Global Security Conference: taking stock of progress three years after the WCO Punta Cana Resolution

22 February 2019

The WCO has been prioritizing security-related issues for some years now, developing norms and practices to secure the supply chain and advocating that Customs administrations play an active role in addressing border security-related challenges. In fact, in December 2015 WCO Members adopted the Punta Cana Resolution on the role of Customs in the security context, highlighting the fact that Customs administrations are the “first line of defence against many criminal and violent extremist and terrorist organizations… ”. The role of Customs in countering security threats has also been affirmed in several United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions, such as Resolution 1540.

Sadly, the threat of terrorist attacks remains a real concern throughout much of the world. No region is immune to acts of terrorism with over 1,200 attacks having already taken place this year, resulting in the loss of more than 6,000 lives around the world. These attacks are carried out using a variety of weapons and methods.

To mark the third anniversary of the Punta Cana Resolution, the WCO hosted a Global Security Conference in October 2018. The Conference offered participants an opportunity to take stock of progress made and challenges faced when securing the border and countering terrorism, providing a platform for the WCO and its Members to showcase some of the activities that have taken place to enhance border security.

WCO Security Programme

A key part of the arsenal of tools developed by the WCO to assist countries in securing the supply chain is the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade (SAFE Framework), which was adopted in 2005. The SAFE Framework, together with other tools and guidelines developed over the years to supplement it, collectively form the “SAFE Package.”

To further support WCO Members in building or enhancing their border security capacity, the WCO launched a Security Programme that focuses on five streams of work: passenger controls; the fight against chemicals and components that could be used in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (IEDs); strategic trade controls; the fight against trafficking in small arms and light weapons; and terrorist financing. The Conference agenda was built around these work streams, and a summary of the discussions held during the event is provided below.

Strategic Trade Control Enforcement (STCE)

Resolution 1540 requires States and their respective Customs services to control the trade in weapons of mass destruction and dual-use goods. During the Conference, representatives of the WCO Secretariat reminded participants of the training curriculum and modules developed to assist in the evaluation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and work practices for dealing with strategic goods. They also highlighted the results of and lessons learned from two WCO enforcement operations, codenamed COSMO, held in 2014 and 2018 respectively and both of which focused on strategic goods.

Additionally, several Customs administrations explained how they had enhanced their control and detection capacities. Pakistan Customs, for example, described its Counter Proliferation Units, an initiative which may inspire other administrations as they attempt to either establish or increase their capabilities in detecting and controlling strategic goods.

Programme Global Shield (PGS)

IEDs can be manufactured from precursor chemicals and other readily-available components. Participants took note of the latest activities undertaken under PGS, the WCO initiative aimed at building capacity to counter the illicit diversion of and trafficking in explosive precursor chemicals, detonators and transmitting devices used to manufacture IEDs. They were also introduced to the training activities being carried out by NATO’s C-IED Centre of Excellence and INTERPOL’s Chemical and Explosives Terrorism Prevention Unit, as well as to the emerging threats posed by commercial drones, which can be used to deliver IEDs to their target.

Advance Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Record (PNR) systems

API and PNR data are an important tool in managing passenger flows efficiently. Indeed, the Group of Seven (G7) leaders called for their use to be expanded in the Action Plan on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism, adopted in 2016.

Global Security Conference participants learned how various national targeting systems operate and how passenger data can be used to identify both known and unknown threats. Discussions highlighted the added value of combining API with PNR data and of using link analysis for more effective identification of threats at the border. Maldives Customs shared its experience of using the Global Travel Assessment System (GTAS), which the United States has made available free of charge to WCO Members seeking to collect and explore API/PNR data.

Small arms and light weapons (SALW)

Speakers from Indonesia and Haiti highlighted the threat posed by trafficking in SALW in their respective regions, and the actions that had been taken to restrict illicit trade in these goods. Speakers from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security (GRIP) discussed some of the existing legal instruments to restrict the trade in SALW, whilst highlighting certain areas where improvements are needed. The WCO Secretariat took the opportunity to introduce its new training material for Customs, focusing on the detection of SALW.

Financing terrorism

Participants discussed how Customs administrations can restrict terrorist financing, and were also provided with an overview of the WCO Action Plan to Counter Customs-based Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing. The importance of ensuring proper cooperation mechanisms, both at the domestic and international level, between law enforcement services when conducting terrorist financing investigations was reiterated.

Recurring themes

Besides interagency cooperation, several topics were repeatedly raised by Conference participants during the discussions, including the need to incorporate robust security elements into Customs’ mandate at the national level and to make sure that there is the necessary political will to support this mandate. It is only by ensuring that these prerequisites are met that Customs administrations can realize their full potential in helping to protect society from security threats.


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