WCO contribution to Strategic Foresight for the future of EU Customs

04 November 2019

At the invitation of Mr. Hannu Mäkinen, Director General of Finland Customs, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya participated in the EU High-Level Seminar on Strategic Foresight organized by the Finnish Presidency of the EU and facilitated by the European Commission’s Directorate-General Joint Research Center (DG JRC), in Helsinki, Finland on 30 October 2019. After briefing the Directors General of EU Customs administrations on the WCO's engagement in discussions on foresight and the Future of Customs initiative, Dr. Mikuriya participated in workshops discussing the Customs edition of the SES (Scenario Exploration System) in support of strategic reflections.

At the opening ceremony, Dr. Mikuriya emphasized the importance of visioning and designing the future strategies. In this connection, he demonstrated a good example of strategic forecast by recalling that several European countries in the early 1950's had envisioned the future of Customs through a study group that led to the establishment in 1952 of the Customs Co-operation Council, now operating as the World Customs Organization (WCO). This strategic move prepared the establishment of the EU Customs Union with standardization of Customs procedures while keeping the WCO’s global nature from the outset. Thanks to this foresight, nowadays, the WCO has a membership of 183 customs administrations operating on all continents and processing more than 98% of all international trade.

Secretary General Mikuriya went on to explain the different activities of the Organization that are conducive to strategic thinking. He shared with the audience the concept of the WCO Environmental Scan that informs WCO Members and stakeholders of relevant issues that might have an impact on Customs in the future and supports the WCO’s Strategic Plan. In order to make the process of environmental scanning more inclusive, it is now planned to present this document at the next WCO Policy Commission for in-depth strategic discussions.  Another related initiative underscored by the Secretary General was the establishment of the Virtual Working Group on the Future of Customs (VWG FC) in 2015 under the WCO Permanent Technical Committee (PTC). The resulting "Study Report on Disruptive Technologies," submitted and discussed at the WCO Council this year provided a more aspirational approach to the use of technologies in Customs. The WCO Private Sector Consultative Group (PSCG) also appreciated the study outcome and recently decided to develop a vision document on the Future of Customs to support the WCO’s work in this area. Similarly, Dr. Mikuriya explained that to prepare Customs for future challenges, the WCO organized the 14th edition of the PICARD Conference in North Macedonia where several topics were discussed, among which Data Science, including Big data, data analytics and data governance.

Regarding EU’s strategic foresight project, Secretary General Mikuriya appreciated the DG JRC’s contribution to the WCO PTC session in November last year where they announced the launch of the project “Future of Customs in the EU 2040” to identify mega-trends and drivers affecting Customs in the EU by using the strategic forecast methodology. He also highlighted DG JRC’s participation, along with other speakers from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Port Community System Association (IPCSA) in a panel discussion on Strategic foresight “Designing the Future of Customs”, organized by the WCO PTC in Brussels in parallel with the High-Level Seminar. Finally, he laid stress on the fact that WCO has been involved with the EU on the Future of Customs in the EU project by contributing to the previous three workshops organized by DG JRC and the Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (DG TAXUD) and that this scenario planning session in Helsinki was an integral part of the whole process.

Participants in the workshops on scenario planning gained experience and had an excellent opportunity to discuss about the future of Customs and the EU Customs Union. The outcome would contribute to the finalization of the EU project.

It is important to note that the WCO has also joined the OECD's Government Foresight Community to explore how strategic foresight could be applied in the Customs and the WCO context.