Free zone experts of the Americas and the Caribbean region discuss effective implementation of the WCO Practical Guidance on Free Zones

03 June 2022

The World Customs Organization (WCO) organized an online Regional Workshop on Free Zones for the Americas and the Caribbean region from 23 to 25 May 2022, in close cooperation with the WCO Americas and the Caribbean Regional Office for Capacity Building (ROCB/AMS). 66 participants from 17 Member administrations joined the dialogue to explore the ways for a sustainable development of free zones with enhanced Customs involvement.

This was the third regional workshop in a series of regional events aimed at discussing the harmonized and efficient implementation of the WCO Practical Guidance on Free Zones (FZ Guidance) that was endorsed by 2020 December Council.

“Preventing illegal trade in free zones contributes to improving the business environment and competitiveness of free zones in meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.”, said the Director of Compliance and Facilitation, Mr. Pranab Kumar Das, in his opening remarks. The representative of the Regional Vice Chair for the AMS, Mr. Juan José Arreaza, also delivered opening remarks and pinpointed that capacity building and intraregional cooperation are two of the main axes to which the Regional Vice Presidency has dedicated special importance, especially in the face of the unforeseen situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts from Customs administrations, free zone authorities, the private sector and Organization of American States (OAS) delivered perceptive presentations during the three-day workshop.  Two pre-accredit WCO Experts also joined the workshop to moderate and provide presentations. This workshop covered the key elements identified by the WCO Free Zone Guidance for adequate Customs procedures in FZs. These include utilizing the concept of Authorized Economic Operator in FZ, Customs involvement in FZs, effective Customs control through Risk Management in FZ, IPR protection, origin determination of goods produced in FZs, use of data and technologies, and enhancing cooperation. 

Through in-depth discussions participants recognized the impact of the extraterritoriality of FZs and the significance of Customs involvement in the development and operation of free zones for the competitiveness and sustainability of free zones. Some Members shared benefits enjoyed by companies in FZs and statistics on their business activities, a successful digital transformation of FZs and the AEO certification for FZs. They also recognized that the sharing and use of data and advanced technologies as well as enhanced cooperation are a prerequisite for improving safety and security of FZs.

“Now is the time when Customs needs to take ownership for Customs involvement in free zones”, said Mr. Brendan O’Hearn, Deputy Director of Procedures and Facilitation, in his closing remarks. He closed by expressing his desire that this workshop would trigger further discussions within all administrations on what Customs can do to obtain a safe, secure and competitive business environment in free zones. Ms. Ines Cabrera, Head of ROCB AMS, stressed FZs are integral part of supply chain and gave comprehensive summary of workshop in closing remarks.