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13th TFAWG discussed different aspects of the trade facilitation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

15 marzo 2021

The World Customs Organization (WCO) Trade Facilitation Agreement Working Group (TFAWG) met (virtually) for the 13th time on 8 and 9 March 2021. About two hundred delegates, representing WCO Members and observers from international organizations, the private sector, academia, and missions in Geneva registered to the event. The Meeting was chaired by Ms. Ira Tan (the Netherlands) who was elected as Chairperson at the last TFAWG meeting.

In his opening remarks, the Director of Compliance and Facilitation Mr. Pranab Kumar DAS started by wishing all female delegates, the Chairperson Ms. Ira Tan and the female WCO colleagues a Happy Women’s Day. He recalled that “Facilitation” is one of the three Strategic Objectives of the WCO indicated in the Strategic Plan 2019/2022. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WCO has been supporting Members to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 in terms of trade facilitation and supply chain continuity.

The Chairperson of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Committee (TFC) Mr. Christopher O’Toole (Canada), addressed developments taking place in the WTO TFC, how they relate to the WCO and how the WCO can further assist in its work. He stressed that the WCO has played an important role in providing valuable insights to the Committee. As the organization of Customs expertise, its close working relationship with the private sector and, more recently, with its important work in relation to Customs' role in mitigating the COVID-19 crisis, the WCO continues to provide important support to the work of the Committee. 

The Secretary General of the WCO, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, expressed his appreciation for the keynote remarks from the TFC Chairperson and underlined the longstanding WCO/WTO cooperation, including through the two bodies, the WTO TFC and the WCO TFAWG. He stressed the WCO’s continued commitment and support to TFA implementation through the Mercator Programme, launched in the presence of the former WTO Director General, Mr. Roberto Azevêdo, in 2014. In the past year, the WCO focused on supporting Members in mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of identifying and facilitating essential goods such as medicines and medical goods, and in terms of supporting supply chain continuity. He reiterated the WCO’s readiness to share its experiences in the TFC and finished his address by emphasizing the critical role of cooperation during the pandemic.

The WTO Secretariat provided an overview of the latest developments and shared the relevant sources of information regarding ratifications, notifications and Members’ individual profiles, available on the WTO TFA Facility and TFA Database web sites.

The TFAWG was updated on the developments under the Mercator Programme, the WCO’s flagship Capacity Building Programme supporting WCO Members in implementing trade facilitation measures to enhance their economic competitiveness.

The TFAWG had an opportunity to hear about the technical assistance and capacity building support during the COVID-19.  The donors and beneficiary Members for two WCO projects presented their experience at the meeting.

Furthermore, the TFAWG agreed on the Work Programme and Annual Work Plan 2021/2022 that provides direction to its future activities.

On the second day of the meeting, the TFAWG discussed a number of aspects in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as facilitating the cross-border movement of relief and essential supplies, partnerships with other agencies and the private sector, as well as the role of technology.

H.E. Ambassador José Briz, Ambassador of Guatemala in Brussels, through the Guatemala experience, addressed the TFA and how different stakeholders, government and private sector can mitigate the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to international trade.

The Deputy Director of the Procedures and Facilitation Mr. Brendan O’Hearn thanked all delegates for their active participation, as well as all speakers for their informative presentations.