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

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

Global Supply Chains Making a Huge Bet on Blockchain

System Shock: The $50 Trillion Industry Making a Huge Bet on Blockchain

Blockchain may one day eliminate inefficiencies and lack of transparency in supply chains. While slow in coming, this revolution would benefit not only customers and brands, but the “invisible” workers who power global trade.

In this episode of Bloomberg’s System Shock, we explore how cumbersome, paperwork-bound supply chains—like one stretching from kitchen refrigerators in Europe and the U.S. all the way back to a small farmer in Ecuador—are being transformed by that most modern of technologies.

Source: Bloomberg, System Shock, Gloria Kurnik, 26 January 2022

WTO Joint Statement Initiative on E-commerce

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the digital economy’s importance, accelerated the digital transformation and heightened the need for global rules governing digital trade. As Co-convenors of the Joint Statement Initiative on Electronic Commerce, we are committed to responding to this challenge. This initiative will update the WTO rulebook in an area of critical importance to the global economy.

We recognise the importance of the digital economy in post-COVID-19 economic recovery. The digital economy offers enormous opportunities for developing Members and least-developed country (LDC) Members, including by lowering the costs for businesses, particularly MSMEs, to access and participate in global markets. WTO rules and commitments on digital trade can help unlock these opportunities.

In this context, we will continue to drive negotiations towards a high standard and commercially meaningful outcome building on existing WTO agreements and frameworks. We will continue to promote inclusiveness and encourage the participation of as many WTO Members as possible in the negotiations, which were launched in our January 2019 Ministerial statement.

We welcome the substantial progress made to date in the negotiations. We have achieved good convergence in negotiating groups on eight articles – online consumer protection; electronic signatures and authentication; unsolicited commercial electronic messages; open government data; electronic contracts; transparency; paperless trading; and open internet access. The outcomes already achieved in these areas will deliver important benefits including boosting consumer confidence and supporting businesses trading online.

In addition, we have seen the consolidation of text proposals in other areas, including on customs duties on electronic transmissions, cross-border data flows, data localisation, source code, electronic transactions frameworks, cybersecurity, and electronic invoicing, as well as advanced discussions on market access. We will intensify negotiations in these areas from early 2022. We note that provisions that enable and promote the flow of data are key to high standard and commercially meaningful outcome.

Participants in the initiative support the continuation of the multilateral e-commerce moratorium in fostering certainty and predictability for businesses. The co-convenors consider it crucial that the initiative makes permanent among participants the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions.

We recognise the importance of supporting the engagement of developing Members and LDC Members in the initiative, including implementation of commitments. We will continue to deepen the discussion, including through a series of roundtables, dialogues and webinars, on capacity building options and support for implementation for developing Members and LDC Members in 2022.

In light of the strong progress that has been achieved to date, the co-convenors will arrange the JSI work programme to secure convergence on the majority of issues by the end of 2022. We will identify opportunities throughout 2022 for Ministers to provide guidance on key issues in the negotiations.

We look forward to working with all participating Members as we intensify the negotiations and work towards a successful conclusion.

The Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Australia

H.E. Mr HAYASHI Yoshimasa, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan
H.E. Mr HAGIUDA Koichi, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Japan H.E. Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Trade and Industry, Singapor
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Amazon is making its own containers and bypassing supply chain chaos

For years, Amazon has been quietly chartering private cargo ships, making its own containers, and leasing planes to better control the complicated shipping journey of an online order. Now, as many retailers panic over supply chain chaos, Amazon’s costly early moves are helping it avoid the long wait times for available dock space and workers at the country’s busiest ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. 

“Los Angeles, there’s 79 vessels sitting out there up to 45 days waiting to come into the harbor,” ocean freight analyst Steve Ferreira told CNBC in November.  “Amazon’s latest venture that I’ve been tracking in the last two days, it waited two days in the harbor.”

By chartering private cargo vessels to carry its goods, Amazon can control where its goods go, avoiding the most congested ports.

“Who else would think of putting something going into an obscure port in Washington, and then trucking it down to L.A.? Most people are thinking, well, just bring the ship into L.A. But then you’re experiencing those two-week and three-weeks delay. So Amazon’s really taken advantage of some of the niche strategies I believe that the market needs to employ,” Ferreira said.

Still, Amazon has seen a 14% rise in out-of-stock items and an average price increase of 25% since January 2021, according to e-commerce management platform CommerceIQ.

