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).

Illicit Cigarettes – Hong Kong customs intercepts four shipping containers

Photo: Winson Wong

Hong Kong customs has uncovered HK$85 million worth of smuggled cigarettes in the largest seizure of its kind in two decades, after authorities acted on intelligence indicating a syndicate was shipping the haul into the city in four containers.

Some 31 million cigarettes were stashed in the containers from Yokohama in Japan. They were then shipped through different ports in South Korea, Vietnam and mainland China, according to Lee Hoi-man, deputy head of the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau under customs.

He said the circuitous route was used by smugglers to avoid detection.

“The containers were shipped into three to four different ports before they came to Hong Kong,” Lee said adding that the contents listed on import documents were changed to throw off law enforcement in various jurisdictions.

Four men – one mainlander and three Hongkongers – aged between 24 and 41 were arrested in the operation on Monday. They were still being held for questioning on Tuesday evening.

Information on the containers was shared to a global database operated jointly by customs from different countries, under an anti-smuggling campaign code-named “Project Crocodile”.

A law enforcement source said the containers were left idle at another port since December, but were then suddenly moved across different countries before arriving in Hong Kong, one at a time since last Friday.

Lee said: “It is possible smugglers believed our frontline officers were tied up in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.” He added that some of the contraband items were believed to be destined for countries in eastern Europe as some cigarette brands seized in the operation were popular there.

Hong Kong customs began investigating the syndicate in mid-December before identifying the four containers.

On Monday afternoon, officers from the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau swooped into action and seized 22 million sticks of cigarettes stashed in three containers at yards in Yuen Long, Sheung Shui and Man Kam To, arresting the four men.

At the Sheung Shui site, officers also seized 3,500 bottles of duty-not-paid liquor worth HK$2.5 million.

On Tuesday, the fourth container which had arrived from Shenzhen a day before was selected for inspection. Nine million cigarettes were found in it.

Lee said the combined haul had an estimated street value of HK$85 million, and was the biggest seizure of its kind in two decades in a single operation.

He said his team was working with overseas counterparts to determine the exact origin of the shipment and track down the ring leader and core syndicate members.

In Hong Kong, importing or exporting unmanifested cargo carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$2 million fine.

Source: Article by Clifford Lo, South Morning Post, 18 February 2020

WCO News – June 2019

Implications of ‘Big Data’ for Customs Risk Management Capability

big_data

Historically, a customs officer’s “intuition” backed up by his/her knowledge and experience served as the means for effective risk management. In the old days (20 years ago and back) there wasn’t any need for all this ‘Big Data’ mumbo jumbo as the customs officer learnt his/her skill through painful, but real-life experience, often under bad and inhospitable conditions.

Today we are a lot more softer. The age of technology has superseded, rightly or wrongly, the human brain. Nonetheless, governments thrive on their big-spend technology budgets to ensure the safety of their economies and supply chains.

No less, the big multinational corporations whose ‘in-house’ business is no longer confined by national boundaries or continents are responsible for the generation of huge amounts of data which need to extend  to the limits of their operations. When the products of such business are required to traverse national boundaries and continents,  their logistics and transport intermediaries, financiers, and insurers become themselves tied up in the vicious cycle of data generation and transfer, also spanning national boundaries to ensure those products arrive at their intended destinations – intact, in time and fit for purpose. Hence we have what as become known as the international supply chain.

It does not end there. Besides the Customs authorities, what about the myriad of other government regulatory authorities who themselves have a plethora of forms and information requirements which must be administered and approved prior to departure and upon arrival of goods at their destination.

Inefficiencies along the supply chain culminate in delays with added cost which dictates the viability for sale and use of the product during delivery. These may constitute what is called non-tariff barriers (or NTBs) which negatively impact the suppliers credibility in international trade.

The bulk of this information is nowadays digitised in some for or other. It is obviously not all standardised and structured which makes it difficult to align, compare or assimilate. For Customs it poses a significant opportunity to tap into and utilise for verification or risk management purposes.

