Workshop organized by the COVID-19 Project supports the MENA region in facing disruptive events

15 April 2021

On 12-14 April 2021 the WCO COVID-19 Project, funded by the Government of Japan, held the Online Regional Workshop on Disaster Management and Supply Chain Continuity in times of COVID-19 for the North of Africa, Near and Middle East region (MENA), an initiative to improve the capacity of WCO Members’ Customs administrations to address the challenges stemming from COVID-19, infectious diseases and other disruptive events.

The workshop brought together more than 45 participants from 15 WCO Members and the humanitarian sector. Over three days, the meeting allowed the exchange of best practices on a number of topics at the top of the international Customs agenda, such as the clearance of relief and essential goods, the fight against the illegal trafficking of counterfeit medical goods, the promotion of contactless procedures for modern and safe Customs and the work of the WCO in facilitating the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. 

The event was launched with a high-level panel discussion where Heads of Customs administrations agreed on the need to be resilient and view current challenges as opportunities. They welcomed the set up by the WCO Secretariat of the COVID-19 Action Plan, which is considered as particularly relevant to guide the work of Customs in the region over the next several months.  

Mr. Ricardo Treviño Chapa, WCO Deputy Secretary General, as facilitator of the session, underlined the commitment of the WCO in working with its Members to analyze lessons learnt and to tackle the next phases of the global health crisis. He stated that “we are facing an international recovery process and an ambitious vaccines distribution plan, we have to be well prepared for the future”.

Mr. Jalal Salem Al-Qudah, Acting Director General Jordan Customs and Vice-Chair of the MENA region, recalled how “COVID-19 generated psychological, economic, social and technological challenges and that Customs need to adapt to the changes brought about by the crisis”. He also underlined the importance of benefitting from the international tools available to successfully manage disasters and ensure supply chain continuity.

Subsequent sessions saw the presence of numerous experts, including representatives of the humanitarian sector, such as the IMPACCT group and the International Humanitarian City. Speakers highlighted the vital role played by Customs in the different phases of disaster relief and encouraged them to foster synergies with agencies and stakeholders. In particular, the dramatic explosion that occurred on 4 August 2020 in the port of Beirut (Lebanon) was mentioned multiple times not only as an important case study for disaster management but also as an example of cooperation between Customs and humanitarian actors.  The WCO Secretariat Note on How Customs Can Support the Safe and Secure Storage of Dangerous Goods was also noted as a useful resource in this area.

Participants had the opportunity to learn more on the WCO instruments and tools to tackle emergency situations, with special attention given to the newly developed WCO Guidelines on disaster management and supply chain continuity, a set of recommendations to improve Customs’ response to disruptive events. Delegates also exchanged views on the work carried out by their respective administrations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic during a session focused on the most effective measures implemented at national and regional levels.  

The Online Regional Workshop for the MENA region is part of a series that have already supported WCO Members of the Asia/Pacific, East and Southern Africa, West and Central Africa and the Americas and the Caribbean. The valuable contributions made by Members will be particularly helpful to the WCO to foster the effectiveness of Customs procedures in the area of disaster management and to highlight the role of Customs within the overall international community.  

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