WCO Opens Public Debate on Informal Trade

04 June 2013

More than 100 participants from 48 countries, representing all six WCO regions, attended the WCO International Research Conference on Informality, International Trade and Customs on 3-4 June 2013. The conference was organised by the WCO in partnership with the World Bank and Korea Customs Service.

The conference agenda consisted of 33 presentations of original research. Speakers, who were selected following the issuing of a Call for Papers that resulted in 85 submissions of research abstracts, included Customs administration officials, anthropologists, economists, political scientists, representatives from development banks, and the private sector.

Professor Keith Hart, who coined the term "informality" in the 1970s following his fieldwork in Ghana, delivered the conference keynote address.

Participants shared knowledge and views on institutional perspectives on informal trade, long-distance informal trader networks, how informality can be quantified, its economic impact, and the relationship between informality and smugglers of heavy taxed goods or goods whose circulation is highly restricted.

The sociological dimension was specifically examined to better understand how informal traders organize themselves as transnational commodities value chains. Three specific panels were dedicated to cross-border traders in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. In addition, extensive reflection was concentrated on the role of international institutions and organizations responsible for trade regulations that link to informality.

After the two days of discussions, the participants agreed on the importance of this subject and that it should continue to be researched and analyzed.

WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya praised conference participants for their diligent work and underlined that the WCO is committed to continued research and technical assistance on this vital topic for the benefit of border agencies, small and medium sized enterprises, and other stakeholders. He said that in discharging the Customs functions of revenue collection, trade facilitation, and protection of society from illicit trade, Customs administrations need to better understand the informal sector and explore ways to deal with this crucial element of society in improving economic competitiveness in an inclusive and dynamic manner. Secretary General Mikuriya also said that the planned publication of a book drawing from conference papers was an important step in achieving these goals.