Tonga moves ahead on Customs modernization with the support of the WCO

22 July 2019

At the invitation of the Ministry of Revenue and Customs of Tonga, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya visited the capital of Tonga, Nuku'alofa, on 18 and 19 July 2019 to meet with several of the archipelago’s political leaders and discuss issues related to Customs modernization and the way in which the Secretariat can continue to support the Customs administration to effectively tackle the challenges it faces thanks to the WCO “Small Island Economies” initiative.

While visiting the recently opened Customs House at the port, Dr Mikuriya met with Minister of Revenue and Customs, Hon. Mateni Tapueluelu, who presented the progress that had been made in reforming Customs as well as the priorities and needs of his administration. They also discussed, among other things, the challenges and opportunities that may arise following Tonga’s accession to the Economic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and the Pacific States as well as the sharing of information between countries of the Pacific region to counter drug trafficking. 

Dr. Mikuriya also met with Mr. Kelemete Vahe, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ministry of Revenue and Customs, who showed him the facilities of the new Customs House which provide for the use of modern information technology and intelligence-based risk management and enable Customs to build a business-friendly environment. Mr. Vahe also stressed the importance given to improving integrity in Customs and the need to develop a compliance programme for businesses.

The Secretary General then attended a welcome ceremony organized by Tonga Customs, with Deputy CEO and Head of Customs, Mr Michael Cokanasiga, acting as master of ceremonies. The event was extensively covered by national media.

Dr. Mikuriya subsequently held talks with Tonga’s Minister of Finance, Hon. Pahiva Tu 'I'onetoa, on the way in which Customs can contribute to achieving government objectives, in the areas of public sector reform, the fight against drug trafficking and the implementation of e-government. He also met the Minister of Lands, Natural resources and Defence, Hon. Lord Ma'afu, to discuss cooperation between Customs, other law enforcement agencies and military forces in protecting citizens from drug trafficking.

Finally, Secretary General Mikuriya was received by Tonga’s Prime Minister, Hon. Samiuela ʻAkilisi Pōhiva. Discussions covered a wide range of issues, including Customs’ contribution to enhancing connectivity at borders, the implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, the country’s regional integration strategy, and the challenges associated with cross-border e-commerce and illicit trade. Dr. Mikuriya explained the various programmes and initiatives managed by the WCO Secretariat and emphasized the importance of using WCO instruments, including the International Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System and the Revised Kyoto Convention. As Tonga has not acceded to either of the two major Conventions, Dr Mikuriya asked for the support of the Prime Minister to ensure swift ratification. The Prime Minister expressed his support for Customs reform as well as his appreciation for the assistance provided by the WCO in this domain.