WCO Secretary General addresses EU Customs representatives

10 January 2013

At the invitation of the Irish Presidency of the European Union (EU), the Secretary General of the WCO, Kunio Mikuriya, addressed the EU Customs Union Group (CUG) in Brussels on Thursday, 10 January 2013.

Ireland which has responsibility for guiding the EU for a six month period from 1 January to 30 June 2013 continued the practice of inviting the WCO Secretary General and the Director General of the European Commission's Taxation and Customs Union Directorate (DG TAXUD) to outline their principal objectives for the coming year at the first meeting of the CUG under Ireland's term at the helm of the EU.

Secretary General Mikuriya began by expressing his appreciation to the Irish Presidency for continuing what was now a tradition of inviting the WCO to outline its work programme for the current year to the CUG.

He emphasized the ongoing work on the development of four packages, implementation of which would combine to protect revenue collection, increase economic competiveness, protect society and provide training, technical assistance and capacity building to the WCO’s membership.

The inception of the Revenue Package, which was already approved by the WCO Council, was linked to the difficulties being experienced by Customs when the economic downturn struck in 2007. WCO Members had to ensure that they were in a position to collect the correct tax or duty due in a fair and efficient manner to prevent erosion of the tax base. Classification of goods using the Harmonized System, valuation of goods and rules of origin were all important components of this Package.

The Economic Competitiveness Package (ECP) was developed to enable WCO Members to benefit from an upturn in world economic conditions and to ensure that economies were competitive. It is important that Customs or border controls should not interfere with the free flow of legitimate trade, thus the implementation of the WCO Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) and additional standards, such as those contained in the SAFE Framework of Standards (SAFE), would lead to fair and efficient Customs procedures.

In addition, to assist implementation of the ECP the WCO developed a tool kit for use by its Members to self assess and benchmark themselves against the implementation of provisions, such as those contained in the RKC and SAFE. Some additional work was necessary to complete the Package to take account of certain provisions on the negotiating table of the trade facilitation talks at the WTO not included to date in WCO texts. This would be undertaken in the coming months.

An Enforcement Package (EP) is currently being developed. Following discussions at the WCO Policy Commission, five key risk areas had been identified. Moves to counter tobacco smuggling would move to a new plane in view of the agreement at the World Health Organization on a Tobacco Protocol. It would fall to Customs to implement the provisions now in place and an action plan would need to be drawn up to ensure a coordinated effort by WCO Members.

The fight against illicit smuggling of drugs would continue, not least by the continuation of WCO coordinated operations which had proved so successful in the past year. Likewise, the fight against IPR infringements would be stepped up by the increasing uptake of the WCO IPM system which was now being implemented by 49 WCO Members and had proved itself in recent operations.

Secretary General Mikuriya took the opportunity to acknowledge the European Commission’s cooperative approach in the development of its own IPR system and was encouraged by the promise of synergy between the two developments. He expressed the desire for a similar arrangement with the Commission’s Office of Harmonization for the Internal Market (OHIM) in the future.

Security of the supply chain continued to have a high profile at the WCO. The implementation of SAFE, including mutual recognition of Authorized Economic Operators (AEOs), and Programme Global Shield aimed at countering the illicit diversion and trafficking of precursor chemicals that could be used to manufacture explosive devices would enhance the fight against terrorism.

Environmental issues would also be addressed in the Enforcement Package. The Great Apes and Integrity (GAPIN) Project sponsored by the Swedish Government is an example of ongoing WCO work in this area.

Capacity Building would continue to take centre stage in the WCO strategic planning process. Secretary General thanked the Commission for its continued contribution to the capacity building effort both financially and by way of human resources. The demand for assistance continues and the WCO hoped to address the most pressing needs of its Members.

In closing the Secretary General announced that the WCO theme for 2013 would be "Innovation for Customs Progress". Innovation is a key driver for sustainable Customs reform and modernization, not only ensuring that Customs remains on top of its game but also ensuring that Customs is in a strong position to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the 21st century border and trade environment.

Indeed, innovation is not just about designing or implementing something new, whether it is a new policy or new technology or a new way of doing business, it is also about continuing investment in all aspects of Customs’ work, including its human capital which is critical to ensure sustained progress and success.

Secretary General Mikuriya concluded by wishing the Irish Presidency every success and in particular he wished Norman O’Grady, the Chairperson of the CUG, well in his demanding role.

The Director General of TAXUD, Heinz Zourek, expressed his appreciation to the WCO for the excellent cooperation between the two bodies. He noted the alignment of work programmes and assured the Secretary General of the full support of the Commission by way of active participation in a wide range of WCO meetings and events.

In particular, the Director General said that the EU would work towards increasing accession to the RKC across the globe, and would make proposals for the development of Annex K relating to Rules of Origin. The outcome of Globally Networked Customs (GNC) pilots, AEO implementation and the fight against IPR infringements would be high on the EU agenda also.

Director General Zourek cautioned that the EU faced a difficult year as the economic outlook was difficult for many Member States. The current level of unemployment in the EU was at its highest level ever. He recognised the ambitious work programme of the CUG and wished the Presidency success, especially with its efforts to achieve agreement on a revised EU Customs Code.

The Chairperson of the CUG thanked both distinguished speakers for their contributions. He emphasised the importance of active participation by EU Member States in WCO activities in order to ensure that the voices of the EU and its Member States would be heard at this important international forum.