WCO Secretary General addresses the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products

17 November 2021

The second session of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP2) to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products (the Protocol) held virtually, started on 15 November 2021. This event brought together delegates of almost all the Parties to the Protocol, and State non-Parties to the Protocol (Parties to the FCTC), including representatives of Customs and other law enforcement authorities, as well as Observers to the MOP, and representatives of the WHO and the WHO FCTC Secretariat.

After the opening remarks by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, and before the address by Dr. Adriana Blanco Marquizo, Head of the WHO FCTC Secretariat, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, WCO Secretary General, highlighted in his keynote speech, that the excellent cooperation that existed between the WHO and the WCO had enabled his Organization during the COVID-19 pandemic to identify in the Harmonized System a list of relevant medicines, medical goods and vaccines. This helped Customs in ensuring the smooth movement of goods and safeguarding the supply chain of medicines, medical goods and vaccines, while protecting citizens’ health and safety from the threat posed by illicit trade during period. Over the past two years, the WCO had organized global operations to detect and intercept fake and/or counterfeit medicines, medical goods and vaccines, resulting in the seizure of millions of illicit products.

Dr. Mikuriya stressed that, during the pandemic and after the initial short-lived decline in global trade, the trade volume of both legitimate and illicit goods had continued to grow, including that of tobacco products. The WCO’s 183 Members remained committed to fighting illicit tobacco trade by supporting the implementation of the WHO FCTC and the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. Even during the ongoing health crisis, many Customs officers around the world had continued to work at the borders, applying risk management techniques to identify tobacco smuggling activities in order to protect citizens’ health and preserve state revenue collection.

The Secretary General also highlighted the WCO’s regional and international operations that had been organized to strengthen regional and international Customs networks to assist anti-smuggling efforts addressing illicit tobacco trade. Alongside these initiatives, the WCO had created a global closed virtual expert group called TobaccoNet, recently renamed ExciseNet, to cover other high excise goods such as alcohol, set up to facilitate the exchange of information and intelligence on seizures and suspicious consignments, as well as on new smuggling trends and modi operandi. The WCO Customs Risk Management Compendium was also regularly updated to help Customs in the fight against commercial fraud, such as illicit trafficking in tobacco products.

Dr. Kunio Mikuriya went on to emphasize the importance of the long-standing cooperation between the WCO and the WHO. Following the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on co‑operation between the WCO and the WHO, signed in July 2002, that covers cooperation in combating the illicit tobacco trade, the WCO had been supporting the work of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body to draft and negotiate the Protocol on Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.

After the adoption of the Protocol by the COP5 to the WHO FCTC, a Statement of Intent was signed with the WHO FCTC Secretariat in March 2014 aimed at further strengthening cooperation between the two Organizations. This led to further actions with, for example, the FCTC Secretariat participating in the WCO Enforcement Committee to ensure that WCO Members become familiar with the provisions of the Protocol, and the WCO providing the relevant Customs expertise, indispensable for the implementation of the Protocol, and urged its Members to make contributions to the Protocol at the national level.

In conclusion, the Secretary General expressed his hope for a successful MOP2, and reaffirmed the WCO’s continuous support in the fight against the illicit tobacco trade in keeping with the Protocol, as a MOP Observer.