Brazil launches first ever nation-wide Time Release Study

On 30 June 2020 the Secretariat of the Federal Revenue of Brazil (Receita Federal do Brasil), launched its first ever nation-wide Time Release Study (TRS) during an online live broadcasted event attended by over 4000 participants – including border agencies and the private sector, as well as Customs administrations from across the globe. The TRS, which follows the World Customs Organizations (WCO) TRS Methodology, constitutes a milestone for the Brazilian Customs Administration as it enhances transparency while providing an opportunity for an evidence based dialogue between all key stakeholders to tackle the identified bottlenecks and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of border procedures.

The TRS report was validated by the WCO in collaboration with the World Bank Group and with support of the UK’s Prosperity Fund. Speaking at the Opening Session of the launch event, WCO Deputy Secretary-General, Ricardo Treviño Chapa said: “This is a big step forward towards increased trade facilitation and provides a baseline to measure the impact of actions and reforms”. He also underlined that the Brazilian experience would be valuable to share with the wider Customs community and added that “the current health emergency shows that it is key to keep the flow of goods going”. Throughout the event the importance of the WCO’s TRS methodology was highlighted by various speakers as a vital tool for strategic planning and the implementation of the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement. 

The study shows an average time measured of 7.5 days considering air, sea and road modes of transport. The Customs clearance stage accounts for less than 10% of the total time measured, while those actions under the responsibility of private agents represent more than half of the total time spent in all flows analysed. 

To further increase transparency for importers and exporters, the Secretariat of the Federal Revenue of Brazil also intends to publish the raw data of the TRS.

The recording of the full launch event with Portuguese/English translation can be watched here (YouTube).

The TRS report and its Executive Summary are available here.

Source: World Customs Organisation

WCO News – June 2020

As the title suggests, the latest edition of WCO News contains a variety of articles concerning Customs approach to COVID-19 and even one article relating to Customs Brokers on COVID-19. Other features include C-2-C cooperation and information exchange, Risk Management and the future invisible supply chain and Secure Border . Of interest for Customs Policy are articles on improvements to simplification and harmonisation of components to the Revised Kyoto Convention; WCO’s development of draft “Practical Guidance on Free Zones” as well as Internet domain name ownership data – understanding changes and useful suggestions for Customs. All in all another great read!

Source : World Customs Organisation

Guide to the WCO E-Commerce Framework of Standards

It is often difficult to navigate and assimilate the myriad of documentation and annexes associated with significant initiatives such as WCO’s ‘framework of standards’. True, the documentation is detailed and technical. There are, however, online training courses available on the WCO website for users wishing to attain a level of proficiency on a particular subject. Furthermore, member states can request technical assistance from WCO in the establishment of capacity for the implementation of specific Customs initiatives.

However, sometimes one requires a synopsis or insight as to what a particular initiative aims to achieve. This is important so as to establish the nature and extent of change and capacity required in one’s own domestic situation. In my area of operation, MS PowerPointTM plays an important role in uniformly conveying key information to a multitude of people across different disciplines in the organisation. Im happy to share a ‘guide’ which consolidates most of the ‘official’ WCO documentation that comprise the Framework of Standards on E-Commerce. When viewed as a PowerPoint Show, all hyperlinks to the official WCO E-Commerce documentation are available for download or display. Below are versions for both standard PowerPoint or PowerPoint Show. I hope it will serve some useful purpose.

Guide – WCO Framework of Standards on E-Commerce [PPTX, 3MB]

Guide – WCO Framework of Standards on E-Commerce [PPSX, 3MB]

WCO launches COVID-19 Trade Facilitation Repository

In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, characterized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a pandemic on 11 March 2020, countries around the world have been adopting a series of trade and border protection measures to try to contain the spread of the disease across borders. Such measures have had immediate and severe impacts on economic activities and caused major disruptions in supply chains. Given that trade facilitation is a key policy tool that can help countries mitigate some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WCO has partnered with the WTO, UNCTAD, the CSSO, the GATF, IATA and ITC to develop a COVID-19 Trade Facilitation Repository in which all these actions are consolidated.

