SMART Borders: a few words about the theme of the year

21 February 2019
By Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary General, WCO

Each year, the WCO Secretariat chooses a theme that is relevant to the international Customs community and its partners. The slogan chosen for 2019 is “SMART borders for seamless Trade, Travel and Transport.” An apt theme as the world increasingly moves towards working smarter, using smart technologies, setting smart goals, and even living in smart cities.

Under this year’s banner, WCO Members are encouraged to look at how they can strengthen their endeavour to facilitate trade and travel, whilst mitigating threats inherent in the cross-border flows of goods, people, and means of transport. Our “SMART” acronym stems from the following guiding principles: Secure, Measurable, Automated, Risk Management-based, and Technology-driven.

“Secure,” refers to our efforts to secure and facilitate legitimate trade. The rapid and safe movement of people and goods across borders encourages trade, travel and transport, and Customs has the dual task of facilitating this flow while securing it. This is no easy task, but Customs is focused and determined to achieve its goal.

Alongside security, we are promoting a “Measurable” performance-based culture that rests on self-evaluation and objective measurement. Measuring performance is essential for well-conceived decisions that can be easily implemented and evaluated. Customs has certainly embraced this culture and is continuing to ensure its effective implementation on a daily basis.

Being smart invariably refers to the need for Customs to develop, use and implement solutions that are “Automated.” In the pursuit of a less cumbersome border environment where data is mined, shared and effectively analysed, Customs should rely on automated processes. This is another area where Customs is steaming ahead with its tailor-made reform and modernization programmes.

Adopting a “Risk Management-based” approach is key to all modern Customs processes, and requires administrations to invest in data analysis and develop efficient profiling techniques based on modern methods and tools such as predictive analytics or biometrics. Again, Customs is not holding back as more and more WCO Members acknowledge the importance of using risk-based methods.

This leads us to the last word of our acronym, “Technology-driven.” Customs should relentlessly pursue further studies and carry out further proof of concept exercises to explore the use of emerging technologies in order to stay on top of things. Blockchain and artificial intelligence, for example, are now being put to good use. Customs is looking into these new technologies, but we still need more experience sharing in these areas.

To take our annual theme forward, for the dossier of this edition of the magazine, we invited various people to share information on initiatives and related projects that contribute to creating SMART borders. The idea is, as always, to highlight any challenges faced, to showcase those projects that will inspire others, and, of course, to communicate best practices. Indeed, I am sure you will agree that we have achieved our objective once you get into some of the articles.

Let me now turn to the actual content of the dossier. It starts with an article by Serbia Customs on the digitalization of its transit procedure, and in parallel with its computerization process, the essential accompanying procedures and legal enhancements implemented to secure transit operations, whilst granting simplifications to operators who fulfilled certain criteria. Still on transit, Uganda Customs explains how the implementation of a real-time electronic cargo monitoring system to track goods in transit enables countries in East Africa to cut transit time, prevent cargo theft, and boost revenue collection.

This is followed by an article from Brazil Customs that introduces its authorized economic operator (AEO) programme, its impact in terms of trade facilitation, and the efforts made to attract other border agencies to participate in it. Burkina Faso Customs then explains how it established an advance ruling mechanism on tariff classification, and how it was able to undertake a Time Release Study thanks to support received from the WCO in the areas of project management and stakeholder engagement.

The WCO’s initiative on Small Island Economies (SIEs) is aimed at raising awareness about the challenges and peculiarities of Customs services operating in these SIEs, and providing tailor-made capacity building and technical assistance to help them better integrate into global value chains, while effectively curbing illicit trade and smuggling. To better understand the issue, Mauritius Customs gives us an overview of the specificities of their economy and its trade flows, identified areas of change, and the measures and initiatives taken to increase efficiency and reduce trade costs.

Alternate models for collecting duties and taxes on low-value imports of goods have also been discussed at length over the past few months. Drawing on this, the Australian Department of Home Affairs explains the work done on implementing its new Vendor Collection Model that the country has put in place to collect GST on such goods. Blockchain technology is another topic that is receiving a lot of attention lately. Korea Customs takes the opportunity to present the pilot projects that have been carried out to uncover any technical and institutional challenges, and formulate ways to steadily integrate the blockchain into existing Customs systems.

In the years to come, technology will continue to play an ever-increasing role in supply chain integrity. According to DHL, if the express industry is data rich, supporting a log recording the journey of a shipment, which assures its integrity along the supply chain, this goldmine of information is not as valuable unless there are standardized platforms for Customs to collect and interpret this data. The International Air Transport Association also calls for the development of standards around data sharing on the web, while presenting ONE Record, the next milestone in the digitalization of air cargo data.

In wrapping up, I would like to sincerely thank all the contributors to this dossier, as well as all the other contributors to the magazine who took the time to share their experiences with us on various Customs and international trade issues. It has been our pleasure to produce another edition of the WCO’s flagship magazine, and we trust that you will enjoy reading all the insightful articles.