International Customs Day & Evaluation Meeting

25 enero 2009

International Customs Day & Evaluation Meeting

Budapest (Hungary), 23 January 2009

Speech by Kunio Mikuriya, WCO Secretary General

Dr. Nagy, Commissioner of Hungarian Customs & Finance Guard, Distinguished guests, Dear Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen:

It is a pleasure and honour for me to celebrate International Customs Day with all of you here in Budapest. I would like to start by expressing my sincere appreciation to Dr. Nagy and his team for inviting me and for the great hospitality and friendship that they have always shown the WCO. In fact, Hungary was Vice Chair of the WCO from 2005 to 2007 where they represented the European region, which is the biggest region with 51 Members out of the WCO’s entire 174 members. As a result, Hungarian Customs made a valid contribution in linking Europe to the rest of the world, as well as between eastern and western Europe. This networking function through international cooperation is what customs does best, demonstrated commendably by Hungary during its vice presidency and afterwards.

Turning to the current situation, the year 2009 started with big challenges relating to the economic downturn following the global financial crisis in 2008 that hit this country and others in the world. Consequently, customs is under mounting pressure to secure revenue despite the declining trade volume and is faced with growing illicit trade in the form of smuggling and counterfeiting. The trade community is fearful of uncertainty, including the risk of temptation towards creeping protectionism. In the light of this situation, the WCO Policy Commission in December 2008 decided to take united action and issued a communiqué that urged the customs community to join global efforts to sustain confidence in the trading system. Customs should seek ways of reducing the administrative burden on legitimate trade, especially small and medium-sized enterprises. On the other hand, customs should enhance control on revenue and counterfeiting which affects the health and safety of citizens. It is now time to identify and share best practice on which customs can base its response to the global crisis. In this regard, I hope that Hungary will continue to provide us with a good model. Actually, a couple of years ago I had the privilege to visit and observe the impressive seizure of cigarettes at borders in this country based on good risk management. I also recall that in 2006 your administration won a prize in the WCO competition honouring anti-counterfeiting and piracy efforts.

Needless to say, there are other common problems in the world that the customs community should remain responsive towards. Nowadays the environment and the threats it faces is high on the international agenda. It is widely recognized that the illegal trade in “environmentally sensitive” goods such as ozone depleting substances, hazardous waste, chemical weapons and endangered fauna and flora will bring serious consequences for the earth and its people. We all need to play our part to rescue the environment for future generations given customs’ strategic location at borders, its expertise in trade, and through cooperative arrangements. As a matter of fact, the 2008 WCO Council adopted Recommendations on combating environmental offences. It also approved the “Customs in the 21st Century” policy document to chart the future strategy of customs and the WCO.

With this in mind, this year International Customs Day is dedicated to the theme: “Customs and the environment: protecting our natural heritage”. This topic corresponds not only to the WCO Recommendation on environment but also to “Customs in the 21st Century” which urges customs authorities to act as a global network and to enhance coordinated border management. Indeed, joint operations on protecting endangered species were carried out on 15 January involving 85 countries including Hungary. We will replicate the operation later this year with a focus on hazardous waste. This is a tangible example of customs acting as a global network with shared goals. In the future we could base these operations on more consistent risk management and intelligence. In addition, protection of the environment needs dialogue and collaboration with other ministries at national level and with the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and other international organizations at the global level. This could be one example of enhanced coordinated border management.

Our collective action to combat this illegal trade showcases our relevance to society in responding to the concerns of citizens and in preserving our natural heritage. Customs have much to offer when we work together for a better society.

Finally, may I take this opportunity to wish you a very happy international customs day.

Thank you for your attention.