The repository acts as a platform that consolidates the initiatives on trade facilitation adopted by organizations and stakeholders, seeking to provide access to these resources in a unique and user-friendly database. It contains a useful listing of all such initiatives broken down by organization, type of measure and subject matter. As the situation evolves and further actions are taken, the platform will be expanded to include other key actors working in the area of trade facilitation.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented sanitary and economic effects, the WCO and other international organizations, NGOs, business associations and other representative entities have redeployed resources to develop new instruments, tools and guidance materials on trade facilitation measures. These documents can be a useful source of information for countries to learn from each other, share best practices and experiences and provide inspiration to design targeted policy responses. However, these resources were scattered throughout a multitude of platforms. This initiative will assist in ensuring that the seamless flow of safe cross-border trade continues, especially with regard to essential goods which are crucial for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID19 Trade Facilitation Repository can be accessed via the following link and will be updated regularly to reflect new guidance material developed.

The WCO thanks its partners, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Commonwealth Small States Office (CSSO) in Geneva, the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation (GATF), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) for this initiative and reiterates its commitment to assist its Members in securing, protecting and facilitating legitimate global trade.

Source: World Customs Organisation, 9 May 2020

WCO-IMO Partnership for maritime digitalization to support flow of trade by ship

The WCO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) strengthened their partnership recently to further facilitate the exchange of information in a harmonized way by updating the IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business and mapping it to the WCO Data Model. The updated Compendium, which is a set of standards on the submission of maritime related data, will enable the integration of Maritime and Customs Single Windows and allow closer coordination between Customs administrations and Maritime authorities. 

It is known that when ships enter and leave ports, vital information concerning cargo, dangerous goods, crews, vessel details and other pieces of information have to be exchanged with the authorities ashore. However, under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL), public authorities are now required to set up systems for this all to happen digitally. 

With a view to sustaining the maintenance work of the Compendium and to allow more involvement of different stakeholders in the maritime supply chain, within the framework of existing partnerships, the IMO, the WCO, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) and the International Standards Organization (ISO) have come together to support this increased maritime digitalization. 

The renewed partnership paves the way for updating the IMO Reference Data Model and for its further development towards the harmonization of data standards in other areas, beyond the FAL Convention, such as exchanging operational data that could help facilitate the just-in-time operation of ships. Just-in-time operations allow ships to optimise their speed, so they arrive at their destination port when their berth is ready for them, thereby saving energy and cutting costs and emissions. 

The partners involved have been cooperating to develop the IMO Reference Data Model, which is a key element of the IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business and covers the reporting requirements defined in the FAL Convention to support transmission, receipt, and response of information required for the arrival, stay, and departure of ships, persons, and cargo via electronic data exchange.  This work ensures interoperability between the respective standards of each organization, such as the WCO Data Model.

Source: WCO, 14 May 2020

WCO issues updated joint WCO/WHO HS classification list for COVID-19 medical supplies

The WCO continues its close cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) to contribute to the rapid cross-border movement of medical supplies and medicines needed urgently during the current COVID-19 global pandemic. Following the coordinated response adopted by the two organizations, a WHO/WCO List of Priority Medicines was released and the Joint WCO/WHO HS Classification List for COVID-19 Medical Supplies was further updated. 

The clinical characteristics of the COVID-19 and its evolution makes it challenging for the health system of many countries and shortage of medicines can worsen the situation. Potential supply chain disruptions may jeopardize the timely supply of all essential medicines, including those not directly related to COVID-19. 

The List of WHO/WCO Priority Medicines for Customs Used during COVID-19 aims at assisting Customs and economic operators in classifying these medicines. The list contains the suggested HS codes for medicines used in the general medical care administered to hospitalized patients; as part of the direct treatment of the COVID-19 disease; and for which interrupted supply could result in serious health consequences. 

The new list, which will now be continuously updated, is the result of an efficient collaboration between the WHO and the WCO. The medicines and active substances were compiled by the WHO taking into account various information published by National Health Authorities, scientific societies or pharmacology experts, and with suggested HS codes provided by the WCO Secretariat. 

The List of WHO/WCO priority medicines used during COVID-19 can be found on the WCO COVID-19 dedicated webpage.

