WCO Secretary General calls for regional integration through digitalization in Western Balkan countries

10 March 2023

At the invitation of Ms. Slavica Kutirov, Director General of Customs, North Macedonia, the Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (WCO), Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, visited Skopje, North Macedonia on 8 and 9 March 2023. He delivered, on the second day, a keynote speech at the High-Level Meeting on regional cooperation through digitalization, co-hosted by the World Bank and the Customs administrations of North Macedonia, with the participation of six Customs administrations in Western Balkans and Bulgaria Customs.

In his keynote speech, Secretary General Mikuriya recalled that in recent years the digital transformation journey of Customs has focused on data analysis and coordinated border management, which have become vital for Customs in fostering connectivity at borders. Towards this end, a single window (SW) approach is required, with strongercoordination with various government agencies, and thus political commitment at the highest level. Hence, he appreciated the presence of both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance of North Macedonia at the opening session.  Following the recent supply chain realignment, in view of the global economic and political situation, leading to an enhanced resilience and sustainability, Dr. Mikuriya suggested that the future of Customs lies in regional integration. It would, therefore, be critical to base Customs procedures, including national SW, on WCO standards to ensure connectivity and interoperability for Customs administrations of Western Balkan and its neighbouring countries. This would provide a good basis for sharing data at a regional level, possibly leading to a regional SW approach.  He asserted that knowledge sharing has become even more valuable for the young generation of Customs officers in implementing international standards, managing technology and demonstrating professional pride. During the meeting, participating Customs administrations shared their progress in digitalization.  The World Bank and other development partners supported further digitalization of Customs and regional integration. 

Secretary General Mikuriya also opened the WCO Europe regional workshop on the Role of Customs in disaster relief on 8 March. This was the last of a series of regional workshops of COVID-19 project, funded by Japan.  In his opening speech, Dr. Mikuriya underlined the need for Customs’ preparedness and coordination with its partners. 

During his stay, Dr. Mikuriya met with Dr. Stevo Pendarovski, President of North Macedonia, and exchanged views on trend in global and regional trade while stressing the importance of Customs. He also had a briefing session with Customs management team and a discussion with business representatives.  Finally, Dr. Mikuriya attended the gathering of young e-commerce business people of North Macedonia and wished them success in consolidating the partnership with Customs.