Europe Region Meeting: discussing the WCO’s future agenda and regional activities

18 April 2013

At the invitation of Mr. Bjorn Rose, Director General of Norwegian Customs and Vice-Chair of the WCO’s Europe Region, Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya attended the Regional Heads of Customs Conference held in Oslo on 16-17 April 2013 to discuss the WCO and the European agenda.

In his opening speech Mr. Sigbjorn Johnsen, Norway’s Minister for Finance, highlighted the important role of Customs in protecting society, preventing smuggling and fighting international crime. He also pointed out the crucial role of Customs in facilitating legitimate trade and leading coordinated border management, which he emphasized was not only an internal national issue but should extend to joint facilitation measures by Members with common borders. In this regard, he suggested that arrangements between the Nordic countries could be an example of best practice for wider application. The Minister commended the WCO for taking several key initiatives, such as the Global Shield Programme to enhance security and the Revised Kyoto Convention, which was key to facilitating trade. He urged Customs to continue to evolve and introduce innovative approaches to improve both control and facilitation measures, even in the current difficult economic conditions where Customs administrations were expected to do more with less. Notwithstanding the current economic situation, he pledged continued strong support to the WCO.

Secretary General Mikuriya, in a wide-ranging review of current WCO topics, emphasized the importance of the development of the Economic Competitiveness Package. A Compliance and Enforcement Package is being developed to complete the suite of Packages designed to modernize Customs in the prevailing economic conditions. He outlined the revised WCO Vision and how the goals of the WCO were combined in the Packages and linked to the Customs in the 21st Century strategy, as well as how they were underpinned by international co-operation, research and raising of the profile of the WCO.

The Meeting discussed a wide range of issues. Notably, the Heads of Customs endorsed the priorities of the WCO Strategic Plan, took note of a report on the outcome of the Finance Committee session, discussed the composition of the Finance Committee and the question of alternates for the Policy Commission should the need arise, emphasized the importance of the debate on the review of the Harmonized System, and prepared for the forthcoming discussion at the Policy Commission. The participants expressed a preference that WCO publications be made available free of charge but recognized the financial implications involved. They looked forward to continued progress on the development of a new Publications Policy in the near future. The Meeting heard progress reports from the RILOs and the ROCB, endorsed the budget for the latter and reaffirmed the funding mechanism. It also took note of nominations for various WCO working bodies, for consideration at the June meeting of the Region.

At the request of the Vice-Chair, the Secretary General outlined the policies he intended to pursue during his second term as Secretary General. Following his achievements in his first term in respect of good governance, capacity building and developing the WCO as a centre of excellence, he pledged to consolidate this reform and to continue to improve the WCO performance based on the Strategic Plan, incorporating the needs and priorities of Members.

All the participants expressed their appreciation for the excellent organization of the Meeting and for the warm hospitality extended to them by Norway.