At the invitation of Ms. Bettina Vogl-Lang, Vice-Chair for the Europe Region and Deputy Director General, Austrian Tax and Customs, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya attended the 2017 Heads of Customs Conference of the Europe Region, held in Vienna, Austria from 19 to 21 April.
Opening the meeting, Ms. Vogl-Lang speaking on behalf of the Austrian Minister of Finance, Mr. Hans-Jörg Schelling, welcomed delegates from around 50 Members of the Region. She emphasized the multi-faceted role of Customs in today's society which extends beyond the traditional role of tax and duty collection to the fight against terrorism, trade facilitation and many other varied roles.
In the context of trade facilitation, she highlighted transit as an important process that enables the free flow of goods while protecting revenue. This meeting aims at contributing to the concept of enhanced transit processes. On behalf of the Minister, Ms. Vogl-Lang wished the delegates success in their important deliberations.
Secretary General Mikuriya emphasized the current main priorities of the WCO:
- Trade Facilitation and the opportunities and challenges presented by the entry into force of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.
- E-commerce and the response of Customs to the increase in trade volume to ensure the necessary degree of control and facilitation, as well as revenue collection.
- Security and the role of Customs in the fight against terrorism.
- Customs and Tax cooperation. The WCO advances the important role of Customs in the overall control of trade, as well as the necessity for a well-resourced Customs administration. Information sharing is an essential aspect of cooperation, and the WCO continues to promote the sharing of information.
- Illicit Financial Flows. The Secretary General updated delegates on the input of the WCO to the ongoing work of the G20.
The Secretary General invited delegates to endorse these items which he would present to the forthcoming Policy Commission and Council sessions as the main priorities of the WCO.
He outlined details of the many upcoming events, in particular the IT Conference in Georgia, the Knowledge Academy and Conferences on Origin and Transit, as well as other events whose details are on the WCO Website.
The Secretary General also informed delegates of the forthcoming departure of the Deputy Secretary General, Sergio Mujica. Wishing Mr. Mujica every success, he informed delegates that, pending the election of a successor, the current management team would execute the responsibilities of the Deputy Secretary General.
Mr. Ruslan Davydov, Chairperson of the Council, emphasized of the priorities as outlined by the Secretary General. He called for full support for the role of Customs in the context of the implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Customs must remain vigilant and protect its exclusive competence. Mr. Davydov expressed the strong desire that delegations be able to make their interventions in a greater range of languages in the future. He asked that the accession of new Members be discussed so as to ensure the implementation of best practices in this regard and mentioned the necessity to continue to review the Organization's governance mechanisms.
Statements were made by several Members on the recent acceptance by the depositary (Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) of an Instrument of Accession from Kosovo. Delegates noted that the accession of new Members would feature on the forthcoming Policy Commission and Council Agendas.
The meeting considered several aspects of Transit in the context of the steps necessary to develop a Europe Region Transit system. This included discussions on the economic background and challenges for the future; existing systems and possible benefits of compatible interactive systems; requirements for future development; and how to progress the introduction of a suitable system. It was agreed to establish a working group to bring forward a position paper and roadmap to advance the concept.
Delegates also heard reports on the recent Audit and Finance Committee meetings, ROCB activities (including the future funding policy), RILO activities and governance. Decisions were taken regarding the Region’s representation on the various WCO working bodies for the next financial year.
The Secretary General expressed his appreciation to the Austrian Tax and Customs Administration for the warm welcome extended to delegates and the excellent organization of the meeting.