Customs representatives of Central Asia, Southern Caucasus, Pakistan and the WCO Europe region discuss cooperation mechanisms and information exchange

22 April 2024

On 9 and 10 April 2024, representatives from countries participating in the Inter-Regional Network of Customs Authorities and Port Control Units (IREN) held their sixth meeting to discuss the challenges and opportunities arising from data sharing in relation to high-risk cargo. Representatives from Bulgaria, Poland, Türkiye and Italy also participated in the meeting which took place at WCO Headquarters in Brussels.

Bringing together Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the IREN was established in 2019 as a regional network under the Container Control Programme (CCP) which is managed jointly by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Customs Organization (WCO). The CCP seeks to prevent the exploitation of flows of passengers, cargo and mail by traffickers by establishing enforcement units comprising officers from various national enforcement bodies, providing them with specialized knowledge and skills, and fostering cooperation at national, regional and international levels. The IREN adds a regional dimension to the programme by setting up an information exchange mechanism among Customs authorities and CCP Port Control Units participating in the Network. To this end, the IREN member countries use the WCO secure communication tool, ContainerComm.

During the meeting, country representatives were joined by the UNODC and WCO CCP teams, as well as by officials of some of the donors funding IREN.1 Participants looked at the accomplishments of the Network, challenges met and perspectives for improvement, including further cooperation opportunities in data sharing in relation to high-risk international consignments of mutual concern. They also examined results of the IREN enforcement operation targeting the trafficking of dual-use items, as well as lessons learned from the exercise. Finally, after the countries of the WCO Europe region showcased their best practices, ways of establishing communication channels between those countries and IREN were explored.

Opening the meeting, a representative from the WCO reminded participants that exploring steps towards effective cooperation between IREN member countries and the competent authorities of the WCO Europe region was embedded in a resolution adopted at the fourth edition of the IREN meeting. He also highlighted the importance of the meeting as a platform for building a strong international network under the CCP and thanked the representatives of the donors in attendance.

This opening was followed by a speech by a UNODC representative who declared that the use of legal international transport corridors and infrastructure for trafficking in drugs and other commodities remained one of the most prominent challenges faced by Customs globally. He also reiterated UNODC’s commitment to support its Member States in tackling these threats through integrated, scalable and sustainable responses.

The country participants expressed their appreciation to UNODC and the WCO for their longstanding and sustained support, highlighting that the activities carried out under the CCP and progress achieved were crucial to the fight against cross-border cargo illicit movements and to the facilitation of legitimate trade.

During the closing of the event, the WCO CCP team highlighted the impressive results achieved by IREN member countries and announced that Version 3 of ContainerComm will be finalized by the end of 2024, with new functionalities supporting the efforts planned by IREN members and the countries of the WCO Europe region in terms of data exchange.

1 The CCP Regional Segments for Central Asia, Southern Caucasus and Pakistan are funded by the US Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the Export Control and Related Border Security Program (EXBS), as well as the Governments of Japan and France.