Free zone experts of the North of Africa, North and Middle East Region discuss effective implementation of the WCO Practical Guidance on Free Zones

17 June 2021

The World Customs Organization (WCO) organized an online Regional Workshop on Free Zones for the North of Africa, North and Middle East(MENA)region from14–-16June2021with the financial support of the General Authority of Customs of Qatar. 45 participants from 15Member administrations gathered and actively joined the dialogue to explore ways for the sustainable development of free zones with enhanced Customs involvement.

This was the second regional workshop in a series of regional events aimed at discussing the harmonized and efficient implementation of the WCO Practical Guidance on Free Zones (FZ Guidance) that was endorsed by 2020 December Council Session. Qatar Customs provided Arabic translation of the FZ Guidance for this workshop.

“Free zones often mean free from Customs duties but should not be “free” from necessary Customs procedures and controls. Customs should be there as one of main authorities and needs to coordinate with all public and private authorities, with the objective of contributing to a safe and sustainable global trade ecosystem.”, said the Deputy Secretary General of WCO, Mr. Ricardo Treviño Chapa, in his opening remarks. Opening remarks were also offered by H. E. Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Jamal, the Chairman of Qatar Customs. He highlighted the importance of facilitating entrance and exit of cargo to FZs during the COVID-19 pandemic and capacity building for effective implementation of the WCO FZ Guidance in the MENA region. He also emphasized this workshop embodied the WCO theme for this year, "Customs to foster recovery, renewal, and resilience for a sustainable supply chain" in FZs. 

Experts from Customs administrations, FZ authorities from Qatar and Morocco, the private sector and the UNCTAD delivered insightful presentations during the three-day workshop. Four pre-accredit WCO Experts also join the workshop to moderate and provide presentations. This workshop covered the key elements identified by the WCO FZ Guidance for adequate Customs procedures in FZs. These include Customs involvement in FZs, effective Customs control including onsite check and Customs audit, risk management in FZs, origin determination of goods produced in FZs, reporting requirements with the use of IT, multidisciplinary and international cooperation and expanding the concept of Authorized Economic Operator in FZs. 

Through in-depth discussions on these topics, participants recognized the impact of the extraterritoriality of FZs and the significance of Customs involvement in the development and operation of free zones for the competitiveness and sustainability of free zones.  Some Members shared their experience on strengthening Customs involvement via application of better customs control and by conducting joint onsite inspection with a FZ operating body.  Also, the effectiveness and importance of connecting IT systems between Customs and FZ operating body were stressed.  They also recognized that the sharing and use of data and advanced technologies as well as enhanced cooperation were prerequisites for improving the safety and security of FZs.

“Please share the results of this workshop within your administration with a message that now is the time when Customs needs to fully involve in FZs based on the WCO FZ Guidance.” said Mr. Pranab Kumar DAS, Director of Compliacnce and Facilitation, in his closing remarks. He closed by expressing his desire that this workshop would trigger further discussions within all administrations on what Customs can do to obtain a safe, secure and competitive business environment in FZs.

The WCO Practical Guidance on Free Zones is available in four languages that can be consulted via below links:

*Arabic version was developed by Qatar Customs.

** Spanish version was developed by Dominican Republic Customs.