HS classification reference for Covid-19 medical supplies 2.1 Edition

Taking into consideration the suggestions received from Members and other stakeholders, the WCO/WHO HS Classification Reference for Covid-19 Medical Supplies was once more updated with additional items that could be used during this pandemic situation. COVID-19 medical supplies list update:

Future initiative foreseen by the WCO for COVID-19 medical supplies list

The WCO is aware that some countries have used the WCO list as a reference when making their own national lists of medical supplies. In order to further facilitate trade in medical supplies and present information in a coordinated manner, the WCO is considering, for the next edition of the medical supplies list, to include links to specific national classification lists of medical supplies.  Members wishing to include information on their national classification lists of medical supplies can send their links to: hs@wcoomd.org

Further assistance in identifying essential items can be found on the website of WHO. The COVID-19 Critical Items List from the WHO can be found at:

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/covid-19-critical-items

Source: World Customs Organisation, 30 April 2020

WCO issues 2nd Edition HS classification list for COVID-19 medical supplies

To respond to the unprecedented demand in medical supplies amid the current global COVID-19 pandemic around the world, and in order to help countries speed up the cross-border movement of these critical products,  the WCO and the World Health Organization (WHO) joined hands to strengthen their cooperation by establishing a coordinated approach in their response to the pandemic. 

As a result of this joint effort of the two organizations, the HS Classification Reference for COVID-19 Medical Supplies was updated, in a more structured and user-friendly format, to reflect more of the products that would be required in the professional opinion and experience of the WHO in public health. The first HS classification reference for COVID-19 medical supplies, published by the WCO at the dedicated section of its website two weeks ago, was an initial response of the Secretariat to help countries in their fight against the spread of COVID-19.  The initial list contained the classification of essential products needed such as COVID-19 diagnostic test kits and masks, certain protective personal equipment and medical devices such as ventilators and ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), consumables and disinfectant products that may be used for the prevention and treatment of the disease.  The latest edition expands this list to cover a greater range of medical equipment and supplies that are required as critical items by the WHO, such as oxygen concentrators and sample collection sets.

The list of HS-coded medical supplies was widely appreciated by stakeholders and taken into consideration by governments when preparing their responses to secure and facilitate trade in these supplies. It serves as the basis for identifying the cross-border movement of the products needed during the pandemic, applying contingent tariff and non-tariff relief policies, monitoring and combating falsified supplies, and even for taking responsive actions to address shortages.

The updated list is provided as an indicative list with a view to facilitating the classification of COVID-19 medical supplies at the international level (6 digit of the HS). Economic operators are kindly advised to consult with the relevant Customs administrations in relation to classification at domestic levels (7 or more digits) or in the event of any discrepancy between their practices and this list. 

The Second Edition of the HS Classification reference list for COVID-19 medical supplies can be found in the WCO COVID-19 dedicated page.

Source: WCO, 9 April 2020

COVID-19 Reference page for Customs and Trade users

A dedicated COVID-19 page has been added to this blog to provide Customs and Trade users a reference and insight into a variety of international and South African weblinks and documents concerning guidelines under COVID-19. This page will be updated regularly to include additional links and updates to any relevant document or website referenced. Please bookmark this page to be kept abreast of updates.

WCO-WTO join forces to minimise disruptions to cross-border trade in goods

The heads of the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a joint statement on 6 April pledging to work together to facilitate trade in essential goods such as medical supplies, food, and energy.

WCO Secretary General Dr. Kunio Mikuriya and WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said the two organizations would work closely together to minimize disruption to cross-border trade in goods – in particular those essential to combat the COVID-19 pandemic – while safeguarding public health.

They also pledged to establish a coordinated approach to support initiatives that facilitate cross-border trade so that essential goods can quickly reach those most in need, including in least developed and land-locked countries. WCO and WTO members have already been invited to increase transparency by sharing information on new trade and trade-related measures introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread globally and governments consider new measures to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, we urge Members to ensure that any new border action is targeted, proportionate, transparent and non-discriminatory,” they declared.

The text of the joint statement is below.

WCO-WTO Joint Statement on COVID-19 related trade measures

The COVID-19 pandemic, while above all a public health crisis, presents the world with unprecedented social and economic challenges.  Emergency measures needed to curb the spread of the disease have unintended impacts on the world economy and trade, including the global supply chains that produce and distribute essential goods such as medical supplies, food, and energy.