“The consumer has been feeling price increases in everything that they’re purchasing,” said Margaret Kidd, Supply Chain & Logistics Technology program director at the University of Houston. “Ultimately, when there’s an increase in the cost of transportation, it gets passed down to the consumer.”

Amazon has been on a spending spree to control as much of the shipping process as possible. It spent more than $61 billion on shipping in 2020, up from just under $38 billion in 2019. Now, Amazon is shipping 72% of its own packages, up from less than 47% in 2019 according to SJ Consulting Group.

It’s even taking control at the first step of the shipping journey by making its own 53-foot cargo containers in China. Containers are in short supply, with long wait times and prices surging from less than $2,000 before the pandemic to $20,000 today.

“Amazon has produced probably 5,000 to 10,000 of these containers over the last two years I’ve been tracking it,” Ferreira said. “When they bring these containers onto U.S. soil, once they unload them, guess what? They get to be used in the domestic system and the rail system. They don’t have to return them to Asia like everyone else does.”

A cargo vessel called the Star Lygra called at the Port of Houston on October 5, 2021, filled with Amazon containers.

“By creating their own containers, they are essentially guaranteeing that equipment is going to be available for them,” said Lauren Beagen, maritime lawyer and founder of Squall Strategies. She was working at the Federal Maritime Commission when Amazon first registered with the agency in 2015, the first indication it was exploring its own ocean freight business. 

Then in 2017, Amazon started quietly operating as a global freight forwarder through a Chinese subsidiary, helping move goods across the ocean for its Chinese sellers who pay to be part of the Fulfilled by Amazon program. Internally, Amazon dubbed this project “Dragon Boat.” 

“They are doing over 10,000 containers per month of the small- and medium-sized Chinese exporters. Amazon’s volume as an ocean vendor — that’s right, you heard me correct, they’re considered an ocean vendor — would rank them in the top five transportation companies in the Trans Pacific,” Ferreira said.

This season, a handful of other major retailers — WalmartCostcoHome Depot, Ikea and Target — are also chartering their own vessels to bypass the busiest ports and get their goods unloaded sooner.

“The real purpose of these vessels when they were built was not containers. It was really lumber, chemicals, grain, agricultural products. But because of the ingenuity and creativity and lack of space, Amazon and many other smart people have quickly figured out how to convert some of these multipurpose vessels to container,” Ferreira said.

For some of the highest-margin goods, Amazon is avoiding ports altogether by reportedly leasing at least ten long-haul planes that can get smaller amounts of cargo directly from China to the U.S. much faster. One of the converted Boeing 777 planes can carry 220,000 pounds of cargo. According to capacity estimates from Ocean Audit, the small 1,000-container freighters being chartered by Amazon and others can hold 180 times that, with the biggest cargo ships carrying more than 3,600 times what the planes can hold.

Another strain on the supply chain is manpower.  

“We’ve been hearing a lot about the great resignation, with a lot of jobs going open and unfilled. So I think companies are looking to get very creative in attracting labor. It might be signing bonuses, higher pay,” said Judy Whipple, supply chain management professor at Michigan State University.

To fight the worker shortage — and a reputation for relentless workload and breakneck speed — Amazon says it’s offering sign-on bonuses of up to $3,000 to all the 150,000 seasonal workers it’s hiring this year. Last year, it hired 100,000 seasonal workers.

“That 50,000 increase in employees this year over last year is probably people to do the unloads. They’ve got these containers coming in at the last second, man, they want to unload those goods and get them on the shelves in the fulfillment centers as quickly as possible,” said John Esborn, who used to run logistics operations for Wayfair and is now the head of international transportation for Amazon aggregator Perch.

The seasonal workers are unloading and loading, picking and packing at more than 250 new facilities Amazon says it’s opened in the U.S. just in 2021 — a clear indication that it planned far ahead for the final bottleneck in the supply chain backlog: warehouse capacity.

Watch the video to learn more about all the bold and costly ways Amazon is avoiding the worst of the supply chain crisis this holiday season.

Source: CNBC, article by Katie Schoolov, 4 December 2021

WCO – 2022 edition of the Harmonized System Nomenclature is now available online.

As of 18 November 2021, the online version of the 2022 edition of the Harmonized System Nomenclature is available through the WCO Website to all HS users.  The HS 2022 edition, as the world’s global standard for classifying goods in international trade, will enter into force on 1 January 2022.

