The eTIR pilot project, an ongoing success

13 February 2017
By Daniel Kern, International Road Transport Union (IRU) and André Sceia, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

Over several decades, the 1975 Customs Convention on the International Transport of Goods under Cover of TIR Carnets (TIR Convention) has proven to be one of the most successful and efficient instruments for the facilitation of international transport and goods in transit, helping to increase trade, boost economic growth, and make communities stronger. The world’s only tried and tested global Customs transit system – it is the easiest, safest and most reliable way to move goods across international borders, saving time and money for transport operators and Customs authorities.

The TIR system is administered by its Contracting Parties under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and is governed by the provisions of the TIR Convention. It constitutes a public-private partnership between the Contracting Parties and the international guarantee chain, which is managed by the International Road Transport Union (IRU) – the world’s road transport organization – and national associations. It is currently in operation in 58 countries, covering the whole of Europe and extending to North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. In July 2016, China became the 70th Contracting Party to the TIR Convention, marking an important new milestone for its ongoing global expansion.

For some time, momentum has been building towards computerizing the system, with Customs administrations and the private sector pushing to computerize large parts of the TIR procedure. Since 2003, TIR Contracting Parties have been working on the “eTIR” project, aimed at achieving a paperless system. In July 2015, TIR Contracting Parties reconfirmed their commitment to this end by adopting the Joint Statement on the computerization of the TIR procedure. In March 2015, the IRU and UNECE also started to actively collaborate on computerizing the TIR, and in October, Customs administrations and national associations of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey volunteered to work with the IRU and UNECE on the launch of the eTIR pilot project.

A resounding success

The initiative has been a resounding success, introducing the incontrovertible benefits of going digital (see WCO Magazine, February 2016 issue, page 21). The advantages include less data entry work, ease of implementation, and advance risk assessment. The eTIR replaces the paper TIR Carnet, which traditionally serves as a Customs declaration, and accompanies the driver and cargo along the itinerary. Ensuring that Customs officers receive cargo information electronically before the cargo arrives, the eTIR makes international freight transport faster, more efficient, and more secure, contributing to increasing trade and boosting economic growth.

In August 2016, all parties, therefore, decided to launch phase two of this very important project. The next step involves not only additional Customs offices and transport companies, but also adds new functionalities, such as the possibility to undertake multiple loadings and unloadings, and to amend declarations when additional loading or unloading are not specified at the start of the transport procedure.

Throughout the eTIR pilot project, stakeholders use dedicated, secure web-based applications and web services to exchange information. National associations use the “TIR Association Portal” to issue electronic guarantees to transport operators, while transport operators use the “TIR Holder Portal” to order e-guarantees and to submit pre-declarations to Customs authorities. TIR data is sent from Customs administrations’ information technology (IT) systems to the IRU and is instantly and automatically replicated to the eTIR international system, hosted by the UNECE.

Both the IRU and UNECE’s systems offer secure web services to Customs administrations to verify the validity of a given e-guarantee, as well as to obtain all data related to a transport procedure covered by an e-guarantee. In order to implement the eTIR pilot project, the Iranian and Turkish Customs administrations made only minimal adjustments to their IT systems, as eTIR is designed to link into the existing architecture.

It is also important to note that the eTIR relies on the principles contained in the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade, and makes use of the WCO Data Model. The eTIR provides all stakeholders with real-time access to relevant information, thus providing additional security and risk management benefits to all stakeholders, while at the same time accelerating Customs procedures and significantly reducing costs.

To date, all parties involved in the pilot project have shown a high level of commitment, enthusiasm, and satisfaction. There is much anticipation for the presentation of the final results to the TIR Administrative Committee, comprising all TIR Contracting Parties, which will be the next milestone to move the eTIR agenda forward.

In parallel with ongoing efforts to develop the legal provisions for the eTIR, which will either be included in an optional annex to the existing TIR Convention or in a separate protocol to the Convention, the eTIR pilot project between Iran and Turkey is a crucial stepping stone in the development of a fully computerized global TIR procedure.

Strong endorsement and interest

With proven far-reaching benefits, the eTIR pilot project has received strong endorsement and interest from a growing group of countries, notably through the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), an intergovernmental organization, whose Secretariat is based in Tehran. In October 2016, the ECO approved the report of its sub-committee, praising the successful implementation of the eTIR pilot project between Iran and Turkey, in cooperation with UNECE and the IRU.

The ECO also acknowledged that the eTIR will further facilitate trade and transport among all TIR Contracting Parties, particularly in the ECO region, comprising the Islamic State of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The eTIR was hailed as an efficient tool, and a significant way forward for the economic integration of the region. Consequently, the ECO members have expressed strong support for the full computerization of the TIR, and called on TIR Contracting Parties, UNECE and the IRU to continue expanding the geographical coverage of the eTIR to all ECO countries.

In the wider regional context, the success of the eTIR pilot project has also sparked enthusiasm and curiosity among governments, which are now interested in launching additional eTIR pilot projects. Turkey and Ukraine have recently recognized the benefits of going digital, and are planning a new eTIR project along an inter-modal trade corridor that crosses the Black Sea, with the objective of providing a secure and fast solution for the transport of containers under cover of a TIR Carnet. As part of a wider agreement on Customs and trade between the two countries, the project proposes to reinforce bilateral cooperation, and will bring new benefits to Customs, transport operators, and national associations.

One of the keys to facilitate intermodal transport

The eTIR is certainly one of the keys to further facilitate intermodal transport, making it more efficient and secure, and facilitating trade growth in the region. This is an important marker for the Association of International Road Carriers of Ukraine (AsMAP UA), an IRU member representing a strong community of over 3000 private and public companies carrying passengers and goods to nearly 50 countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. In the Asia and Pacific region, various countries have also indicated their interest in actively participating in the implementation of the eTIR system in order to further improve transit procedures.

Direct economic benefits and next steps

The implementation of a paperless transit system, such as the eTIR, provides direct economic benefits to the countries involved, with increased efficiency and improved security of transit operations being the main advantages. By streamlining transit procedures, waiting times and transport costs are significantly reduced, ensuring substantial savings for international trade.

The second step of the eTIR pilot project between Iran and Turkey continues to successfully demonstrate the feasibility of a paperless TIR procedure. Political engagement, mutual trust, and a high level of cooperation among all TIR Contracting Parties are crucial for achieving the full computerization of the system. With this in mind and considering the interest from further countries and regional organizations, such as the ECO, UNECE and the IRU are continuing their efforts, in collaboration with interested parties, to fully computerize the TIR, and to roll-out the technology to all TIR Contracting Parties.


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