IRIS – WCO launches application to exploit open source information

WCO IRISOpen sources, such as the Internet, include a considerable amount of useful information for Customs purposes. For instance, such information can benefit Customs risk management through improved analysis and by enabling sounder decisions to be made on the basis of solid information, thereby providing decision-makers with better situational awareness.

The exploitation of this vast repository of data has become easier and markets are full of different tools that allow Customs officers to keep track of issues that impact on their daily work. Although many WCO Members already use such tools at the national level, no international tool exists that collects all this Customs related information together and makes it available in one location.

To fill this void, WCO Secretary General announced the launch of the Iris application during the Policy Commission meeting in Brazil on 8 December. Iris is a new and innovative tool which acts as an “aggregator” for all types of open source Customs information, and as such falls within the framework of the of theme of the year 2014, “Communication”.

The application utilizes Web-crawlers to search the Internet for news items and presents this information in a graphic-style world map in real-time. The system also allows for the storing of the “hits” on a specific database where they will be available for intelligence experts and other operational front-line Customs staff for further analysis.

Iris also allows the WCO to push out information about major Customs seizures which have been reported to the WCO Customs Enforcement Network (CEN) database or to the Global Shield application (seizure information itself will not be reported, but a notice about a seizure will be displayed).

“Iris is a ground-breaking initiative and will allow the WCO, for the first time, to monitor open source information on a 24/7/365 basis and to provide its Members with enhanced intelligence support”, declared Secretary General Mikuriya.

“The application also promotes CEN and Global Shield application and we hope it will encourage Members to increasingly report their seizures to both of these existing enforcement tools”, he added.

All WCO Members, Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs), and WCO staff will benefit from Iris. Its benefits extend beyond these specific user groups, as the application is aimed at a broader audience. Some of the Iris functionality will be made available to WCO’s private sector partners, the academic community, and the public.

Iris works in all different types of devices including smart phones and tablets. The system is hosted at https://iris.wcoomd.org and can also be accessed through the WCO’s website. Source: WCO

Getting to Grips with the Future Customs Control Act

Having recently introduced a whole new integrated customs business solution last year the South African Revenue Service (SARS) has spent the last six months stabilising its system. At the heart of the system is the Interfront Customs and Border management (iCBS) engine which takes care of all customs declaration processing.

CCB

Click on the image to download the Infogram

A new ‘state-of-the-art’ EDI Gateway infrastructure is at an advanced stage of development and configuration, and will be subjected to a series of rigorous testing both internally and with industry service providers over the next few weeks. The gateway is an important component of the organisation’s future aspirations in C-2-C, C-2-B and C-2-G information exchange with it’s stakeholders.

Over the last 2 years, SARS has been a key participant in the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) initiative which seeks to develop standardised electronic information exchanges of commercial customs data and common border procedures between customs administrations. This is ‘greenfield development’ and requires innovative thinking between potential customs partners. In this specific area SARS has engaged both Mozambique and Swaziland Customs as willing partners in such an initiative. Developments with Mozambique are at an advanced stage and will shortly become a reality with the conclusion of the bilateral One Stop Border Post (OSBP) agreement that includes provision for electronic data exchange between the two administrations. More on this in a future post.

Technology aside, perhaps the most daunting task on the horizon is the introduction of the new Customs Duty and Control Acts which are currently in the parliamentary process. Much publicity and robust argument was aired in the printed media over the last year, all of which culminated in the parliamentary hearings overseen by parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance (SCoF) during November and December 2013. While an agreement was reached with the freight forwarding sector of the local supply chain and logistics industry on certain aspects of the Control Bill, there still lies much work and clarification to be addressed in these and other areas.

Notwithstanding the signing into law of the Customs Bills, operational enactment thereof can only occur once the ‘rules’ to execute this legislation are circulated for comment, finalised and gazetted. Even considering the legal and approvals process in a simplistic form, the implementation of this new legislation is just too complex to introduce in a once-off, big-bang approach.  Due consideration must be given to a transitional approach taking into account the practicalities thereof as well as economic and logistical consequences of such approach.   It is no understatement that the impact of the new legislation, its incorporation into current automated systems, policies and procedures as well as the necessary re-adjustments to be made by every entity engaged in business with SARS Customs is no small feat.

Furthermore, the implications of the recently concluded WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation for South African Customs and Trade also needs to be determined and understood. While a large proportion of its content is encapsulated within the Revised Kyoto Convention, it is the first time ever that such requirements are subject to the conditions of a trade agreement.

It’s been some time since I last penned thoughts on the Customs Modernisation initiative. In retrospect and thinking ahead, the underlying bottom line to its longer term success lies in increased ‘communication’ with stakeholders – ironically, the World Customs Organisation’s adopted theme for 2014!

