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WTO Public Forum 2016 – WCO/AAEI Session Focuses on E-Commerce Wednesday, 28 September 2016 WTO Headquarters, Geneva

Under the WTO Public Forum which this year brought together more than 2000 participants, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the American Association of Exporters and Importers (AAEI) organized a joint session on Digital Customs for Improved Border Management and E-commerce Opportunities.

In the framework of the Forum’s discussions which emphasized the need to facilitate a greater role for micro, small and medium size enterprises (MSMEs) in global trade by addressing barriers such as the digital divide, the WCO/AAEI session discussed some of the actions underway to improve the e-commerce environment for both the private and the public sector and provided some recommendations for the way forward.

The round table, which attracted numerous Forum delegates, explored e-commerce firstly by trying to clearly define what e-commerce is, as well as who are the different players and what are the business models involved. Marianne Rowden, AAEI President & CEO and Co-Chairperson of the WCO Working Group on E-Commerce introduced the topic and moderated the session which brought together representatives with different roles in cross-border e-commerce.

Ana Hinojosa, Director of Compliance and Facilitation at WCO, raised some of the Customs issues and opportunities and provided more information on the newly established WCO Working Group on E-commerce. She emphasized the inclusiveness of the Group which brings both Customs and private sector together working closely with international organizations. Devising smart ways to manage e-commerce growth while ensuring that all safety and security concerns are met, without hampering cross-border movements, is a key priority of Customs.

The challenges to operating a global marketplace and complying with trade laws was addressed by Kevin Willis, Director of Global Trade Compliance at Amazon. He explained some of the existing "frictions" for users and the need to reduce them, challenges posed by national trade laws and the need for simple rules for ensuring compliance of hundreds of millions of individual consumers of low-value shipments, the new "importers" of today.

A national-level Customs perspective was presented by Sun Xiangyang, Minister Counsellor (Customs), Mission of China to the EU in Brussels. He underlined the opportunities and challenges that e-commerce poses to border management and Governments as-a-whole. He addressed the way e-commerce growth is perceived by China Customs, how it plans to allocate its resources to meet the new demands and how it can/does work with other government agencies that have a role in border management. He provided an interesting insight on how e-commerce goods are being identified and treated by China Customs.

Norm Schenk, Vice President for Global Customs Policy & Public Affairs at UPS Supply Chain Solutions, stressed that simply economic growth is the reason why countries should promote e-commerce, with the biggest benefits to be gained by MSMEs and LDCs. He presented some of the challenges facilitators face and suggested what small changes governments can make to achieve big impact, including introducing a de minimis regime to increase business activity and revenue. He welcomed the soon expected entry into force of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement stressing the relevance of the many WCO tools and guidelines available to support implementation of this agreement that will have an important impact on facilitating the growth of e-commerce.