Free zone experts of the Asia Pacific region discuss effective implementation of the WCO Practical Guidance on Free Zones

05 May 2021

The World Customs Organization (WCO) organized an online Regional Workshop on Free Zones for the Asia Pacific region from 26 to 28 April 2021, in close cooperation with the WCO Asia Pacific Regional Office for Capacity Building (ROCB/AP). 62 participants from 19 Member administrations gathered and actively joined the dialogue to explore the ways for a sustainable development of free zones with enhanced Customs involvement.

This was the first 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.

“Preventing illegal trade in free zones contributes to improving the business environment and competitiveness of free zones in meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals”, said the Director of Compliance and Facilitation, Mr. Pranab Kumar Das, in his opening remarks. Opening remarks were also offered by the Head of the ROCB/AP, Mr. Norikazu Kuramoto, who highlighted the importance of capacity building for an effective implementation of WCO FZ Guidance in the AP region.

Experts from Customs administrations, free zone authorities, the private sector and international organization delivered insightful presentations during the three-day workshop. A representative from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlighted the strong complementarities between the OECD Free Zone Recommendations and the WCO FZ Guidance. He stressed that the OECD and the WCO could jointly leverage them to provide Members and the private sector with efficient guidance to counter illicit trade.

This workshop covered the key elements identified by the WCO Free Zone Guidance for adequate Customs procedures in FZs. These include Customs involvement in FZs, effective Customs control including onsite check and Customs audit, IPR protection, origin determination of goods produced in FZs, use of data and technologies, 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. They also recognized that the sharing and use of data and advanced technologies as well as enhanced cooperation are a prerequisite for improving safety and security of FZs.

“Now is the time when Customs needs to take ownership for Customs involvement in free zones”, said Mr. Brendan O’Hearn, Deputy Director of Procedures and Facilitation, in his closing remarks. He closed  by expressing his deisire 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 free zones.