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1st WCO Working Group on e-Commerce gets down to business

More than 175 delegates attended the 1st meeting of the WCO Working Group on E-Commerce which was held at the WCO headquarters in Brussels from 21 to 23 September 2016 to discuss in an open and constructive maner opportunities and challenges stemming from the growing trade in e-commerce, in particular, cross-border low-value business-to-consumer (B2C) and consumer-to-consumer (C2C) shipments, from both a trade facilitation and a control perspective.

Participants and speakers represented a broad variety of stakeholders, including Customs administrations and partner international organizations, as well as representatives of the postal and express service industry, e-vendors, e-commerce platforms, and online payment providers.

They had an ambitious agenda to follow during the three day meeting, and presentations and discussions provided a wealth of information. Data and statistics were provided, forecasting of e-commerce sales, the economic opportunities it brings to micro and small and medium-sized entreprises (MSMEs) especially at the international level, as well as cross border barriers for e-traders and consumers were addressed.

Representatives of e-commerce platforms presented their business models, their roles and responsibilities, and the solutions they have built to offer a safe environment to sellers and buyers, as well as potential opportunities in terms of direct data exchange between e-commerce actors and Customs administrations in order to enhance risk management capacities and data quality.

Representatives from the postal and express service industry outlined the lifecycle of an e-commerce shipment, the challenges they are facing with the expansion of e-commerce, and the services they are offering to their clients in order to prepare documents or follow-up on a shipment, or facilitate their returns procedures.

Reprensentatives from Customs administations addressed several aspects, including:

• the legal and regulatory framework;

• the import clearance system for express cargo and postal items;

• the development of advance electronic data capture systems for postal items to enable risk assessment and better fraud detection;

• the modern facilities built to process postal and express items, and the technology they rely on to do so; • the development of solutions to capture transaction data from e-traders;

• how they cooperate with other regulatory agencies to ensure effective controls;

• the measures and systems to support exports.

New revenue collection models which would allow all duties and taxes to be collected more efficiently were explored, with discussions also touching on the de minimis threshold for duties and taxes, the rationale behind such a measure, and the latest policy changes in this domain in some countries, aimed at preventing potential revenue loss and fraud.

The criminal exploitation of e-commerce was also tackled, with speakers from law enforcement bodies and a research institute presenting available guidance, existing tools and investigation practices to fight the illegal use of the internet and, in particular, the ”darkweb” – the portion of the web only accessible through special browsers that guarantee anonymity.

Last but not least, the WCO presented the prelimenary results on the survey it carried out to collect current practices and ongoing and/or future initiatives on cross-border low-value e-commerce. The survey highlights the lack of harmonization in the low-value shipment process, the need for digitalization of processes, the need for innovative solutions to be developed in order to capture better information from importers and e-commerce intermediaries in particular, to enable better risk assessment.

Delegates are now tasked to work together to tackle the different dimensions of e-commerce by collecting and exchanging best practices in the field, stocktaking and leveraging some of the ongoing work being carried out by other entities and drawing up proposals geared towards the development of practical solutions for the clearance of these shipments, including appropriate duty/tax collection mechanisms and control procedures.

Participants agreed that e-commerce has changed the landscape for Customs: from a few well known importers and exporters, it now has to manage a large number of e-enabled exporters and importers that are not well-known, and which transactions may be irregular. Risk is now diffused, and finding practical solutions will require the input of all actors involved, the newly establised Working Group concluded its inaugural meeting with much motivation for the exciting future work.

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