Used by over 200 countries and economic or Customs unions as the basis for their Customs tariffs and for trade statistics, as well as by international organizations such as the United Nations Statistical Division (UNSD) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Harmonized System (HS) Convention currently has 160 Contracting Parties, making it the WCO’s most successful instrument to date.

The 2022 edition of the HS Nomenclature includes significant changes with 351 sets of amendments (including some complementary amendments): 77 relating to the agricultural sector; 58 to the chemical sector; 31 to the wood sector; 21 to the textile sector; 27 to the base metal sector; 63 to the machinery sector; 22 to the transport sector and an additional 52 that apply to a variety of other sectors, comprising a total of 1,228 headings identified by a 4-digit code, and 5,612 subheadings identified by a 6-digit code. 

These amendments have been made to update the Harmonized System Nomenclature, taking into consideration public health and safety, protection of society and fight against terrorism, goods especially controlled under various conventions, food security and environment protection, technological progress, trade patterns, and clarification of the HS texts.

Click here for the HS Nomenclature 2022 Edition.

The digital version of the HS 2022 edition is also available for free on WCO Trade Tools, which is the WCO’s new online database platform that encompasses the last five editions of the HS and functionalities to support all those involved in international trade.  The WCO Trade Tools encompasses various free and subscription only tools relating to the classification and valuation of goods, origin determination and the application of preferential rules of origin.

The paper version of the HS 2022 edition can be purchased on WCO’s Bookshop.

Global Trade Braces for a Mini Y2K With Customs Code Overhaul

Picture by Kyle Glen

The following article was published in Supply Lines, Bloomberg

As if the foot soldiers of global trade needed more complications this holiday season, many logistics managers and customs brokers are starting to brace for a mini Y2K moment come Jan. 1.

That’s when changes will take effect to the official nomenclature for hundreds of product groups used to classify imports and exports. So-called Harmonized System numbers — known as HS codes — exist on more than 5,000 product categories developed by the World Customs Organization, an intergovernmental group in Brussels that updates them every five years or so.

In 2022, the biggest changes are coming for electrical machinery and parts, wood, textiles, fish and organic chemicals.

More than 350 global HS codes are getting updated, and some 1,500 harmonized U.S. tariff codes are subject to revisions, according to a recent webinar from Flexport. The categories are important, if a little wonky, because most items of international commerce fall into one and they can determine tariff levels.

Some codes are disappearing. After a respectable run through the 1970s and ‘80s, answering machines are about to lose their HS code. Made obsolete by voicemail, they rank 5,296th among 5,832 U.S. imports this year, according to Flexport data.

Globes — those spinning spheres that taught geography to schoolkids of the 1970s — will have their number (4905.10) retired, too.

“The trade in globes is not quite what it used to be,” Marcus Eeman, a global customs manager with Flexport, lamented about the U.S.’s 4,025th-biggest import.

Chemical Weapons?

Some new HS codes will appear, like one for pomace oil, a lower-grade form of olive oil.

Among the more intriguing additions, Flexport says there’ll be a “new code created for petroleum resins and other organic chemical compounds used in the manufacture of chemical weapons.” That should make it easier for authorities to track which countries are importing it and potentially using them illegally.

Other categories are getting renamed. Lamps will no longer fall under “lamps,” they’ll be classified as “luminaires.” There will be new subheadings for popular gadgets like smart phones, high-speed digital cameras and flat panel displays.

Economies preparing for the changes include the U.S., China, the European Union, Canada and Australia. The U.K., meanwhile, is still “finding their footing with Brexit and we expect them to get their act together by the end of the year,” Eeman said.

For all the changes to take effect on Jan. 1 in the U.S., there will need to be a presidential proclamation published in the Federal Register with the required 30 days of advanced notice.

So it’s worth looking out for that in coming days.

“My fear is that Dec. 1 will come and the presidential proclamation will be published and that’s when people will start to scramble,” said Tom Gould, Flexport’s vice president of global customs. “Then Jan. 1 will hit and you’ll have a bunch of people that have products that they need to import but they don’t know the classification, because the code that they’ve used in the past is no longer a valid code.’’

Source: Bloomberg, authored by Brendan Murray, 24 November 2021

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).

WCO News, October 2021 Edition

The WCO has published the 96th edition of WCO News, the Organization’s magazine aimed at the global Customs community, providing a selection of informative articles that bring the international Customs and trade world to life.

