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WCO COVID-19 Project: results and way forward

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, the Government of Japan decided to provide funding to the WCO Secretariat to ensure Customs administrations had at their disposal comprehensive guidance material and tools to effectively respond to such disruptive events and could receive assistance if needed. The WCO COVID-19 Project was born. This article provides an overview of what was achieved during the past two years.

In June 2011, Heads of Customs at the WCO Council session adopted a “Resolution on the Role of Customs in Natural Disaster Relief” to encourage all administrations to ensure efficient border procedures could be put in place in a timely manner if disruptive events were to occur. The Resolution particularly advocates the implementation of the measures set out in Chapter 5 of Specific Annex J to the WCO Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) and Annex B.9 to the Istanbul Convention. It also urges countries to sign the “Model Agreement to expedite the import of relief consignments and possessions of relief personnel in the event of disasters and emergencies” – a document drawn up jointly by the WCO and United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), listing all the measures set out in various international instruments, or in instruments recognized as effective in practice.

The WCO Secretariat had been promoting these tools through regional and national workshops, many of which were organized with the OCHA and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and included all stakeholders along the humanitarian supply chain.

Back in 2016, thanks to financial support provided by the Netherlands, it also launched a capacity building project entitled “Customs for Relief against Epidemic Diseases” (C-RED), aimed at providing support to six Customs administrations in West African countries affected by the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic renewed the spotlight on this area of work and on the need to develop a comprehensive tool which would provide direction as to how to prepare for and respond to epidemics, pandemics and natural disasters. Thanks to Japan funding, in July 2020 a project team was set up within the WCO Secretariat to develop such a tool, to familiarize administrations with its content, and to work with countries requesting technical assistance.

Over the last two years, the Project team has managed to:

  • Develop the WCO Guidelines on disaster management and supply chain continuity with the contribution of several Customs administrations. The Guidelines should be regularly updated. The first edition was approved by the Council in June 2021. Since then the document was updated twice by adding a chapter on enforcement issues, new best practices in the context of emergency situations and a self-assessment checklist to help Members assess their preparedness. The Guidelines are available on the WCO website in English, French, Spanish and Russian.
  • Organize a series of regional workshops to introduce the Guidelines and enable Customs administrations to share experiences related to the management of the pandemic.
  • Together with experts from partner international organizations, provide guidance to Customs of Madagascar, Benin, Guatemala, Angola, Comoros, Haiti, Tonga and Dominican Republic in identifying the bottlenecks in the importation of relief goods and equipment, and in streamlining clearance processes through the drafting of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
  • Support Customs administrations and stakeholders of Central America and the Pacific islands in drafting recommendations and regional roadmaps as part of joint emergency preparation exercis
  • Develop a mobile application enabling passengers to submit their Customs declaration electronically via their smartphone. Besides facilitating the declaration process, the application minimizes physical contact between Customs officers and inbound air passengers. The Customs Administrations of Benin, Cameroon and Madagascar received the application and the associated hardware.

Moreover, intensive work has been done with Madagascar Customs by conducting exercises to prepare for Tropical Cyclone Batsirai, which hit the island in February 2022. The newly drafted Customs Standard Operating Procedures were also evaluated, as well as the country disaster response plans, policies and procedures.

Customs administrations requiring help or advice in reviewing their procedures or wishing to share their experience in tackling disruptive events are invited to contact the Secretariat.

More information

http://www.wcoomd.org/en/topics/facilitation/activities-and-programmes/natural-disaster/coronavirus.aspx