WCO continues to support its Members in their TFA implementation journey including the NCTFs topic

23 May 2023

The World Bank Trade Facilitation Support Program (TFSP), in collaboration with the USAID Economic Development, Governance and Enterprise Growth (EDGE) Project and Swiss Program on Capacities for Trade Policies (C4TP), organized the “Regional National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) Maturity and Capacity Building Conference” on May 16 and 17, 2023, in Belgrade, Serbia. The goal of the conference was to contribute to:

a) facilitating national coordination for implementation of trade facilitation reforms in the region;
b) invigorating regional dialogue on the role of NTFCs as key trade facilitation coordination bodies; and
c) taking stock of the current operation of participating NTFCs and contribute to their capacities to plan, coordinate, monitor and communicate policies and measures implemented to simplify and expedite cross- border trade in line with national multilateral and regional commitments.

Participants included members of NCTFs from nine countries in the region: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Ukraine.

The World Customs Organization (WCO) participated in the Conference along with other international organizations, namely the World Trade Organization (WTO), UNCTAD and the CEFTA Secretariat.

The regional event offered a possibility for the WCO to share the results of the WCO survey on NCTFs conducted in 2021, including the role of the Customs in NCTFs as well as the main benefits and challenges for the functioning of NCTFs during the COVID-19 pandemic period. Moreover, the WCO also briefed participants on the WCO Mercator Programme and how the WCO supports its Members in the uniform implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), including the NCTFs, using existing WCO instruments and tools. The WCO highlighted its long term engagement with Serbia and Ukraine under the Multi-Year (MY) Mercator partnership aimed to assist with the implementation of the TFA.

Furthermore, the participants were also briefed on the “The SECO-WCO Global Trade Facilitation Programme (GTFP)”, the first joint initiative between the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs of Switzerland (SECO) and the WCO that aims to contribute to fostering and facilitating international trade of beneficiary countries, in particular Customs administrations, through the implementation and application of international standards and best practices for the importation, exportation and transit of goods. Currently, Moldova, Serbia and Ukraine are among the 15 beneficiary countries of this project.  

During the opening session, “Regional economic integration through trade and connectivity remains a key driver of economic growth and shared prosperity for the Western Balkans,’’ said Nicola Pontara, World Bank Country Manager for Serbia. He also underlined that it could help the region pool national resources, achieve scale economies, and create a more attractive and competitive economic environment. Country-level reforms aware important but coordinated investments and reforms across the region would amplify economic gains. Furthermore, “The economic future of the Western Balkans depends on the ability of the respective governments to facilitate seamless trade – thus reducing the time and the cost of moving goods across borders. That is why the U. S. Government supports efforts to harmonize procedures and practices with EU and international standards and that enhance mutual cross-border cooperation,’’ US Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill said.

On the other hand, Tomislav Momirović, the Minister of Trade of the Republic of Serbia said that “Facilitation of trade plays an important role in the process of deeper economic integration. Our government is actively working and implementing activities foreseen in the Action Plan for Common Regional Market and the Open Balkan Initiative, as this is the key for boosting our economic relations as well. I would like to reiterate that regional economic integration is one of its main priorities for the Government of Serbia.”

The three co-organizers and other participants greatly appreciated and thanked the WCO for informing them about the continuous technical assistance and capacity building support provided to the countries in the region on their way towards implementation of trade facilitation measures.