This edition’s “Dossier” focuses on cross-border e-commerce, in other words those “transactions which are effected digitally through a computer network (e.g. the internet), and result in physical goods flows subject to Customs formalities”. We have invited several administrations to share information on the initiatives they are taking to build their capacity for monitoring the compliance of such flows. Despite every country’s situation being unique, we still believe that it is important to share experiences and explain initiatives.

The “Panorama” section addresses a broad variety of topics such as rules or origin, goods classification, training and reforms. It also includes two articles which respectively present, from a Customs perspective, two recent regional Free Trade Agreements: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the African Continental Free Trade Area.

The “Focus” section brings together two articles dealing with non-intrusive inspection (NII). In the first one, the WCO Secretariat shows how some Customs administrations and manufacturers manage the decommissioning of NII equipment when it has reached the end of its life. The second article describes the challenges of X-ray image analysis and the value of training.

Lastly, in the “Point of View” section, Dutch Customs explains the structure of the ISO Audit Data Collection Standard and why it supports the Standard’s extension to cover data related to Customs and indirect tax audits, while an attorney from Israel argues that governments should consider waiving taxes on transport costs until we are back to “normal” and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are no longer being felt.

To discover the full content of this edition please visit the magazine website.

EU – Import Control System 2 (ICS2)

The European Union makes it a top priority to ensure the security of its citizens and single market. Every year trillions of Euros worth of goods are imported into EU, with the EU-27 now accounting for around 15 % of the world’s trade in goods. The European Union is implementing a new customs pre-arrival security and safety programme, underpinned by a large-scale advance cargo information system – Import Control System 2 (ICS2). The programme is one of the main contributors towards establishing an integrated EU approach to reinforce customs risk management under the common risk management framework (CRMF).

The pre-arrival security and safety programme will support effective risk-based customs controls whilst facilitating free flow of legitimate trade across the EU external borders. It represents the first line of defence in terms of protection of the EU internal market and the EU consumers. The new programme will remodel the existing process in terms of IT, legal, customs risk management/controls and trade operational perspectives.

The EU’s new advance cargo information system ICS2 supports implementation of this new customs safety and security regulatory regime aimed to better protect single market and EU citizens. It will collect data about all goods entering the EU prior to their arrival. Economic Operators (EOs) will have to declare safety and security data to ICS2, through the Entry Summary Declaration (ENS). The obligation to start filing such declarations will not be the same for all EOs. It will depend on the type of services that they provide in the international movement of goods and is linked to the three release dates of ICS2 (15 March 2021, 1 March 2023, and 1 March 2024).

Advance cargo information and risk analysis will enable early identification of threats and help customs authorities to intervene at the most appropriate point in the supply chain.

ICS2 introduces more efficient and effective EU customs security and safety capabilities that will:

  • Increase protection of EU citizens and the internal market against security and safety threats;
  • Allow EU Customs authorities to better identify high-risk consignments and intervene at the most appropriate point in supply chain;
  • Support proportionate, targeted customs measures at the external borders in crisis response scenarios;
  • Facilitate cross-border clearance for the legitimate trade;
  • Simplify the exchange of information between Economic Operators (EOs) and EU Customs Authorities.

For more information on the ICS2 programme, refer to the EU Webpage here!

Source: European Union

WCO – The full E-Commerce Package is now available online

Picture courtesy – Unsplash

Following the adoption by the December 2020 Policy Commission and Council of key documents forming part of the WCO E-Commerce Package, the WCO web-site now features the complete set of tools supporting the implementation of the Framework of Standards on Cross-Border E-Commerce (E-Commerce FoS).

The documents endorsed by the December 2020 Policy Commission and Council are “Reference Datasets for Cross-Border E-Commerce”, “Revenue Collection Approaches”, “E-Commerce Stakeholders: Roles and Responsibilities”, a document on a PTC decision on the E-Commerce FoS update/maintenance mechanism, and the first edition of the Compendium of Case Studies on E-Commerce. In addition, the Policy Commission and Council took note of the progress in the area of cross-border e-commerce, including the finalization by the Permanent Technical Committee in June 2020 of key performance indicators for possible monitoring and evaluation of the E-Commerce FoS implementation. 

The WCO E-Commerce FoS was endorsed by the Policy Commission and Council in June 2018, while the June 2019 Council sessions witnessed the endorsement of the WCO E-Commerce Package, with the exception of three Annexes to the E-Commerce FoS Technical Specifications.

