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Free zone experts of the East and Southern Africa and West and Central Africa regions discuss effective implementation of the WCO Practical Guidance on Free Zones

27 junio 2022

The World Customs Organization (WCO) organized an online Regional Workshop on Free Zones for the East and Southern Africa (ESA) and West and Central Africa (WCA) regions from 15 to 17 June 2022, in close cooperation with the WCO ESA and WCA Regional Offices for Capacity Building (ROCB/ESA and ROCB/WCA). 82 participants from 23 Member administrations joined the dialogue to explore the ways for the sustainable development of free zones with enhanced Customs involvement.

This was the fourth regional workshop in a series of regional events aimed at discussing the harmonized and efficient implementation of the WCO Practical Guidance on Free Zones (FZ Guidance) that was endorsed by 2020 December Council.

“Free Zones should not be “free” from necessary Customs procedures and controls. Customs should be one of the main authorities and should coordinate with all public and private authorities.” said the Director of Compliance and Facilitation, Mr. Pranab Kumar Das, in his opening remarks. The Head of ROCB/ESA, Mr. Larry Liza, stressed in his opening remarks that this is an excellent time for them to walk through the elements of the Guide to enhance the functions of Customs since these elements, over the last one year, have even found greater significance for Customs.

Experts from Customs administrations, Free Zone authorities, the private sector and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) delivered perceptive presentations during the three-day workshop. Three pre-accredit WCO Experts also joined the workshop to moderate and provide presentations. The workshop covered the key elements identified by the WCO Free Zone Guidance for adequate Customs procedures in Free Zones (FZs). These include enhancing cooperation, utilizing the concept of Authorized Economic Operator in FZs, Customs involvement in FZs, use of data and technologies, effective Customs control through Risk Management in FZs, IPR protection, and origin determination of goods produced in FZs.

For three days, the participants exchanged and discussed the challenges of FZs and special economic zones and the need for strengthening Customs involvement. The issue of capacity building and implementation of WCO instruments and tools have been widely discussed. Good practices of administrations and initiatives developed by the private sector were presented. Some Members shared the fraud cases that were identified and their impact on activities in FZs and related international and national legal frameworks. Determination of origin in FZs in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) context was also discussed.

“Now is the time when Customs needs to take ownership for Customs involvement in Free Zones”, stated Mr. Brendan O’Hearn, Deputy Director in charge of Procedures and Facilitation, in his closing remarks delivered by the Secretariat. His message closed by expressing his desire that this workshop would trigger further discussions within all administrations on what Customs can do to obtain a safe, secure and competitive business environment in FZs. Mr. Abdel Kader SANGHO, Head of ROCB WCA, stressed it is essential that Customs and stakeholders continue to work together to develop practical, fair and innovative solutions that contribute to economic competitiveness while ensuring safety and security.