The term ‘Big Data’ embraces a broad category of data or datasets that, in order to be fully exploited, require advanced technologies to be used in parallel. Many big data applications have the potential to optimize organizations’ performance, (and here we have it) the optimal allocation of human or financial resources in a manner that maximizes outputs.

At this point, let me introduce one of the latest WCO research papers – “Implications of Big Data for Customs – How It Can Support Risk Management Capabilities” by Yotaro Okazaki.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the implications of the aforementioned big data for Customs, particularly in terms of risk management. To ensure that better informed and smarter decisions are taken, some Customs administrations have already embarked on big data initiatives, leveraging the power of analytics, ensuring the quality of data (regarding cargos, shipments and conveyances), and widening the scope of data they could use for analytical purposes. This paper illustrates these initiatives based on the information shared by five Customs administrations: Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA); Customs and Excise Department, Hong Kong, China (‘Hong Kong China Customs); New Zealand Customs Service (‘New Zealand Customs’); Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the United Kingdom; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP). Source: WCO

EU fighting Customs Fraud – JRC research leads to new legislation

ConTraffic HomepageA new regulation adopted by the European Parliament and the Council will allow customs to access information to track the origins and routes of cargo containers arriving in the EU to support the fight against customs fraud both at EU and national level. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) has been instrumental in the conception and adoption of this legislation as it provided the scientific evidence on the importance of analysing the electronic records on cargo container traffic.

The EU customs authorities have been long aware that information on the logistics and actual routes of cargo containers arriving in Europe is valuable for the fight against customs fraud. However, they had very limited ways to obtain such information and no means to systematically analyse cargo container traffic both for fraud investigations as well as for risk analysis. On the other hand, the ocean carriers that transport the cargo containers, as well as their partners and clients, have easy on-line access to the so-called Container Status Messages (CSM): electronic records which describe the logistics and the routes followed by cargo containers.

jrc-cargo-container-routes-world-mapIn collaboration with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the JRC has worked extensively on how to exploit CSM data for customs anti-fraud purposes. The JRC proposed techniques, developed the necessary technology, and ran long-term experiments involving hundreds of EU customs officers to validate the usefulness of using CSM data. The results of this research led the Commission to bring forward a legislative proposal that would enable Member States and OLAF to systematically use CSM data for these anti-fraud purposes. It also served to convince Member States of the value of the proposed provisions.

The financial gains from the avoidance of duties, taxes, rates and quantitative limits constitute an incentive to commit fraud and allow the capacity to properly investigate in cases, such as mis-declaration of the origin of imported goods. The information extracted from the CSM data can facilitate the investigation of some types of false origin-declarations. With the new legislation an importer will no longer be able to declare – without raising suspicions – country X as dispatch/origin of goods if these were transported in a cargo container that started in country Z (as indicated by the CSM data).

jrc-csm-dataset-world-map (1)The technologies, know-how and experience in handling CSM data, developed by the JRC through its experimental ConTraffic platform, will be used by OLAF to set up the system needed to implement this new legislation applicable as from 1 September 2016. The JRC will continue to analyse large datasets of CSM records (hundreds of millions per year) as these are expected to be made available through the new legislation and will continue to support not only this new regulation but to exploit the further uses of this data notably for security and safety and real-time operations. Its focus will be on data mining, new automated analysis techniques and domain-specific visual analytics methods. Source and Images: EU Commission

Australia to boost intelligence sharing with US customs

australian-and-us-flag-mapsAustralia is to boost its intelligence sharing with the US customs and border protection service.

The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said the Australian and US customs and border protection agencies had agreed to a formal strategic partnership from 2014, which would see two Australian officers posted to the US to strengthen intelligence co-operation.

Morrison said a trial of the closer engagement over the past year led to a crackdown on organised crime and resulted in several major drug seizures.

“These results demonstrate that governments must work together to effectively combat transnational crime and terrorism,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

The move to strengthen intelligence sharing with the US comes after a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of secret documents, including details of how Australian spies targeted the phone of the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Source: theguardian.com