To support the ongoing efforts to mitigate the social and economic effects of the pandemic, we, the Secretariats of the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), agree to work closely together to minimize disruption to cross-border trade in goods – in particular those essential to combat COVID-19 – while safeguarding public health. We commit to provide appropriate support to all relevant stakeholders. 

Within our respective mandates, we have already invited Members to increase transparency by sharing information on new trade and trade-related measures introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To the extent appropriate, we are making such information publicly available through our respective websites.  

We are also willing to establish a coordinated approach in support of initiatives that facilitate cross-border trade in goods, in particular those key to combat COVID-19. This would allow that essential goods can quickly reach those most in need, including in least developed and land-locked countries.

As COVID-19 continues to spread globally and governments consider new measures to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, we urge Members to ensure that any new border action is targeted, proportionate, transparent and non-discriminatory – as agreed by G20 leaders. We stress that these measures should be temporary, and we encourage Members to rescind them once they are no longer needed, especially if they restrict trade. We welcome initiatives to facilitate and simplify cross-border procedures and urge our Members to prioritize those for exporting and importing essential goods. 

As the pandemic evolves, we will continue to further explore ways to coordinate the efforts of the two organizations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic aimed at keeping trade flows open for the safety of populations around the world and a strong recovery of the global economy.

Source: WCO webpage, 6 April 2020

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

WCO News – February 2020

This edition’s “Dossier” focuses on how Customs can foster sustainability for people, prosperity and the planet, the WCO’s theme for 2020, and includes a selection of articles on the implementation of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, the role of the Harmonized System, the trade in illegal timber, and tools for logistics planning and supply chain optimization.

The “Panorama” section covers various topics such as internal communication, cultural goods, partnership with express couriers to fight illicit trade, management of e-commerce transactions via blockchains, and measurement of the time required to process imports in order to boost logistic service providers’ efficiency.

You can also read an insightful “Point of View” article on how machine learning can automate the determination of the valuation of goods, as well as an “Events” article containing highlights from the WCO Communication Strategies Conference held in October 2019.

Source: WCO, WCO News, February 2020

Third anniversary of WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement

Three years since the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) entered into force on 22 February 2017, WTO members have continued to make steady progress in its implementation. Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, on the occasion of the TFA’s third anniversary, welcomed members’ efforts to ensure traders can reap the full benefits of the Agreement.

The TFA, the first multilateral deal concluded in the 25-year history of the WTO, contains members’ commitments to expedite the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders. As of the TFA’s third anniversary, 91% of the membership have already ratified the Agreement. It entered into force three years ago when the WTO obtained the two-thirds acceptance of the Agreement from its 164 members.

The Agreement is unique in that it allows developing countries and least-developed countries (LDCs) to set their own timetables for implementing the TFA depending on their capacities to do so. They can self-designate which provisions they will implement either immediately (Category A), after a transition period (Category B), or upon receiving assistance and support for capacity building (Category C). 

As of 22 February 2020, over 90 per cent of developing countries and LDCs have notified which provisions they are able to implement after a transition period, and the ones for which they will need capacity-building support to achieve full implementation of the Agreement. Developed countries committed to immediately implement the Agreement when it entered into force.

Based on members’ notifications of commitments, 65 per cent of TFA provisions are being implemented today compared to the 59 per cent implementation rate recorded on the Agreement’s first anniversary. Broken down, the latest figure equates to a 100 per cent implementation rate for developed members and 64 per cent for developing members. As for least-developed countries, the improvement in the implementation rate is particularly notable at 31 per cent today versus the 2 per cent recorded a year after the Agreement entered into force. The implementation rate for each WTO member can be viewed here

The Agreement has the potential, upon full implementation, to slash members’ trade costs by an average of 14.3 per cent, with developing countries and LDCs having the most to gain, according to a 2015 study carried out by WTO economists. It is also expected to reduce the time needed to import and export goods by 47 per cent and 91 per cent respectively over the current average.

Source: World Trade Organisation, 22 February 2020

WCO supports SARS with AEO programme implementation

Under the framework of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Customs Modernization Programme, funded by the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, WCO experts were invited to lead an AEO Validation Workshop for the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The Workshop was held from 10 to 14 February 2020 in Pretoria, South Africa. Mrs. Rae Vivier who is the Group Executive responsible for AEO in SARS opened the workshop and welcomed the WCO and SACU representatives with a key note address to all attendees. She gave assurance to the audience that AEO is taken seriously by SARS and is one of the organization’s key deliverables. 

