WCO launches Trade Tools, a new online database for the Harmonized System, Origin and Valuation

The World Customs Organization (WCO) is proud to announce the release of its new online tool, www.wcotradetools.org, which compiles information to support international trade actors in the classification of goods and the determination of the corresponding Customs tariffs and taxes. This new database offers a single point of access to the Harmonized System, preferential Rules of Origin and Valuation, through a completely new, user-centric and ergonomic interface.

In addition to a new interface design and new search engines, this new platform offers the following key features: 

  • Ability to cross-reference information by using a comparison tool in the Harmonized System (HS) and Rules of Origin
  • A direct overview of the most recent HS updates, highlighting the changes introduced
  • A system for tracking the evolution of the HS codes across editions, using a “History” tool
  • A facility for searching through the Product Specific Rules in more than 200 Free Trade Agreements, and access to the corresponding HS entry.

The new platform will also promote cooperation among the different teams within Customs administrations, as well as with Customs brokers and companies, through various features such as the possibility to tag information, write comments and share folders. It offers the possibility of further enhancing use of the platform; users can search through the extensive databases, as well as organizing and storing the content according to their personal preferences.

This new tool includes the 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017 editions of the HS, around 200 Free Trade Agreements with their preferential Rules of Origin/product specific recommendations, and the set list of Valuation texts, including those of the Technical Committee on Customs Valuation.

In addition to this new professional database, the WCO is also proud to announce the release of its new online bookshop, www.wcoomdpublications.org, where users can navigate through the range of WCO publications, purchase them, and subscribe to the Organization’s online services, including WCO Trade Tools. The website has benefited from a complete revamp, to facilitate users’ access to the publications and enhance their navigation experience.

For more information, please contact the Publications & Data Solutions Service: publications@wcoomd.org.

Customs reform in Nigeria continues after the termination of the Destination Inspection service

Secretary General Mikuriya during a courtesy visit paid to the President of the Republic of Nigeria, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan (WCO)

Secretary General Mikuriya during a courtesy visit paid to the President of the Republic of Nigeria, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan (WCO)

At the invitation of the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Mr. Abdullahi Dikko Inde, the WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya visited Nigeria on 17 and 18 February 2014 to observe Customs transformation activities after the termination of Destination Inspection contracts on 1 December 2013.

In Lagos, the Secretary General went to Apapa Port, Nigeria’s major port, to see Customs operations and also to visit the Customs Training Centre for a mentorship talk with young officers: the NCS has recruited many recent university graduates and trained them in computer and other necessary skills.

Secretary General Mikuriya also presided over a Stakeholder Forum to interact with the private sector. The business community were supportive of the ongoing Customs transformation programme that was enhanced by an improved communication strategy for Customs, the use of information technology – the Nigeria Trade Hub – and the implementation of modern Customs methods, such as risk management.

The private sector also suggested better use of a database for risk management purposes, including valuation, and expressed their hope for the introduction of coordinated border management and a Single Window to simplify the multiplicity of regulations and inspections at borders.

The Secretary General also travelled to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, and was joined by three heads of Customs from neighbouring countries, namely Benin, Ghana and Niger, who wanted to learn from NCS’s experience and obtain Nigeria’s support, as well as that of the WCO, for terminating contracts with inspection companies in order to regain ownership of core Customs functions.

The Secretary General also paid a courtesy visit to the President of the Republic, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan.  As a former Customs official early in his career, the President talked fondly of his visit to the WCO to attend the 2012 Council Sessions and particularly noted the WCO’s strong and inspirational leadership. He also acknowledged the economic and social contribution of Customs to the nation, and promised to continue to support Customs reform in Nigeria and provide guidance and influence at the regional level. Source: WCO

Customs Core Skills – in danger of extinction or a casualty of progress?

The recent death of a close friend and colleague – Lester Millar – brings to mind, once again, the dire situation of a dwindling ‘knowledge base’ in the area of Customs’ core competency. In an era where most customs or border management authorities are happy to employ people with a variety of tertiary qualifications – with the idea that this alone will be sufficient to ‘arm and support’ them in the field of customs/border control and management – what happened to the skills of yesteryear which allowed both government and trade practitioners to exercise their technical abilities to agree or disagree amicably on a customs tariff or valuation interpretation that could result in thousands of rands (ZAR) going to state coffers or the retailer’s bank account?

Many would argue that with the extent of automation and modern techniques, customs core skills are no longer valid or even necessary. Indeed the extent and design of systems goes so far as removing the relevance of human intuition and decision-making. Today we have automated risk management, automated duty calculation and declaration processing, automated cargo and goods accounting, any even a call centre – so is there really a role for a Customs specialist in the 21st century? Customs Managers today have their reports and other so-called ‘empirical data’ to rely on for decision-making and strategizing. The year-end revenue rush, it-self, relies on such computer generated reports negating the need for an internal ‘think-tank’ to devise means of collecting the hidden revenue before the deadline.

For those in the trade, a similar situation exists, with some difference however. The traditional customs clearance and cargo reporting process is highly mechanised these days and if your systems are up to the task, you can rest assured staff can remain glued to their seats and screens without having to venture to the Customs House. Here too, lies a significant change. The traditional Custom House no longer exists and is basically home to the ‘Customs Frontline’ which deals with ‘physical’ intervention and other trade services. Tariff, Valuation and Origin are now confined to back-office functions accessible via a call centre or tiered response mechanisms embedded in Customs’ new automated workflow; that is, if physical or telephonic access to regional customs specialists have been removed.

Few can dispute the advantages of technology supported processes. Yet, when things go array, even the knowledgeable people have difficulty in resolving an issue. Some suggest that human discretion is dangerous and counter-productive, which perhaps is true if left to an uncouth, power-crazy customs or border control official. Yet, ‘discretion’ is a tenet most necessary for interpretative and cognitive skills which once most Customs Officials used to have.

So what is this core competency to which I refer? First of all Customs competency requires an officer to reason, interpret and apply the customs law in the “fairest” possible way based on the facts at his/her disposal. So it means the officer must have an ability to discern; importantly between right and wrong. Discernment must also take into account an acute understanding of previous/historical evidence relating to a case. For a customs official, it will be important to comprehend the rights and legal obligations of the parties concerned, as well as the documentation relating to the case/transaction. Moreover, where a case/transaction deals with a matter of ‘tariff’, or ‘valuation’ or ‘origin’ the officer must at least have the basic knowledge and skills of the internationally defined rules of interpretation in these disciplines. I say ‘at least’, because in any of the mentioned areas, it may require an expert opinion to further conclude the outcome of a matter.

While automation will take care of validation and computation to the n’th degree, storing and retrieving vast amounts of data in milliseconds, the fact remains that a competent ‘human being’ is still required to preside over a complex decision. Good systems are built on ‘rules’, not exceptions. It is the latter therefore that requires ‘customs core competency’ to resolve.

Our dear friend and colleague Lester was gifted with a phenomenal ability to distill and comprehend information. This knowledge made him one of our finest, and sadly virtually last remaining tariff experts. Add to this, a wonderful and helpful nature and willingness to serve the public – a not too common trait nowadays. Adios Lester…..since we did not fully profit from your time with us, may we at least profit from our loss!