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  • Overview

    Article 12 of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation (TFA), which concerns Customs Cooperation, sets out the terms and requirements for Members to share information in order to ensure effective customs control, while respecting the confidentiality of the information exchanged. Article 12 allows Members flexibility in terms of establishing the legal basis for information exchange.  Members may enter into or maintain bilateral, plurilateral or regional agreements for sharing or exchanging customs information and data, including advance information.

    The Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) provides, in the General Annex (Standard 6.7), that the Customs shall seek to co-operate with other Customs administrations and seek to conclude mutual administrative assistance agreements to enhance Customs control.

    The WCO SAFE Framework of Standards (FoS) requires Members to establish and enhance Customs-to-Customs network arrangements to promote seamless movement of goods through secure international trade supply chains. The WCO Model Bilateral Agreement and the Model Memorandum of Understanding on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters are used extensively by WCO Members as the basis for concluding bilateral agreements. The Globally Networked Customs (GNC) Utility Blocks are useful in providing standard templates for bilateral and multilateral agreements.

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    WTO TFA

    1 Measures Promoting Compliance and Cooperation

    1.1. Members agree on the importance of ensuring that traders are aware of their compliance obligations, encouraging voluntary compliance to allow importers to self-correct without penalty in appropriate circumstances, and applying compliance measures to initiate stronger measures for non-compliant traders. 14

    1.2. Members are encouraged to share information on best practices in managing customs compliance, including through the Committee. Members are encouraged to cooperate in technical guidance or assistance and support for capacity building for the purposes of administering compliance measures, and enhancing their effectiveness.

    2 Exchange of Information

    2.1. Upon request, and subject to the provisions of this Article, Members shall exchange the information set out in subparagraph 6.1 (b) and/or (c) for the purpose of verifying an import or export declaration in identified cases where there are reasonable grounds to doubt the truth or accuracy of the declaration.

    2.2. Each Member shall notify the Committee of the details of its contact point for the exchange of this information.

    3 Verification

    A Member shall make a request for information only after it has conducted appropriate verification procedures of an import or export declaration and after it has inspected the available relevant documentation.

    4 Request

    4.1. The requesting Member shall provide the requested Member with a written request, through paper or electronic means in a mutually agreed official language of the WTO or mutually agreed other language, including:

        (a)    the matter at issue including, where appropriate and available, the number identifying the export declaration corresponding to the import declaration in question;

        (b)    the purpose for which the requesting Member is seeking the information or documents, along with the names and contact details of the persons to whom  the request relates, if known;

        (c)    where required by the requested Member, confirmation 15 of the verification where appropriate.;

        (d)    the specific information or documents requested;

        (e)    the identity of the originating office making the request;

        (f)    reference to provisions of the requesting Member's domestic law and legal system that govern the collection, protection, use, disclosure, retention and disposal of confidential information and personal data;

    4.2. If the requesting Member is not in a position to comply with any of the subparagraphs of paragraph 4.1, it shall specify this in the request.

    5 Protection and Confidentiality

    5.1. The requesting Member shall, subject to paragraph 5.2:

        (a)    hold  all  information  or  documents  provided  by  the  requested  Member  strictly  in confidence and grant at least the same level of such protection and confidentiality as that provided under the domestic law and legal system of the requested Member as described by it under subparagraphs 6.1(b) or (c).;

        (b)    provide information or documents only to the customs authorities dealing with the matter at issue and use the information or documents solely for the purpose stated in the request unless the requested Member agrees otherwise in writing;

        (c)    not disclose the information or documents without the specific written permission of the requested Member;

        (d)    not use any unverified information or documents from the requested Member as the deciding factor towards alleviating the doubt in any given circumstance;

        (e)    respect  any  case-specific  conditions  set  out  by  the  requested  Member  regarding retention and disposal of confidential information or documents and personal data; and

        (f)    upon request, inform the requested Member of any decisions and actions taken on the matter as a result of the information or documents provided.

    5.2. A requesting Member may be unable under its domestic law and legal system to comply with any of the subparagraphs of paragraph 5.1. If so, the requesting Member shall specify this in the request.

    5.3. The requested Member shall treat any request, and verification information received under paragraph 4 with  at  least  the  same  level  of  protection  and  confidentiality  accorded  by  the requested Member to its own similar information.