During the five day Workshop, the SARS AEO validation team was given an introduction to the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards (FoS), including all its Pillars, core elements, and AEO criteria etc. This was followed by a discussion on the essential elements of the AEO Validation Guidance, the sequential steps of the AEO validation procedures and the skills required by AEO validators. 

The participants, comprised of Customs auditors, legal experts and client relationship managers, were given an opportunity to share their views on the similarities and differences between AEO validation and post-clearance audit. The core values of Customs-Business partnerships were highlighted as an important aspect towards achieving AEO programme implementation. Auditors with a Customs compliance mindset were given security validation knowledge and taught how to hold discussions with business on coordinating and enhancing international supply chain security and safety. Another important element underscored during the training was that validation of the applicant is central to accreditation, and that the applicant’s supply chain may not be tested. Accordingly, the applicant is responsible for securing its own supply chain. 

The Workshop entailed extensive discussions on the self-assessment questionnaire prepared by SARS for potential AEOs taking part in the country’s AEO pilot. While referring to the WCO self-assessment template, the WCO experts also shared questionnaires by other Customs administrations. The participants and experts discussed how to enhance the questions posed, making it simpler for business to understand and answer them. A number of recommendations were made, including adding explanatory notes to the self-assessment questionnaire to help clients provide accurate information about their security and safety protocols.

A further aim of the Workshop was to include practical sessions, such as the mock validation process held at BMW’s South African plant in Rosslyn. Participants were told how BMW guarantees supply chain safety and security. Equipped with this information, the Workshop participants were given a walk-through of BMW South Africa’s processes for receiving goods. The lessons learned were shared among the Workshop participants and SARS management during the post-validation assessment. During that session, several Mutual Recognition Arrangements/Agreements (MRAs) signed between different Customs administrations were also referenced, so as to enhance learning and information sharing. 

SARS embarked on its Preferred Traders Programme (PTP) in May 2017. The initial number of 28 accredited traders (importers/exporters) has grown to reach 119 as of 14 February 2020. Under the SARS Strategic Plan for 2023, the priority will be to focus on improving voluntary compliance and supply chain security through implementation of the standardized WCO SAFE/AEO programme. At the same time, SACU wishes to roll out PTPs for all its Members, while moving towards a full-fledged AEO programme in phases. To this end, the WCO experts discussed and shared views on the PTP compatibility assessment tool aimed at ensuring mutual recognition of Preferred Traders among SACU Members.

Source: WCO, 19 February 2020

ICD 2020 – #MakeTradeWork

Picture courtesy of the WCO

To mark International Customs Day 2020 – focusing on the theme of ‘fostering Sustainability for People, Prosperity and the Planet’, the following article from the Spring 2018 edition of World Trade Matters by Jan Hoffmann, the Chief of the Trade Logistics Branch, Division on Technology and Logistics at UNCTAD, is relevant. The article discusses global trade facilitation reforms, the digitalisation of trade and measures towards ensuring long-term sustainability in the maritime industry. 

Confronted with growing populism and a surge in protectionist measures recorded by the WTO, policy makers and enterprises are struggling to avoid a backlash in international trade. At UNCTAD’s Trade Logistics Branch, we support these endeavours by helping to make trade work better. Through trade facilitation reforms, the promotion of digitalisation, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of international transport, we aim at ensuring that the international movement of goods is not confronted with unnecessary obstacles and costs. 

A multilateral agreement to facilitate international trade

Under the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), developing countries commit to implement a number of very practical measures that make trade easier and more transparent. Countries are obliged to publish duties and procedures on the web, traders can transmit their declarations prior to the arrival of the goods, payments can be made electronically, and fees and charges must not become hidden taxes to generate income for the government. These are but some of the 37 concrete measures grouped into 12 Articles of the TFA. They are all useful and help make trade more efficient. 

