President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni delivers his opening address


Highlights from the 4th WCO Global AEO Conference

20 June 2018
By James Barungi, Uganda Revenue Authority, and Asha Menon, WCO

The sound of African drums and dances welcomed participants as they arrived at the 4th WCO Global AEO Conference that begun in Kampala, Uganda on 14 March 2018. They were addressed by the President of Uganda, H.E. Mr Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who gave an inspiring message on the importance of regional collaboration among East African countries, and the need for ongoing cooperation among all the continent’s countries that would ultimately broaden the scope for more investment in Africa.

Throughout the three-day event, 125 speakers shared their knowledge, expertise and experience on a wide range of topics, broadly related to authorized economic operator (AEO) programmes. Among other things, participants discussed challenges related to the provision of tangible benefits, a recurrent theme, and examined initiatives aimed at improving coordinated border management and at ensuring mutual recognition of AEOs between countries.

At present, 77 AEO programmes have been implemented worldwide and 56 mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) have been signed with another 37 under negotiation. Under the banner of the Conference’s theme “Promoting Mutual Recognition of AEOs to Strengthen and Secure Global Trade,” two important documents were signed: a MRA Action Plan between the Korea Customs Service (KCS) and the Members of the East African Community (EAC), a first of its kind in Africa; and a MRA between the Customs administrations of Peru and Uruguay.

More than 1,100 participants from over 95 countries saw presentations on the implementation of AEO national programmes in EAC Member countries and on the AEO regional programme that these countries have established, as well as on the different ways to involve the private sector in the discussions, and how to consolidate the partnership between Customs and other government agencies.

The following conclusions were drawn:

  • There is a need to standardize and harmonize AEO programmes around the world.
  • Attracting small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) to join AEO programmes is key to the success of such programmes.
  • Intermediaries should be given the opportunity to become AEOs.
  • The AEO concept is moving to another level with buy-in from different stakeholders increasing.
  • Involving other government agencies in the AEO certification process should be something to work towards, especially as it will enable more benefits to be provided.

In addition, other issues were identified, such as:

  • the need to build trust not only between Customs and private sector companies, but also among Customs authorities;
  • the important role technology solutions have to play;
  • the difficulty in identifying tangible benefits for AEOs;
  • the relevance of the programme in countries where compliance levels of the private sector are low;
  • the threat to AEO programmes and MRAs as a result of the high levels of trade facilitation that traders already enjoy.

The next AEO Conference will take place in Dubai in 2020.

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