Reform by Numbers – a reference work on Customs reform

The word ‘reform’ is a constant in the daily life of a customs officer. No customs administration among the 177 members of the World Customs Organization has not had a reform program in progress or planned. This is ultimately quite normal.A new World Bank publication “Reform by Numbers” will no doubt appeal to customs and tax reform experts and change agents.

It was written in the context of new and innovative policies for customs and tax administration reform. Eight chapters describe how measurement and various quantification techniques may be used to fight against corruption, improve cross-border celerity, boost revenue collection, and optimize the use of public resources. More than presenting ‘best practices’ and due to the association of academics and practitioners, the case studies explore the conditions under which measurement has been introduced and the effects on the administrative structure, and its relations with the political authority and the users. By analyzing the introduction of measurement to counter corruption and improve revenue collection in Cameroon, two chapters describe to which extent the professional culture has changed and what effects have been noted or not on the public accountability of fiscal administrations. Two other chapters present experiments of uses of quantification to develop risk analysis in Cameroon and Senegal.

By using mirror analysis on the one hand and data mining on the other hand, these two examples highlight the importance of automated customs clearance systems which collect daily extensive data on users, commodities flows and officials. One chapter develops the idea of measuring smuggling to improve the use of human and material resources in Algeria and nurture the questioning on the adaptation of a legal framework to the social context of populations living near borders. Finally, two examples of measurement policies, in France and in South Korea, enlighten the diversity of measurement, the specificities of developing countries and the convergences between developing and developed countries on common stakes such as trade facilitation and better use of public funds.

The “gaming effect” is well known in literature about performance measurement and contracts performance, because there is a risk of reduced performance where targets do not apply, which is detrimental to the overall reform. It is crucial to keep in mind that, by themselves, indicators “provide an incomplete and inaccurate picture” and therefore cannot wholly capture the reality on the ground. Measurement indicators must be carefully chosen to ensure that knowledge is being uncovered.

Measurement, for purposes of reform, should not be “copied and pasted” from one country to another. Due consideration must be given to the varying aims of the customs service and the specific political, social, economic, and administrative conditions in the country.

Measurement applied to experimentation is also about how donors, experts, and national administrations work together. On the one hand, national administrations in developing countries ask for technical assistance, standards, and expertise that are based on experiences of developing countries and use experts from such countries.These requests encourage the dissemination of such models. On the other hand, reforms of customs or tax administrations are represented as semi-failures in terms of the initial expected outcomes set by donors and politicians – usually the end of a reform is the time when donors and local administrations become aware of the gaps of their own representations of success.

While scientific and academic in approach, lets hope it means more than just miserable experimentation in target countries.

The book is available for free reading online – or you can purchase from

Trade Facilitation Implementation Guide

UNECE-Trade Facilitation Implementation GuideHaving spent the better part of the last fortnight amongst customs authorities and implementors of Single Window, I’m compelled to share with you a site (if you have not already been there) which attempts in a simple but comprehensive way to articulate the concept and principles of Trade Facilitation and its relationship and connotation with Single Window. The UNECE Trade Facilitation Implementation Guide should come as a welcomed resource, if not a companion, to trade facilitation practitioners and more specifically Customs Authorities wishing to embark on a trade facilitation approach. Of course it is a very useful reference for the many avid scholars on customs and trade matters across the global village. Of particular interest are the case studies – two of which feature African countries (Mozambique and Senegal) – providing a welcomed introduction of trade facilitation and Single Window on our continent. It is good to note that Single Window has less to do with technology and more to do with inter-governmental and trade relationships and an understanding of how these are meant to co-exist and support one another  – Enjoy!

Trade facilitation is emerging as an important factor for international trade and the economic development of countries. This is due to its impact on competitiveness and market integration and its increasing importance in attracting direct foreign investments. Over the last decade, it has gained prominence in the international political agenda as part of the ongoing WTO multilateral trade negotiations as well as of wide international technical assistance programs for developing and transition economies.

The primary goal of trade facilitation is to help make trade across borders faster and cheaper, whilst ensuring its safety and security. In terms of focus, it is about formalities, procedures, and the related exchange of information and documents between the various partners in the supply chain. For UNECE and its UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), trade facilitation is “the simplification, standardization and harmonization of procedures and associated information flows required to move goods from seller to buyer and to make payment”. Such a definition implies that not only the physical movement of goods is important in a supply chain, but also the associated information flows. It also encompasses all governmental agencies that intervene in the transit of goods, and the various commercial entities that conduct business and move the goods. This is in line with discussions on trade facilitation currently ongoing at the WTO. Source: UNECE