Fostering the role of Customs administrations in emergency preparedness: the COVID-19 Project rings down the curtain on its activities

30 June 2023

The COVID-19 Project, launched in July 2020 thanks to the financial support of the Government of Japan, will officially wind up its activities on 30 June 2023, shortly following the announcement by the WHO of the end of the pandemic. The Project has been an integral part of the WCO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an extremely challenging time for public health and global supply chains, and progressively expanded its remit, providing practical training in emergency preparedness to Customs administrations worldwide reinforcing their ability to tackle different types of disruptive events, such as other infectious diseases, natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

During its duration, the Project engaged over 100 Members from the 6 WCO regions and fostered synergies with more than 30 international partners. Capacity-building activities, ranging from national support to regional and multi-regional workshops, were designed to assist Customs administrations in enhancing disaster preparedness, thus contributing to ensuring the security, stability and continuity of global supply chains while facilitating and expediting the supply of emergency relief goods.

The relevance of the results achieved by the Project shines through the words of the numerous Customs Directors General and representatives of other Government agencies, partner International Organizations and agencies involved in humanitarian aid who took the floor during the Project’s high-level panels. They commended the work carried out by the Project to ensure business continuity and effective emergency response and recovery, encouraging the WCO to continue providing the necessary guidance and technical assistance to Members in the area of disaster relief and fostering the exchange of experiences and Customs-to-Customs cooperation.

Considering the numerous challenges faced by border authorities during disruptive situations, such as supply chain disruptions, staff shortages, and increased demand for medical supplies and essential goods, the COVID-19 Project also produced several tools to help Customs officers in enhancing their operational readiness, such as e-learning modules and guidance material. In particular, the WCO Guidelines on disaster management and supply chain continuity and the WCO Guide to Stress Tests have been made available in several languages. An IT solution in the form of a Mobile App was also provided to interested beneficiaries, alongside technical assistance and training in international airports, equipping Members with a digital solution to manage e-declarations submitted by inbound air passengers.

The past three years have demonstrated that Customs administrations play a critical role in maintaining the smooth flow of goods across borders and ensuring supply chain continuity, especially during emergencies. The Project made it possible for Customs experts, decision-makers and delegates to share their experiences and best practices, and to facilitate the exchange of information and lessons learnt on disaster management, developing solutions to ensuring operational readiness. It helped WCO Members in fostering their resilience and readiness to tackle future challenges and, in turn, supported Customs staff across all WCO regions in their mission of protecting businesses and society.