to more sophisticated items such as full face masks, protective gear, gloves and shoes, specifically designed for dealing with ‘biological agents’. The full list of such items can be found in Annex I to EU Regulation 428/2009, as amended.  

The WCO urges its Member Customs administrations to remain vigilant in these difficult times.

Please consult the relevant section of the WCO’s website regarding COVID-19 information, including changes in legislation, new trends and patterns, and initiatives by partners and Member administrations. 

The WCO stands ready to continue working with all its partners to disrupt the supply chains of counterfeit products that put the lives of millions of people at risk.

Source: WCO Website, 23 March 2020

WCO – Global Customs community mobilizes efforts to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19

Following previous communications from the WCO in relation to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the WCO Secretariat has published a dedicated webpage to update Members and the general public about WCO’s tools, instruments, recommendations, as well as an HS Classification reference document for COVID-19 medical supplies among others. WCO Secretary General Dr. Kunio Mikuriya also communicated with all WCO Members to provide guidance and extend a request for strong coordinated action during these challenging times. 

“During this time of crisis, the global Customs community is invited to continue advocating for and realize the facilitation of not just relief supplies but of all goods being traded in order to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Mikuriya. He further added that “We are witnessing an unprecedented situation, but I am confident that by acting together, in a spirit of solidarity, we can mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our societies and economies.”

The dedicated webpage will be updated regularly with further guidance material, Members’ best practices and a database of Customs administrations’ contact points, the latter accessible for Members only

In his communication to Members on 17 March 2020, Dr. Mikuriya reiterated the appeal to facilitate the smooth movement of relief consignments, as well as relief personnel and their possessions, while applying appropriate risk management. Members were also invited to share challenges and best practices to prevent and/or fight the spread of the infection, as well as to nominate contact persons who can handle inquiries regarding the applicable procedures for the import, export and transit of relief consignments and equipment for humanitarian purposes via air, land and sea modes of transport.

In less than 48 hours, the Secretariat received an overwhelming number of replies from Customs administrations around the world. 

The WCO will continue to proactively communicate with its Members and partners, not only on measures to facilitate the movement of relief consignments, but on action to safeguard supply chain continuity.

Source: WCO, 20 March 2020