WCO and WHO cooperation enhanced through the signing of a new cooperation agreement

08 September 2022

On 5 September 2022, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) signed an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) enhancing the existing cooperation between the two organizations.

Back in July 2002, the two entities had signed and implemented a MoU. Some 20 years on, and in the light of developments in international trade, the need to amend the initial agreement became apparent, particularly to take more effective account of the current challenges concerning trade facilitation, as well as the proliferation and complexity of criminal activity involving tobacco products, medicines and medical equipment.

Set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and its major health, economic and social implications worldwide, this updated MoU is now broader in its scope. In addition to covering matters relating to the illicit trade of certain goods, the new agreement will continue to align the priority areas for both Organizations in terms of their respective work programmes and strategies.

The updated MoU places special focus on the sharing of information on the illicit trade of substandard or falsified medical products as well as on the WHO global surveillance and monitoring system. It also provides for the WHO’s involvement in the work to classify the new International Nonproprietary Names (INNs) for the substances designated under the International Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS Convention).

At the signing, the WCO Secretary General, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, welcomed “the quality of the cooperation between the WHO and the WCO which has been reflected in particular, throughout the recent COVID-19 pandemic, in the work on the HS classification reference for vaccines and related supplies and equipment (HS 2022)”. The Secretary General went on to “thank the WHO for its support during implementation of Operation STOP I and II which facilitated the seizure of over 800 million units of substandard or falsified medicine, vaccines and medical equipment for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19”.

In turn, the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recalled “the need to guarantee fluidity in the cross-border movement of pharmaceutical and medical devices, especially during a pandemic like COVID-19”. He went on to underline “the importance of collaboration between Customs and health authorities at the national level in combatting the illicit trade in tobacco products and substandard and falsified medicine and medical equipment”.