The COVID-19 Project supports WCO Members of the Europe Region in sharing business continuity best practices and fostering preparedness to face disruptive events

14 March 2023

In light of disruptive events in the Europe region, namely the earthquake that impacted Türkiye and Syria and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, on 8-10 March 2023 the WCO COVID-19 Project, funded by the Government of Japan, held a workshop on the role of Customs in disaster relief. The hybrid event, hosted by the North Macedonia Customs Administration in Skopje, brought together delegates from 21 WCO Members, giving them the opportunity to share experiences and best practices stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters and other emergency situations.

In his opening remarks, the WCO Secretary General, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, invited delegates to make the most of the instruments and tools produced by the WCO to assist Members in ensuring business continuity during disruptive events. The Director General of the North Macedonia Customs, Ms. Slavica Kutirov, commended the work carried out by Customs administrations during the pandemic and the efforts made by the WCO to foster digitalization and its use in disaster relief, with a view to accelerating procedures, reducing the costs of Customs formalities and ensuring the safety of field operators. The Counsellor of the Embassy of Japan in North Macedonia, Mr. Satoru Takahashi, underlined that the meeting would allow participants to explore further the critical task of facilitating trade during challenging situations and promote knowledge-sharing among Customs to better prepare for future natural disasters and pandemics.

Throughout the event, participants analysed the international legal framework relevant to disaster relief and reviewed a number of WCO instruments and tools applicable to this field. During the different sessions, extensive time was allocated for participants to present the best practices of their respective national Administrations and to discuss Customs measures to ensure business continuity during crises. In particular, Turkish Customs provided an overview of the simplified procedures implemented in the aftermath of the earthquakes of February 2023 and during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Ukrainian Customs addressed border management challenges stemming from increased volumes of humanitarian goods, the fuel and energy crisis and infrastructure and staffing issues. The final day focused on a scenario-based discussion that took place in working groups, which allowed for the exchange of views on potential importation bottlenecks and measures to ensure effective communication and coordination between all stakeholders involved in disaster operations. 

Workshop attendees confirmed that disaster relief should be an integral part of Customs-to-Customs cooperation at the regional level. To this end, the WCO will continue providing support and organizing activities addressed to Members in order to encourage the exchange of technical expertise and foster Customs training in this area of competence.

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