WCO Council maps the road ahead to ensure the recovery, renewal and resilience of the Customs and trade community for a sustainable supply chain

12 December 2020

Heads of Delegation of some 150 WCO Member Customs administrations took part in the 137th Session of the WCO Council, the Organization’s supreme decision-making body, which was held virtually from 10 to 12 December 2020 under the chairmanship of Mr. Ahmed Al Khalifa, Vice-Chair for the North of Africa, Near and Middle East region and President of Customs Affairs in Bahrain.

“Customs worldwide have played a critical role during the pandemic and we need to keep the momentum going and be ready for the recovery phase, especially by continuing to ensure the rapid movement of essential goods, including COVID-19 vaccines, and by increasing support to economic operators”, said the Acting Chairperson of the Council in his opening remarks.

The WCO Secretary General, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, reminded delegates of how the WCO Secretariat quickly sprang into action to support Customs administrations in managing the crisis, to ensure business continuity within WCO working bodies and to deliver assistance on a remote basis. “Customs administrations and the WCO Secretariat have proven that they are dynamic organizations, able to adapt and respond to a crisis while continuing to develop guidance and standards for the benefit of all”, he said.

Participants took stock of developments in the Organization’s various areas of work over the past months and mapped the road ahead, driven by the will to leverage lessons learned from the crisis generated by COVID-19, in line with the WCO theme for 2021: “Customs Bolstering Recovery, Renewal and Resilience for a Sustainable Supply Chain”. Discussions focused on E-Commerce, the facilitation and control of passenger flows, the role of Customs in mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and facilitating the cross-border movement of vaccines, and gender equality and diversity.

Regarding E-Commerce, the growth of which has accelerated exponentially during the pandemic, the Council endorsed three documents - entitled Reference Datasets for Cross-Border E-Commerce, Revenue Collection Approaches, and E-Commerce Stakeholders: Roles and Responsibilities - aimed at further enriching the Framework of Standards on Cross-Border E-Commerce, adopted in June 2018.

As for the management of passenger flows, the Council approved the establishment of a Passenger Facilitation and Control Working Group (PFCWG) to provide a forum for WCO Members to discuss all matters related to passenger processing across all modes of transport, starting with the maritime mode, share best practices and develop global standards, in preparation for the prompt return of cross-border movements of persons to previous levels.

In continuation of the work done to support Customs administrations in adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in response to the upcoming global COVID-19 vaccine distribution operation, the Council adopted a Resolution on the Role of Customs in Facilitating the Cross-Border Movement of Situationally Critical Medicines and Vaccines. The Resolution lists the various measures and actions to be taken to ensure the fast and safe clearance of such goods for export, transit and import.

The WCO Council also unanimously adopted a Declaration on Gender Equality and Diversity in Customs, concerning efforts to make Customs administrations more inclusive. The Declaration contains eight action points, the implementation of which will allow Customs administrations to achieve better results in this domain.

Finally, the Council endorsed a series of documents on Free Zones, Small Island Economies, the handling of dangerous/hazardous goods, data analytics and transit. All the documents and instruments adopted or endorsed by the Council during this Session are listed below. 

Two important elections took place during the Session. Mr. Konstantinos Kaiopoulos from Greece was elected as Director of Tariff and Trade Affairs, and will take office on 1 January 2021. Mr. Ahmed Al Khalifa, President of Customs Affairs in Bahrain was elected as Chairperson of the Council for the period December 2020 to June 2021.

The next Council Sessions are scheduled to take place in June 2021.

List of instruments, publications and tools endorsed by the Council

  • Secretariat Note on “How Customs Can Support the Safe and Secure Storage of Dangerous Goods”*

  • E-Commerce Package:
    • Compendium of Case Studies on E-Commerce
    • Reference Datasets for Cross-Border E-Commerce
    • Revenue Collection Approaches
    • E-Commerce Stakeholders: Roles and Responsibilities
    • E-commerce Framework of Standards update/maintenance mechanism

  • Guidance for Customs administrations of Small Island Economies*

  • Compendium of best practices in the area of transit*

  • Comprehensive Capacity Building Framework for Data Analytics in Customs*

  • Counterfeiting and Piracy Group - Updated Terms of Reference*

  • Business Case for the establishment of the Passenger Facilitation and Control Working Group and Terms of Reference*


* These documents are currently for Members only and available to them under the meeting agenda