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The EU Steps Up Capacity Building in Tariff Classification

01 abril 2017

At the invitation of the Belgian General Administration of Customs and Excise, the WCO attended an EU Tariff Classification Seminar hosted by the Belgian Administration in Brussels from 28 to 30 March 2017 under the EU’s Customs 2020 Programme.

The seminar brought together more than 70 participants from the EU member States and the European Commission, and speakers from the private and academic sectors as well as the WCO

The seminar was opened by Mr. Kristian Vanderwaeren, Administrator General of Belgium Customs and Excise, who emphasised the importance of correct tariff classification. He noted that classification of new commodities, in particular in the high technology area, was a challenge to traders and Customs and he invited the WCO to play an active role in updating the HS Nomenclature.

The Belgian Minister of Finance, Mr. Johan Van Overtveldt, in his address to the Seminar, mentioned how Customs had developed from a revenue collection authority to an important institution to safeguard society and fight against organized crime and terrorism.  In that respect, tariff classification was seen as an important means to target illicit products.  However, Customs was also expected to contribute to the economy by striking a balance between enforcement and trade facilitation.  Finally, he invited the EU and the WCO to work together to ensure timely updating of the HS.

Mr. Stephen Quest, Director-General of EU’s DG TAXUD, noted that the EU had just celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, which paved the way for a Union.  In 2018, it could celebrate the creation of the Customs Union and he stressed that for almost 50 years the backbone of the Customs Union had been the EU’s Common Customs Tariff.  This seminar was the first of a series that should lead to uniform classification within the EU, thus ensuring correct revenue collection and equal treatment of economic operators.  He stated that EU Member States, the EU and the WCO should share responsibilities as regards to the updating of the HS and explore new ways of working together.

The Director of WCO’s Tariff and Trade Affairs Directorate, Mr. Ping Liu, in his opening address, stressed the importance of  correct and uniform classification and of the need to strike a balance between addressing security/social concerns and traditional revenue collection concerns by Customs..  He pointed out that the implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement would place an obligation on WTO Members to issue advance rulings for classification and origin of goods and it encourages advance rulings for Customs valuation as well.  In this respect, he appreciated the EU system on advance rulings which had been used as a “best practice” in the WCO’s Technical Guidelines on Advance Rulings.  He shared his concern about the apparent lack of capacity building in the traditional areas of Customs work; tariff classification, origin and Customs valuation and his hope that the EU will continue to lend its support to other Members of the WCO.

A representative from the WCO made a presentation on the update of the Harmonized System (HS) with focus on the expectations to the next edition; HS 2022. Taking into consideration the classification challenges faced during their daily work, the participating tariff specialists were invited to consider and propose relevant amendments to the HS Nomenclature; one of the key topics on the agenda for the seminar.