The WCO Harmonized System Convention celebrates its 25th anniversary

21 March 2013

Delegates attending the 51st Session of the Harmonized System (HS) Committee at the WCO were welcomed by the Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, on 11 March 2013. The Secretary General stressed that the HS had always been recognised as the “backbone” of the WCO, as one of its flagship instruments and a success story, given its wide recognition and implementation by WCO Members.

The Secretary General stated that despite the complexity of international trade today, the HS had helped Customs and its other users to find their way in the sophisticated architecture of today’s trading environment. Moreover, he said that it had been very useful in ensuring fiscal and regulatory compliance, as well as efficient revenue collection. He stressed that the HS had become the genuine lingua franca for commerce and industry, and that its importance is set to continue to increase over the years to come.

Moving on to the future of the HS, Secretary General Mikuriya pointed out that the WCO was committed to ensuring that the HS remained relevant in the future. With this in mind, he said that the WCO Policy Commission had embarked on a strategic review of the HS to better understand what the optimal level of granularity and the most appropriate length of the review cycles of the HS should be.

The Secretary General concluded by emphasizing that it was symbolic that the WCO was celebrating the anniversary of the HS in 2013 – the WCO Year of Innovation – as it was clearly one of the instruments not only driving Customs innovation, but also itself amenable to innovation and review. He was confident that the HS would rise to the challenge, adequately responding to the needs and expectations of the global community, embracing and supporting innovation, and remaining one of the pillars of regulatory architecture for global trade.

Secretary General Mikuriya's comments were warmly received and emphasized by delegates representing the Contracting Parties to the HS Convention, including Customs administrations and the European Union, and by many international observers attending the session, such as the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

The United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), in a note addressed to the Committee, highlighted the fact that the HS enabled decision-makers at all levels of responsibility to generate, store, share and retrieve crucial information for the efficient and effective monitoring and management of the international trade system.

As part of the celebrations, Mr. J. W. Reintjes, the first Chairperson of the HS Committee from 1988 to 1991, stressed that the HS had proved to be a remarkably stable instrument. He suggested that the Committee should consider whether the HS could be simplified and rendered more user-friendly for the business community, as well as whether further harmonization with other classification systems could be achieved.

In his video address to the HS Committee, Mr. H. Asakura, a former Director of Nomenclature and Classification at the WCO Secretariat, referred to the long history of the development of the HS, expressing his hope that the HS would continue to be a useful tool in the various fields in which it was utilised. Former WCO Secretariat officials who had worked with HS matters, such as Mr. H. Kappler (former Director of Tariff and Trade Affairs) and Mr. I. Wind (former Deputy Director of Tariff and Trade Affairs) also attended the special proceedings to mark the anniversary of the HS. The Committee also welcomed Mr. R. Uschyk, who had represented the ICC in the Committee from 1996 to 2012.

Developing countries were encouraged to participate in the HS work of the WCO more actively, and appreciation was expressed for the assistance provided to developing countries by the WCO and the donor community, in particular CCF Japan. Closing the celebrations, the current WCO Director of Tariff and Trade Affairs, Giuseppe Favale, said that the HS was the result of immense effort and the strong commitment of the Customs community to the idea of developing a common language for commerce, which had proved successful and was widely recognised and used across the globe. He congratulated the HS Committee on its quarter century anniversary and wished it well with its continued work.