WCO supports the Americas and Caribbean region in fostering the role of Customs in the fight against COVID-19

09 February 2021

On 1-4 February 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 Americas and Caribbean region, an initiative organized in cooperation with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to improve the capacity of WCO Members’ Customs administrations to address the challenges stemming from COVID-19, other infectious diseases and similar events.

The workshop brought together more than 75 participants from 28 WCO Members and from partner International Organizations. Over four days, the meeting allowed the exchange of best practices on disaster management and supply chain continuity and reviewed the instruments and tools ensuring the expedited delivery of emergency supplies in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and other disruptive events.

Mr. Ricardo Treviño Chapa, WCO Deputy Secretary General, stated in his opening remarks that “the pandemic was unexpected, but thanks to the important work carried out by Customs administrations worldwide the international community now has improved tools to tackle the situation. The contribution of the AMS region’s WCO Members, with their long-standing experience in natural disaster management, was particularly important in this respect.”

Mr. Jaime Granados, Division Chief of Trade and Investment at IDB, underlined the importance of supporting Members in the AMS region, including by “building a tool kit for Customs contingency plans, in cooperation with WCO and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).” The role of multilateralism and regional cooperation was also stressed by Mr. Werner Ovalle Ramírez, Director General of Guatemala Customs and Vice-Chair of the WCO AMS region, who expressed appreciation for “the excellent support provided by WCO during the pandemic.”

The opening ceremony was followed by a high-level panel discussion where Heads of Customs administrations examined the COVID-19 challenges and reaffirmed the role of the Customs community in guaranteeing the functioning of the global supply chain and the protection of society.

Subsequent sessions saw the presence of numerous experts, including national delegates, representatives of the IDB, UNOCHA and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Speakers highlighted the vital role played by Customs in the different phases of disaster management and encouraged the ongoing fruitful cooperation with all agencies concerned and with other stakeholders. 

The workshop gave ample space to the sharing of experiences on the most effective measures implemented at national and regional levels. Participants and panelists discussed these in relation with some of the most highly relevant topics on the international Customs agenda such as digitalization, business continuity, enhanced preparedness, partnerships and cooperation, the use of technology and the distribution of vaccines.  

The COVID-19 project is currently developing the WCO Guidelines on disaster management and supply chain continuity, that will complement previous work in the area of disaster relief and improve Customs’ response to disruptive events. The WCO will make good use of the knowledge shared during the workshop, drawing on Members’ national experiences to further develop this new tool.

This Online Regional Workshop for the AMS region is part of a series which has already supported WCO Members of the Asia-Pacific, Eastern and Central and Western and Southern Africa regions. The COVID-19 Project will replicate this interesting initiative for the North of Africa, Near and Middle East (MENA) region in early April.  

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