WCO Enforcement Committee marks its 40th Anniversary

06 April 2023

From 27 to 31 March 2023, over 250 delegates attended the 43rd Session of the WCO Enforcement Committee (EC) at the Organization’s Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss a wide range of Customs enforcement-related matters. This year’s meeting coincided with the 40th Anniversary of the establishment of the EC.

The meeting was chaired by Mr. David Dolan from United States Customs and Border Protection (U.S. CBP), who had been elected as Chairperson on the last day of the 42nd Session of the EC. Following some words of welcome by the Chairperson, the WCO Secretary General, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, made his opening remarks, looking back at the evolution of WCO enforcement activities over the past 40 years. The evolution could be summarized in five main points: the scope of enforcement, the impact of technological advances, the evolution of operational activities, the importance of intelligence and risk management, and the importance of international cooperation.

The keynote speaker, Mr. Pierre Saint Hilaire, Special Representative of INTERPOL to the European Union (EU), shared his views on cooperation and the need to expand sources of information for the benefit of law enforcement services and for assisting in the efforts to hinder the illicit trade in a variety of commodities.

Following a short video produced by the Secretariat, highlighting key achievements of the EC during its 40 years of existence, a number of delegates expressed their gratitude, support and pride regarding the work carried out over the past four decades.

After the celebrations to mark its 40th Anniversary, the EC began to tackle nearly 100 Agenda items, which would be discussed over the course of the five-day meeting. Some of the key topics included discussions on the implementation of several scoping areas of the WCO Strategic Plan such as Digitalization and the Interoperability of WCO tools, including the Customs Enforcement Network (CEN), CENComm, nCEN and the Cargo Targeting System (CTS). This was followed by several discussions on Green Customs and Customs’ role in support of the circular economy, as well as on the protection of supply chains with a recap of Operation TIN CAN. 

The EC went on to provide delegates with a detailed overview of the various WCO compliance programmes. The Environment Programme team outlined the work related to the illicit trafficking in plastic waste and ozone depleting substances together with the outcomes of Operation Demeter VIII. In addition, delegates listened to updates on the topic of wildlife trafficking, as illustrated by Operation Thunder, and participated in a discussion on illegal logging which focused on the illegal cross-border trade in timber.

Turning to the area of illicit drugs trafficking, the Drugs Programme team provided an overview of Phase II of the COLIBRI Project and the work being done to counter the illicit trafficking in synthetic drugs via mail and postal freight. 

The Security Programme team presented the recent Memorandum of Understanding between the WCO and the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) with respect to passenger controls. It then offered an update on Programme Global Shield (PGS) Project GLOBAL and on the recently launched RANDA (Radiological and Nuclear Detection Awareness) Project. The Security Programme team also shared further details about the work being done to thwart trafficking in small arms and light weapons (SALW). It highlighted the Action Plan on Fragile Borders and Conflict-Affected Situations, stemming from the successful Global Conference on this topic held in Abuja, Nigeria earlier this year. 

Moving on to the topic of Revenue, the meeting was briefed on the outcomes of the 9th Meeting of the Working Group on Revenue Compliance and Fraud. This was followed by a presentation on Operation Jubilarian 2, focusing on revenue evasion opportunities related to ATA carnet misuse, and by discussions on the way forward for the Trendspotter Project on Customs-related commercial fraud.

The Cultural Heritage Programme team had the opportunity to present its future activities, including Operation Pandora.

The IPR, Health and Safety Programme team discussed the draft case studies and risk indicators to identify intellectual property right (IPR), health and safety infringing goods relating to cross-border e-commerce transactions.  

During the working session on the WCO Intelligence and Risk Management/CEN Programmes, delegates were given an update on the WCO Risk Management Compendium and on the Reports of the 30th Meeting of the Global RILO Network and the 21st Meeting of the CEN Management Team. WCO IT tools were discussed in further detail together with some improvements to their features, including the impact assessment action on the CTS and nCEN tools.

The 43rd Session of the EC also covered the Customs Operational Practices for Enforcement and Seizures (COPES) Project and plans for its future, as well as the work and activities carried out by the WCO Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Programme.  

The WCO Deputy Secretary General, Mr. Ricardo Treviño Chapa, provided the EC with a comprehensive overview of the WCO’s Modernization Plan, which was welcomed by the Committee.

The Chairperson invited delegates to suggest Agenda items for the next session of the EC. In response, delegates expressed an interest in emerging topics, including digital forensics and the use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, and how these technologies could be used to address issues such as combatting insider threats.

The 43rd Session of the EC drew to a close with Mr. David Dolan (U.S. CBP) being re-elected as Chairperson of the EC, and Ms. Gabrielle Tramby (Australian Border Force) being elected as Vice-Chairperson.