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WCO’s Multi-Stakeholders Initiative on E-Commerce Gains Momentum

26 enero 2017

At its first meeting held in September 2016, the WCO Working Group on E-Commerce (WGEC) has established four sub-groups with associated work packages, namely Trade Facilitation and Simplification of Procedures, Safety and Security, Revenue Collection, and Measurement and Analysis.

The four sub-groups held face-to-face meetings at the WCO headquarters in Brussels from 23 to 25 January 2017, which brought together more than 100 delegates from Customs administrations, the private sector, other international organizations, e-vendors/platforms, express service providers, postal operators, freight forwarders and academia to consolidate and advance the work by identifying urgent priorities.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Luc De Blieck, Deputy Director of Procedures and Facilitation Sub-Directorate (WCO) underlined some of the key challenges stemming from phenomenal growth in cross-border e-commerce, which required a new approach to support the evolution of this channel of trade. He then invited delegates to work collaboratively in a constructive manner to develop pragmatic solutions as mandated by the WGEC.

The Co-Chairpersons Mr. Gerard Rodrigues (Australian Border Force) and Ms. Marianne Rowden (the Private Sector Consultative Group) encouraged delegates to share their ideas and initiatives to enrich discussions, but most importantly, to focus on delivering some tangible outcomes.

Noting that there are several facets and dimensions of e-commerce, the sub-groups identified principle elements of cross-border e-commerce in the context of Customs and border processes with a view to developing a working definition for the WGEC. These elements included – online initiation, cross-border transaction/shipment, physical goods, and destined to the consumer.

Adopting a holistic and inclusive approach, the sub-groups had a very detailed and granular discussion from a diverse perspective, bearing in mind the challenges and needs of various stakeholders in the e-commerce chain. Clearly, the focus and central theme of discussions was facilitation of growing volumes of cross-border e-commerce, whilst addressing some of the current and emerging challenges in terms of safety and security, illicit trade, and collection duties and taxes on small/low-value consignments.

The key focus areas identified by the sub-group on Trade Facilitation and Simplification of Procedures were time sensitive clearance of goods; high volumes of packages; unknown players; and return / refund processes. Discussing about potential solutions, the sub-group noted the need of advance electronic data, data quality and tapping of trusted data sources from new actors (e.g., e-vendors/platforms) as well as stakeholders engagements, education of clients, and the greater use of automated systems including for refund/drawback on returned items.

The Safety and Security sub-group discussed the topic with a view to ensure comprehensive and sustainable Customs control and enforcement in the e-commerce eco-system. Though there was a general common understanding on the security aspect, safety concerns often varied from one country to another. To this end, the sub-group suggested making information available on a single access point on their websites in order to educate on existing and emerging threats. The OECD presented the work being carried out by the OECD task Force on Countering Illicit Trade.

Furthermore, the Revenue Collection sub-group discussed the de minimis threshold, different interpretations of the “low-value” concept as well as the positives and negatives of establishing new business models for collecting duties and taxes (e.g., intermediaries, vendor, and consumer based models). The sub-group recognized that eventually the success of these models would depend on the reliability of the data. The Netherlands, Australia, and China presented their respective models of revenue collection.

Data being the key to risk management supporting the other three sub-groups, Big Data and cross-border e-commerce flows were examined by the Measurement and Analysis sub-group at two levels - macro (aggregate) and micro (transactional). A preliminary study conducted by the UPU and ICAO on e-commerce flows via air mode was also presented with trend and patterns.

The work carried out over these three days scoped out broad contours and laid down a solid foundation for the future work. The sub-groups also developed respective work plans and agreed to intensify further work virtually primarily from two perspectives: strategic (to develop a high-level framework/recommendations to engage and support policy makers and other international bodies) and operational (to suggest pragmatic, simple and workable solutions together with best practices).

The outcomes and the state of play of the ongoing work in the area of e-commerce will be presented to all the relevant WCO working bodies in coming months, and finally to the July 2017 Policy Commission and the Council. The WCO will also organize a full day session on e-commerce during the Permanent Technical Committee meeting to be held from 3 to 7 April 2017.