WCO addresses Heads of Customs meeting at 2021 EU Police Chiefs Convention

01 October 2021

On 28 September 2021, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) hosted an online meeting of Heads of Customs in the context of the annual European Police Chiefs Convention (EPCC). This event brought together Customs Directors General from the European Union (EU) and third countries associated with Europol, as well as representatives of Europol, the European Commission and other EU law enforcement bodies, to discuss the following two topics: “Europol-Customs cooperation” and “Intelligence Sharing in Investigative Analysis and Customs Risk Profiling” in the context of Customs-Police cooperation.

After the opening remarks by Ms. Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol, and Mr. Boris Kastelic, representative of the Slovenian Financial Administration, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, WCO Secretary General, delivered a keynote speech in which he highlighted the essential role played by Customs in ensuring the smooth movement of goods and safeguarding the supply chain of medicines and vaccines, while protecting citizens’ health and safety from the threat posed by illicit trade, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WCO Secretary General Mikuriya recalled that, in 2020, the WCO, in cooperation with Europol, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and other partners, had conducted Operations STOP I and STOP II targeting the illegal trafficking of medicines and medical supplies linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the second phase also focusing on counterfeit and illicit vaccines. These operations demonstrated the importance of information and intelligence sharing between law enforcement agencies.

More recently, Operation GOALS targeting illegal trafficking in synthetic drugs had also benefited from the support of Europol. Another recent example of this successful cooperation was Operation Pandora, a joint Customs-Police initiative to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural goods, led by the Spanish Guardia Civil and supported by the WCO, Europol and INTERPOL.

The Secretary General also highlighted the WCO’s cooperation with other international organizations and partners, such as the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) with whom it had joined forces in the fight against illicit trade in tobacco products. In the area of anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT), cooperation with the Egmont Group had resulted in the joint publication of the Customs-FIU Cooperation Handbook in March 2020 and the delivery of joint training programmes. The WCO had also developed its cooperation with INTERPOL by holding regular coordination meetings and conducting joint operations such as Operation THUNDER 2020 – a month-long global Customs and Police cross-border initiative resulting in significant seizures of illegally traded wildlife and timber species. As part of the WCO’s cooperation with OLAF, an automated data transfer system had been set up between the WCO’s Customs Enforcement Network (CEN) and OLAF’s Customs Information System (CIS+), while various operational activities had been carried out. The WCO had also cooperated with FRONTEX by providing input for its Handbook on Firearms for Border Guards and Customs. Finally, the WCO’s cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had led to the development of the joint Container Control Programme (CCP), which is currently implemented in more than 70 countries.

Dr. Kunio Mikuriya went on to emphasize the importance of the enhanced use and exchange of data and the interconnectivity of Customs/Customs and Customs/Police databases, as well as the WCO’s focus on developing its Members’ data collection and analysis capabilities. To that end, the WCO had developed various applications such as the Customs Enforcement Network (CEN) seizure database; the secure communication system CENcomm; the National Customs Enforcement Network (nCEN), which enables WCO Members to gather and store all types of enforcement data and offers basic data analytics modules; and the Global Travel Assessment System (GTAS), which can be used as a shared tool by Customs, Immigration and Police in connection with air passenger targeting activities.

In support of these various initiatives, the WCO’s Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices played a key role in sharing information and intelligence at regional level, as well as in providing added value in the form of operational support, intelligence analysis and the promotion of regional cooperation with Members and other law enforcement agencies.

Looking to the future, Dr. Mikuriya emphasized the need to address human resource issues in Customs and nurture a “data culture” within Customs administrations. The ultimate aim was to build a Customs data ecosystem, taking into account that the vast amounts of Customs data available are often underutilized. He said that the WCO was supporting its Members by encouraging them to employ a more forward-thinking and data-driven approach and to implement the Capacity Building Framework for Data Analytics, as well as by providing training courses to build capabilities in data science, including machine learning and programming skills.

In conclusion, the Secretary General expressed his support for initiatives not only promoting the exchange of data, but also involving the sharing of risk assessments and intelligence through the development of advanced data analytical skills and use of interconnected Customs and Police databases, resulting in increased Customs-Police cooperation.