    6 Provision of Information

    6.1. Subject to the provisions of this Article, the requested Member shall promptly:

        (a)    respond in writing, through paper or electronic means;

        (b)    provide the specific information as set out in the import or export declaration, or the declaration,  to  the  extent  it  is  available,  along  with  a  description  of  the  level  of protection and confidentiality required of the requesting Member;

        (c)    if requested, provide the specific information as set out in the following documents, or the documents, submitted in support of the import or export declaration, to the extent it is available: commercial invoice, packing list, certificate of origin and bill of lading, in the form in which these were filed, whether paper or electronic, along with a description of the level of protection and confidentiality required of the requesting Member;

        (d)    confirm that the documents provided are true copies;

        (e)    provide the information or otherwise respond to the request, to the extent possible, within 90 days from the date of the request.

    6.2. The requested Member may require, under its domestic law and legal system, an assurance prior to the provision of information that the specific information will not be used as evidence in criminal investigations, judicial proceedings, or in non-customs proceedings without the specific written permission of the requested Member. If the requesting Member is not in a position to comply with this requirement it should specify this to the requested Member.

    7 Postponement or Refusal of a Request

    7.1. A requested Member may postpone or refuse part or all of a request to provide information, and shall inform the requesting Member of the reasons for doing so, where:

        (a)    it would be contrary to the public interest as reflected in the domestic law and legal system of the requested Member.

        (b)    its domestic law and legal system prevents the release of the information. In such a case it shall provide the requesting Member with a copy of the relevant, specific reference.

        (c)    the provision of the information would impede law enforcement or otherwise interfere with an on-going administrative or judicial investigation, prosecution or proceeding;

        (d)    the consent of the importer or exporter is required by its domestic law and legal system that govern the collection, protection, use, disclosure, retention and disposal of confidential information or personal data and that consent is not given; or

        (e)    the request for information is received after the expiration of the legal requirement of the requested Member for the retention of documents.

    7.2. In the circumstances of paragraphs 4.2, 5.2, or 6.2, execution of such a request shall be at the discretion of the requested Member.

    8 Reciprocity

    If the requesting Member is of the opinion that it would be unable to comply with a similar request if it was made by the requested Member, or if it has not yet implemented this Article, it shall state that fact in its request. Execution of such a request shall be at the discretion of the requested Member.

    9 Administrative Burden

    9.1. The requesting Member shall take into account the associated resource and cost implications for the requested Member in responding to requests for information. The requesting Member shall consider the proportionality between its fiscal interest in pursuing its request and the efforts to be made by the requested Member in providing the information.

    9.2. If a requested Member receives an unmanageable number of requests for information, or a request for information of unmanageable scope from one or more requesting Member(s) and is unable to meet such requests within a reasonable time it may request one or more of the requesting Member(s) to prioritize with a view to agreeing on a practical limit within its resource constraints. In the absence of a mutually-agreed approach, the execution of such requests shall be at the discretion of the requested Member based on the results of its own prioritization.

    10 Limitations

    A requested Members shall not be required to:

        (a)    modify the format of its import or export declarations or procedures;

        (b)    call for documents other than those submitted with the import or export declaration as specified in subparagraph 6.1(c);

        (c)     initiate enquiries to obtain the information;

        (d)    modify the period of retention of such information;

        (e)    introduce paper documentation where electronic format has already been introduced;

        (f)    translate the information;

        (g)    verify the accuracy of the information; or

        (h)    provide  information  that  would  prejudice  the  legitimate  commercial  interests  of particular enterprises, public or private.

    11  Unauthorized Use or Disclosure

    11.1.  In the event of any breach of the conditions of use or disclosure of information exchanged under this Article, the requesting Member that received the information shall promptly communicate the details of such unauthorized use or disclosure to the requested Member that provided the information, and:

        (a)    take necessary measures to remedy the breach;

        (b)    take necessary measures to prevent any future breach; and

        (c)    notify the requested Member of the measures taken under subparagraphs (a) and (b) above.

    11.2.  The requested Member may suspend its obligations to the requesting Member under this Article until the measures set out in paragraph 11.1 have been taken.

    12 Bilateral and Regional Agreements

    12.1.  Nothing in this Article shall prevent a Member from entering into or maintaining a bilateral, plurilateral, or regional agreement for sharing or exchange of customs information and data, including on a secure and rapid basis such as on an automatic basis or in advance of the arrival of the consignment. 