The E-Commerce FoS provides 15 baseline global standards with a focus on the exchange of advance electronic data for effective risk management and enhanced facilitation of the growing volumes of cross-border small and low-value Business-to-Consumer (B2C) and Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C) shipments, through simplified procedures with respect to areas such as clearance, revenue collection and return, in close partnership with E-Commerce stakeholders. It also encourages the use of the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) concept, non-intrusive inspection (NII) equipment, data analytics, and other cutting-edge technologies to support safe, secure and sustainable cross-border E-Commerce.

The E-Commerce Package contains Technical Specifications to the E-Commerce FoS, definitions, E-Commerce Business Models, E-Commerce Flowcharts, Implementation Strategy, Action Plan and Capacity Building Mechanism, which have now been supplemented by the documents on Reference Datasets for Cross-Border E-Commerce, Revenue Collection Approaches and E-Commerce Stakeholders: Roles and Responsibilities.
The document on Reference Datasets for Cross-Border E-Commerce is an evolving, non-binding document that can serve as a guide to WCO Members and relevant stakeholders for possible pilots and implementation of the E-Commerce FoS. The Revenue Collection Approaches document has been designed to describe existing revenue collection models with the objective of providing a better understanding thereof. The document on E-Commerce Stakeholders: Roles and Responsibilities provides a clear description of the roles and responsibilities of various E-Commerce stakeholders for transparent and predictable cross-border movement of goods, and does not place any additional obligations on stakeholders.

The first edition of the Compendium of Case Studies on E-Commerce compiles seventeen case studies and supports the WCO Membership with practical examples of how individual Members address priority issues, such as exchange of advance electronic data, facilitation, safety, security and revenue collection (including de minimis levels).

For more information please visit http://www.wcoomd.org/en/topics/facilitation/instrument-and-tools/frameworks-of-standards/ecommerce.aspx

E-Commerce: Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) Update

The importance of developing global digital trade rules has never been clearer. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation, bringing about a surge in online activities. E-commerce will be critical to the global economic recovery. The Joint Statement Initiative on E-commerce (JSI) is an opportunity for the WTO to respond to this urgent need.

There has been encouraging progress in the JSI since negotiations were launched in 2019. Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, co-conveners Australia, Japan and Singapore have ensured that work continues in virtual and hybrid formats. The number of participants in the initiative has grown to 86 WTO Members, collectively accounting for over 90 per cent of global trade and representing all major geographical regions and levels of development.

Consolidated Negotiating Text

JSI participants have developed a consolidated negotiating text that captures progress so far and will form the basis of the next stage of negotiations. The consolidated text was circulated among participants on 7 December 2020.

The consolidated text is based on Members’ proposals. These proposals cover the following themes:

  • enabling electronic commerce;
  • openness and e-commerce;
  • trust and e-commerce;
  • cross-cutting issues;
  • telecommunications;
  • market access; and
  • scope and general provisions.

We have been able to advance the negotiations, guided by the objective of achieving WTO-plus outcomes that deliver meaningful benefits for businesses and consumers. Highlights include the good progress made in small groups on issues such as e-signatures and authentication, paperless trading, customs duties on electronic transmissions, open government data, open internet access, consumer protection, spam and source code, among others. Proponents of services market access commitments have also developed a possible framework for negotiations on these issues.

Provisions that enable and promote the flow of data are key to a high standard and commercially meaningful outcome. Discussions on these issues are ongoing and will intensify from early 2021. Japan and Singapore hosted an information session on data flows and localisation rules in November 2020, involving negotiators and the private sector, to build better understanding and support for strong commitments.

Source: World Trade Organisation, 20 December 2020

UN Special Recommendation No.33 – Guidelines for Single Window : 2020 Edition

In many countries, companies involved in international trade must prepare and submit large volumes of information and documents to governmental authorities to comply with import, export and transit-related regulatory requirements. Often, this information and documentation must be submitted to several different agencies, each with their own specific (manual or automated) systems and paper forms. These extensive requirements, together with their associated compliance costs, can constitute a serious burden to both Governments and the business community and represents a serious barrier to the development of international trade.

