Madrid, 30 April 2014
More than 800 delegates from more than 90 countries attended the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) 2nd Global AEO Conference in Madrid, Spain, from 28-30 April 2014, which focused on engaging all relevant stakeholders in discussions on the role of Customs-Business partnerships in securing and facilitating global trade.
Building collaborative relationships with trusted traders is advantageous for governments facing the challenge of growing trade volumes and increased security requirements on the one hand, and the need to develop efficient cross-border processes that allow businesses to be more competitive on the other hand.
Over the past decade, specific programmes have been put in place, opening up a new chapter in traditional Customs-Business partnerships, namely Customs compliance programmes and Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) programmes.
Customs compliance programmes focus on traditional Customs requirements, such as the payment of Customs duties, while AEO programmes include security requirements as prescribed in the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade (SAFE Framework). Under these programmes, economic operators who demonstrate that they meet minimum standards and best practices are entitled to trade facilitation benefits.
The conference provided government and trade representatives the opportunity to discuss challenges related to the implementation of such programmes, their impact on Customs risk management practices, the participation of SMEs, as well as efforts to encourage countries to mutually recognize each other’s validated economic operators.
The objective of the conference was to create an open platform for businesses, Customs and other border agencies to exchange ideas and share their views on how to promote efficient and secure supply chain management which is vital to economic growth, including economic competitiveness.
Opening the conference, the Director General of the Spanish Tax Agency, Santiago Menéndez, explained that the external sector has been instrumental in recent years for the Spanish economy’s return to the path of recovery, and that creating an environment of cooperation and mutual understanding that promotes international trade is a priority for his agency. Mr. Menéndez emphasized that with 579 authorized operators responsible for 89% of export declarations and 71% of import declarations in Spain, the AEO Programme has become an important programme to achieve the goals of the Spanish Tax Agency.
Addressing delegates, the Secretary General of the WCO, Kunio Mikuriya, stressed that Customs-Business partnerships were key to the growth of AEO programmes around the world, with the added benefit of expediting and aiding the successful implementation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade Facilitation (ATF).
Delegates discussed Article 7.7 of the WTO ATF, which provides for an Authorized Operator scheme, similar to the WCO’s AEO concept. As the ATF encourages WTO members to develop Authorized Operator schemes on the basis of international standards, where such standards exist, the WCO pointed out that it may be appropriate to use its AEO model as a standard to develop the ATF Authorized Operator scheme, as the use of AEO criteria to implement the Article will assist in ensuring a harmonized approach and enable countries to achieve seamless mutual recognition.
Another issue of particular interest was the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in these programmes. It was agreed that SMEs should be given more attention as they play a driving role in national economic growth, and in generating and sustaining employment. Governments should use every available opportunity to educate and inform SMEs about the value of participating in such programmes, as well as provide adequate assistance to SMEs entering the validation process.
How to achieve successful inter-agency collaboration, including multi-agency recognition of the ‘trusted trader’ status, was also discussed. As Customs rules are not the only consideration at borders, controls by other border agencies can seriously compromise the benefits otherwise afforded to validated enterprises.
Conference delegates contended that determining how operational cooperation, coordination and communication can be optimized between different border enforcement agencies responsible for matters of safety and security, human and animal health, and the economy and the environment, is of utmost importance.
In his concluding remarks, the Deputy Secretary General of the WCO, Sergio Mujica, reaffirmed the importance of this global WCO event as a platform for timely and open engagement between Customs and the private sector, as well as all other international trade stakeholders, particularly as partnerships were the only way in which all role-players could meet their differing needs.