The WCO organizes the first symposium on the evolution of the HS towards environmentally sustainable trade

07 October 2022

The inaugural symposium of the WCO Symposia series, “Visualising a Greener HS to support environmentally sustainable trade”, supported by the European Union, was held on 5 October 2022. This symposium looked at the role of Harmonized System (HS) classification in identifying goods of importance in environmental policies at the border and was the first event focused on the theme "Expanding food horizons - recognizing agricultural diversity for sustainable global food security”.

Opened by the Secretary General of the WCO, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya and with a keynote address from the Director General of Taxation and Customs Union of the European Commission (TAXUD), Mr. Gerassimos Thomas, the symposium brought together representatives from the FAO, the private sector and the Customs sector to discuss both needs and ideas in this sector.

This was the first of a series of five symposia whose objective is to seek concrete ideas for the 2027 edition and subsequent editions of the HS to be increasingly ‘green’. This is a way of providing real-world support, through the Harmonized System (HS), to the Agenda for Sustainable Development by the United Nations General Assembly, which recognizes the importance of international trade in ensuring greater environmental sustainability.

Following on from the "Green Customs Global Conference", organized by the WCO on 27 and 28 June 2022, these symposia are part of the overall work of the WCO for Green Customs.

Over 200 participants from Customs administrations, international governmental organizations (IGOs), non‑governmental organizations (NGOs), academia and the private sector joined this first symposium.

In his opening speech, the Secretary General of the WCO, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya noted that "the Harmonized System being a tool for the clearance of goods at customs borders, the main source of statistics on the global trade in goods and an important tool for the implementation of border policy measures, must also become the language of support for sustainable international trade”. He added that these symposia on "Greening the HS aim to bring a more global dimension to the discussions, with new perspectives, in order to help WCO members to focus on the changes needed today and better identify feasible ideas to make the 2027 edition and subsequent editions of the HS even greener”.

In his opening speech, the Director General of Taxation and Customs Union of the European Commission (TAXUD), Mr. Gerassimos Thomas, thanked the WCO for the various initiatives in the field of the environment. He noted the EU initiatives in this area and underscored the importance for Customs community to adapt to environmental challenges”.

Mr. Paulo De Lima, speaking on behalf of the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) welcomed the cooperation between the two organizations within the framework of the HS. While acknowledging the progress made in recent HS review cycles, he indicated that a lot was still possible in order to have a green HS. He also recognized that by making the HS even greener, the WCO and its Members would contribute to food security.

Moderating the panel discussion, the Deputy Director of the WCOTariff and Trade Affairs directorate, Ms. Gael Grooby, set the context for the discussions. She noted that the panel presentations would be followed by an open discussion and encouraged both ‘big ideas’ and practical suggestions, noting it would deepen and expand the discussion within the HS Review cycle.

The first speaker, Mr. Marcio Castro de Souza, Senior Fishery Officer, Secretary of the FAO Sub-Committee on Fish Trade and Coordinator of the GLOBEFISH Project, discussed recent major changes and trends in international fish trade, fishery and aquaculture products. He also looked at some of the specific product areas where sub-headings could be created for helping sustainability focused country policy on fishery and aquaculture products.

The second speaker, Mr. Pär Larshans, Ragn-Sells Group Sustainability Director and Co-Chair of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Working Group on Circular Economy, gave practical examples of how innovate processing of wastes could move nutrients and components back into the agricultural cycle. This could have multiple benefits to both the circular economy and environment, such as the potential for greatly reducing the need for the mining of finite resources such as phosphorus, and was part of a circular transition to provide the world with the food people need. However, he noted that such innovation would be greatly impeded if there was not agile updating of legislation and removal of trade barriers in relation to high quality and highly purified raw materials that were sourced from what was now considered waste.

The third speaker, Mr. David Kozik, Policy Officer - Customs Classification at the Directorate General for Taxation and Customs of the European Commission, explored how to broaden food horizons through agricultural diversity for sustainable global food security. Some examples of amendments were presented in the context of the diversity of food products, particularly with regard to organic foods, and alternatives to products of animal origin, among others.

Participants raised practical questions which will also add to future discussion in the HS Review cycle.

Ms. Grooby noted that the conversations that started at this first symposium would be the inputs and insights to HS experts in Customs administrations around the world, enriching the pool of ideas on HS changes and helping propel the Green HS ‘conversation’. The WCO would report on the outcomes so that Members could consider this within the framework of the current review cycle or future review cycles.

The Director of WCO Tariff and Trade Affairs directorate, Mr. Konstantinos Kaiopoulos, in his closing remarks, urged HS users to continue discussions so that the role of HS as the language of international trade be expanded to also become the language of support for sustainable international trade. In doing so, he said, they will help raise awareness of how the HS can be a positive tool to address the challenges we face and help achieve the goal of “greening the HS”.

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