One approach to addressing this problem is the establishment of a Single Window federating all relevant government administrations whereby all trade related information and/or documents need only be submitted once at a single entry point. This can enhance the availability and handling of information, expedite and simplify information flows between trade and government and can result in greater harmonization and sharing of the relevant data across governmental systems, bringing meaningful gains to all parties involved in cross-border trade. The use of such a facility can result in the improved efficiency and effectiveness of official controls and can reduce costs for both Governments and traders due to better use of resources.

The Single Window is therefore a practical application of trade facilitation concepts meant to reduce non-tariff trade barriers.

Download the Guidelines here!

Source: United Nations

WCO holds its first Accreditation Workshop on E-Commerce

A Global On-line Accreditation Workshop for English-speaking experts on E-Commerce was held from 31 August to 7 September 2020 via the CLiKC! platform of the World Customs Organization (WCO). 

Due to the increasing needs of WCO Members for Capacity Building support for a harmonized and efficient implementation of the WCO Framework of Standards on Cross-border E-Commerce and other supporting tools, the Secretariat organized this first Accreditation Workshop in the area of E-Commerce as a pilot virtual accreditation initiative.

The event was organized with the objective of setting up a pool of English-speaking Technical and Operational Advisors capable of independently leading, on behalf of the WCO for its Members, Capacity Building missions in the field of Cross-border E-Commerce.

Twelve selected candidates representing five of the WCO regions took part in the Workshop. Mr. Mike Leahy of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), former Customs Co-Chairperson of the WCO Working Group on E-Commerce, joined the workshop as a co-facilitator. Participants from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Ireland, Japan, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan and the United Kingdom worked intensively and demonstrated their knowledge and skills to deliver Capacity Building activities in the area of Cross-border E-Commerce. Moreover, the Workshop served as a forum for sharing knowledge and experience, as well as discussing challenges and solutions. 

The participants that successfully completed the Accreditation Workshop will be invited to the next stage of the WCO expert accreditation process, an in-field mission with a qualified WCO expert in the area of E-Commerce. Fully accredited experts will be expected to conduct future WCO Capacity Building activities.

Also read – Facilitating E-Commerce (WCO Article)

Source: WCO, 8 September 2020

World Bank suspends ‘Doing Business’ rankings after fraud

The World Bank has suspended its Doing Business report, which ranks countries based on the costs of doing business. It is the latest crisis to beset the institution.

“A number of irregularities have been reported regarding changes to the data in the Doing Business 2018 and Doing Business 2020 reports,” the global institution said in a statement on August 27.

The institution said it had informed the authorities of the most affected countries, but did not name them. “We will act based on the findings and will retrospectively correct the data of countries that were most affected by the irregularities,” the statement added.

The Wall Street Journal reported that data on China, Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia “appeared to have been inappropriately altered.”

If confirmed, the revised data could affect the rankings of the five countries. The latest report, for example, showed vast improvement among Middle Eastern economies with Saudi Arabia climbing 30 places.

The latest report, published last year, ranked Togo and Nigeria among the 10 countries that had shown the most improvement and collectively accounted for “one-fifth of all the reforms recorded worldwide.”

There are no reports that the scores of either country were tampered with.

In the report, only two Sub-Saharan economies, Mauritius and Rwanda, ranked among the top 50. Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, and Togo ranked among the top 100 while South Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia ranked among the lowest globally.

The decision to suspend the rankings is also likely to reignite controversy around the annual report, particularly in the methodologies behind the rankings.

In the 17 years it has been published, the Doing Business reports have amassed “surprising influence over global regulatory policies,” researchers wrote in a paper published in 2019. The researchers found that the rankings strongly affect policy as governments make reforms to improve their ranking.

“Changes over time in the Doing Business rankings are not particularly meaningful. They largely reflect changes in methodology and sample—which the World Bank makes every year, without correcting earlier numbers—not changes in reality on the ground,” Researchers at the Center for Global Development wrote in February 2018.

In June, the Bretton Woods institution appointed Carmen Reinhart as its new chief economist. Reinhart’s two predecessors, Penelope Koujianou Goldberg and Paul Romer, resigned after less than two years on the job. Pinelope Goldberg quit in February, effective 1 March.

Romer quit in January 2018 after igniting a controversy around Chile’s ranking in the Ease of Doing Business Report, which he suggested may have been deliberately lowered under the presidency of left-leaning Michelle Bachelet.

The World Bank is also struggling to counter the fallout from the publication of an internal paper that looks at elite capture of foreign aid.

Source: The Africa Report, 28 August 2020