Please feel free to download the infogram on the future Customs Control Act by clicking on the picture above. Official links to the Customs Control and Duty Bills are included below. It would also be wise for parties involved in Excise to consider the contemplated changes contained in the Excise Duty Bill (Customs and Excise Amendment Bill).

Related documents

WCO News – February 2014!

WCO News Feb 2014The theme of this edition is predictably about “communication”. For a change I was fortunate enough to receive a hard copy (print) version. Nonetheless, it is more accessible to the masses electronically via the WCO website. The Secretary General discusses the role of ‘communication’ in the dissemination of critical information whether it be via internet portals, social media and the evolving myriad of technology based trade facilitation tools. In this particular regard, the number of emerging countries registering their participation through customs-specific trade information portals and the adoption of electronic Single Window platforms is becoming common place.

The playing fields between the developed and under-developed world are beginning to be leveled so to speak. Harmonisation and standardization via computer systems is beginning to mature to an extent un-thought of just a few years back. While mainstream declaration processing engines will still be required to ‘crunch’ the vast volumes of customs transactional information, it is the era of ‘Apps’ which will prove to offer niche service offerings to the business community. For instance, many vendors offer HS tariff search and duty calculators. Some Customs and Border Administrations provide traders with transaction status notifications and other advice via SMS. Above all this, the Secretary General still emphasizes the importance of the human element — to make sure that communication remains a two-way process which fosters cooperation.

Featured articles include an overview of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation. There are also several articles concerning communication strategy, business recovery and the role of Customs Brokers in the improvement of communication and cooperation. Read also about Single Window developments and a glimpse into the future of border technologies. Source: WCO

Message from the WCO – International Customs Day 26 January 2014

WCO_background image POSTER_CommunicationThis year’s International Customs Day heralds the launch of the WCO Year of Communication, a year in which we, as a Customs community, move to further enhance our communication strategies and worldwide outreach programmes.

Under the slogan “Communication: sharing information for better cooperation,” we are signaling our aspiration to do more at the national, regional and international level to raise awareness of the vital role Customs plays in international trade, economic prosperity and social development.

Communication is a sharing process which fosters cooperation, and as Customs is at the centre of a network of relations, developing a sound internal and external communication strategy promotes transparency, facilitates dialogue, builds trust and ensures mutual understanding.

With our unique expertise, Customs has made great strides over recent years in achieving better visibility with national governments, international organizations, the business sector, the donor community, development banks and other international trade stakeholders.

Good communication practices by WCO Members are abundant: national Customs websites, specialized magazines, media outreach and social networks are trailblazing the way towards greater awareness of the contribution of Customs to a more resilient trade environment.

Complementing these efforts, the WCO Secretariat also has a number of communications tools to help get the word out, including the Organization’s new dynamic website, its popular and insightful WCO News magazine and our growing online social media presence.

Just as important, is the WCO’s efforts to engage as many Presidents, Ministers, leaders and international policy makers as possible in order to defend Customs’ interests, further raise its profile and create better awareness of the opportunities and challenges it faces.

It is equally imperative that we also focus on how we communicate with our stakeholders and partners, how we listen to their feedback and how we decide to respond, as this will encourage stronger support for the work we do and ensure greater buy-in to WCO strategies.

In fact, communication is a two-way process by which information and knowledge are exchanged and shared between individuals – it is not only about sending a message or passing on information, it is also about exploring, discovering, researching and generating knowledge.

As in previous years, I am fully convinced that Customs administrations and the greater Customs community will rise to the occasion, committed to actively taking the communication theme forward and thereby ensuring the success of the WCO Year of Communication.

Wishing you all a joyful International Customs Day!

Kunio Mikuriya Secretary General

Communication: Sharing Information for Better Communication

WCO Customs Theme 2014Following a theme of logical progression over the past few years, the WCO has introduced “Communication” as this year’s theme for the 170+ Customs Administrations around the world. Last year’s theme “Innovation” set the platform for the introduction of innovative ideas and business practices, new partnerships, as well as new solutions and technologies.

While still very much in its infancy, the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) philosophy will undoubtedly gain more and more traction as administrations iron out their national and regional aspirations and objectives.

The recent agreement on Trade Facilitation at the WTO’s conference in Bali adds further credence to the importance of the principles of the Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC). For the first time we see an attempt to fuse customs principles into a package of binding requirements.

Now, more than ever, Customs needs to work ‘collaboratively’ with all stakeholders.

With Customs and Border Agencies etching out new legal requirements, as well as organisational structures and plans, trade practitioners will likewise have to keep a watchful eye on these developments. Sometimes, not necessarily just for their own needs and obligations in their domestic markets, traders need to ensure that they keep apace with ‘destination’ Customs requirements which in these modern times are all too frequent. By opening its door to the business community, the WCO plays an ever-increasing overarching role in providing the private sector a ‘window’ to its thinking and ideology.