    12.2.  Nothing in this Article shall be construed as altering or affecting a Member's rights or obligations under such bilateral, plurilateral or regional agreements or as governing the exchange of customs information and data under such other agreements.

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    14 Such activity has the overall objective of lowering the frequency of non-compliance, and consequently reducing the need for exchange of information in pursuit of enforcement.

    15 This may include pertinent information on the verification conducted under paragraph 3. Such information shall be subject to the level of protection and confidentiality specified by the Member conducting the verification.

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    Revised kyoto convention

    General Annex - Chapter 6 (Customs Control)

    Standard 6.7 in Chapter 6 of the General Annex to the Revised Kyoto Convention stipulates the principle of mutual administrative assistance between Customs administrations to enhance Customs control.

    6.7. Standard

    The Customs shall seek to co-operate with other Customs administrations and seek to conclude mutual administrative assistance agreements to enhance Customs control.

    RKC Guidelines on RKC General Annex  - Chapter 6  (download)

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    Other WCO Tools

    SAFE Framework of Standards (download)

    The WCO SAFE Framework of Standards (FoS) requires Members to establish and enhance Customs-to-Customs network arrangements to promote seamless movement of goods through secure international trade supply chains.  Paragraph 1.2 of the SAFE FoS aims at strengthening co-operation between Customs administrations to improve their capability to detect high risk consignments

    Model Bilateral Agreement (download)

    The Model Bilateral Agreement constitutes a sound basis for the negotiation of bilateral agreements on mutual administrative assistance in Customs matters. 

    Nairobi Convention (download)

    The Convention requires Contracting Parties to afford each other mutual assistance with a view to preventing, investigating and repressing Customs offences.

    Johannesburg Convention (download)

    The Convention enables Customs administrations to legally exchange information such as personal data and information on consignments in advance of their arrival at destination in order to secure the international trade supply chain.

    Globally Networked Customs

    Globally Networked Customs (GNC) concept is a standardized way for Customs authorities to exchange information. It covers Customs-to-Customs (C2C) information sharing, including data obtained from commercial sources.

    - GNC Handbook (download)

    - Globally Networked Customs Concept - Strategic Value (download)

    - Frequently Asked Questions (download)

    Voluntary Compliance Framework (download)

    The Voluntary Disclosure Programmes (VDP) give clients a chance to correct inaccurate or incomplete information or to disclose information that clients have not reported during previous dealings with Customs authorities, without penalties in the appropriate circumstances.

    The VCF will help traders comply voluntarily and correctly with Customs law, regulations or requirements.

    Customs Enforcement Network Global Application (CEN)

    The CEN application was conceived to assist the Customs enforcement community in gathering data and information for intelligence purposes. This module acts as a central depositary for enforcement-related information; its success resting squarely on the steady flow of quality data provided by all WCO Members.

    For more information on the CEN, please contact cis@wcoomd.org.

    National Customs Enforcement Network Application (nCEN)

    The National Customs Enforcement Network (nCEN) is a system developed by the WCO to assist Customs administrations with the collection and storage of law-enforcement information on the national level, with the additional capability to exchange this information at the regional and international levels.

    For more information on the nCEN please contact ncen@wcoomd.org.

    Customs Enforcement Network Communication Platform (CENcomm)

    CENcomm is a tool that facilitates the exchange and use of data in a timely, reliable and secure manner with direct access available 24 hours a day. Email management and information storage are just two of its key features.

    For more information on CENcomm, please contact cis@wcoomd.org.

    Customs Co-operation (download)

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    Members Practices

    Mauritius, the first country to implement nCEN (WCO News, February 2011) (download)

    Customs Mutual Assistance Agreements (CMAA) (United States) (download)

    South Africa and Swaziland – Implementing Exchange of Information (download)

    Namibia’s Customs modernization drive and nCEN experience (WCO News, June 2014) (download)

    Georgia, Europe’s first nCEN Country (WCO News, October 2016) (download)

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    Performance Indicators

    Yes/No Question

    • Do you have legislation to allow your Customs administration to provide information on import or export declarations to foreign Customs administrations?
    • No. of cases involving provision of information on request from foreign Customs administrations per year


    Quantitative indicators

    • Do you have legislation to protect information provided by foreign Customs administrations?
    • No. of cases involving the use of  information provided by foreign Customs administrations at judicial or criminal proceedings per year

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