However, many of these measures involve an initial investment or reforms that require human and financial resources to start with, which developing countries many not have. The good news is that the TFA also includes a novel mechanism – the so called “Special and Differential Treatment” – that helps developing countries plan and acquire the necessary capacity prior to being fully committed to comply with all 12 Articles. Concretely, the mechanism puts the developing countries in the position – and obligation – to analyse and notify their own implementation capacity. At UNCTAD, we are working closely with the developing countries to enable them to do so. Our main counterpart in this endeavour are the National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) that each country must set up under the TFA. UNCTAD’s Empowerment Programme for NTFCs includes training and knowledge development for the members of the NTFC, combined with advisory services and the development of a Roadmap of TFA implementation. 

By the same token, UNCTAD also supports developing countries in setting up Trade Information Portals. Under the TFA, members of the WTO are obliged to make relevant information on tariffs and trade procedures available on-line. UNCTAD’s Trade Information Portals not only help countries become compliant with this obligation, but in the process of analysing and publishing applicable trade procedures, a Trade Information Portal effectively helps countries identify the potential for the further simplification of procedures. Thanks to these new insights, NTFCs can then develop programmes and reforms that subsequently ensure the further simplification of procedures. 

Technological progress will never be as slow as today

My favourite provision of the TFA is Article 10.1., as it provides for a dynamic dimension of the Agreement. According to this article, countries need to minimize “the incidence and complexity of import, export, and transit formalities”, continuously “review” requirements, keep “reducing the time and cost of compliance for traders and operators”, and always choose “the least trade restrictive measure”. As such, even if a country is compliant with all TFA provisions today, countries will need to continue monitoring if existing procedures are still appropriate in view of technological or regulatory developments. 

As trade becomes increasingly digitalised, and new technologies which do not yet exist will be developed, it will be important that governments continuously revise and review the applicable rules and regulations. 

Digitalisation comes in stages. First, we optimize existing procedures, making use of cargo tracking, the Internet of Things, blockchain et al. Second, new businesses are developed which could not exist without the new technologies; new platforms come into being and we see more “uberisation”. Finally, there is transformation and science fiction; still in our lifetime Artificial Intelligence will overtake human capabilities to manage international trade and its logistics. 

But let us take one step at a time. At UNCTAD, we support developing countries through eTrade readiness assessments, the development and upgrade of technological solutions in Customs automation and Single Windows, and by providing a Forum for our members to analyse and discuss the challenges that come with digitalisation. We encourage the development of global standards that allow for interoperability among new systems. The challenge for policy makers it to encourage private sector investments in new technologies and solutions, while ensuring that no new monopolies emerge that might exclude smaller players.  

And it has to be sustainable

While we aim at ensuring continued growth in international trade, there is a catch. The transport of this trade encompasses increasing externalities, such as pollution, green-house-gas emissions, and congestion. 

Ports need to minimise social and environmental externalities. Many port cities are among the most polluted places to live, as ships burn heavy oil, and delivering trucks produce noise and cause traffic congestions. In addition, ports need to be resilient in the face of disruptions and damages caused by natural disasters and climate change impacts. 

International transport, including shipping, needs to play a larger role in addressing global warming and contribute to mitigating the carbon emissions that are causing climate change. Shipping emits less carbon dioxide (CO2) per ton-mile than other modes of transport, but then due to its sheer volume it also produces many ton-miles. Would it be possible that the industry could be charged by its main regulatory body not per ship tonnage (as is currently the case), but per tonne of CO2 emission? 

Currently, the International Maritime Organization is funded proportional to the tonnage registered under the members’ flags. Like this, Panama, Marshall Islands and Liberia pay for the largest share of the IMO budget – and in the end, this is passed on to the ship-owner, who in turn passes this on to the shipper, who will charge the consumer. This is a good established mechanism that could be expanded to also internalize the external costs of CO2 emissions. 

Being the most globalized of all businesses, maritime transport should consider adopting a global regime that helps further internalize its environmental externalities – to ensure prosperity for all.  

It is all about efficiency

Investing in trade facilitation reforms, making intelligent use of the latest technologies, and ensuring that externalities are internalized are all several sides of the same coin. Trade efficiency is necessary to promote an open international trading system. It requires a continuous effort by policy makers to continuously review current procedures, apply the most appropriate technological solutions, and support an efficient allocation of scarce resources. 

Source: Jan Hoffman, UNCTAD – originally published in World Trade Matters, Spring Edition, 2018