Procedures and Facilitation

22 October 2019

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WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA)

The TFA entered into force on 22 February 2017. Since its launch in June 2014, the Mercator Programme has been the WCO’s strategic initiative aimed at assisting governments worldwide in implementing the TFA in an expeditious and consistent manner by applying WCO instruments and tools, as the TFA’s provisions relate, to a large extent, to Customs procedures.

During the 2018/2019 financial year, numerous TFA-related missions were carried out by the WCO. Many of them consisted of providing countries with the capacity to undertake a Time Release Study (TRS). Amongst other technical assistance and capacity building missions, WCO experts also:

  • supported Afghanistan, Comoros, Moldova, and Sao Tome and Principe in undertaking a gap analysis as part of these countries’ processes towards accession to the Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC);
  • delivered regional training on the accession and implementation of the RKC, benefiting 14 countries from the Caribbean and Central America;
  • carried out a regional TFA workshop for CARICOM Member States, in partnership with the WTO and other Annex D organizations;
  • organized a TFA workshop for Asia Development Bank (ADB) member countries, in partnership with the ADB and the WTO;
  • carried out the First African Forum for National Committees on Trade Facilitation in Addis Ababa, together with six other international organizations;
  • organized national workshops on how best to conduct a TRS for the Customs administrations of Bahrain, Brazil, Fiji, The Gambia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Uganda, as well as a sub-regional workshop for countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS);
  • supported several WCO Members with the development and implementation of e-commerce strategies and programmes, including electronic advance data exchange between Posts and Customs, through national and regional workshops;
  • undertook a scoping mission in South Africa aimed at reviewing its existing authorized economic operator (AEO) programme, Single Window (SW) project and risk management practices, to ensure that they met the requirements of the TFA as well as the WCO’s principles and instruments;
  • provided support to the APEC Capacity Building Workshop on the TFA for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs);
  • supported a training course for China Customs on the TFA and related WCO instruments and tools.

Details on activities undertaken in other areas, such as authorized economic operator programmes, e-Commerce, transit and the Single Window, appear later in this article.

Besides regional and national focused assistance, the WCO held two meetings of the WCO Working Group on the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation (TFAWG) that discussed various technical topics related to TFA measures, as well as the implementation challenges faced by developing and least developed countries including the coordination of priorities relating to technical assistance and capacity building.

Authorized economic operators (AEOs)

WCO experts supported the implementation of AEO programmes in the Bahamas, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon, Cuba, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe, and provided assistance to the Arab States of the Gulf on how to develop a regional AEO programme.

They also supported Belarus Customs in developing its capacities with respect to the negotiation and implementation of mutual recognition arrangements (MRAs), as well as Chile and Peru in enhancing their AEO programmes by improving the validation process and risk analysis, developing performance indicators, and involving other government agencies.

Lastly, WCO experts also organized the first ever train-the-trainer workshop, to develop a pool of AEO validators able to help countries of the Americas region to enhance their AEO validation process, based on the WCO’s AEO Validator Guide and the AEO Validators Training Course.


Regional workshops on transit were held for the WCO Europe, Far East, South and South East Asia, Australasia and the Pacific Islands (Asia/Pacific) and North of Africa, Near and Middle East (MENA) regions, thus completing the series of six regional workshops aimed at promoting the implementation of the WCO Transit Guidelines and collecting national and regional transit best practices.

The WCO also supported the delivery of a workshop on Customs transit for the Members of the Andean Community – Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. In addition, to extend its pool of experts in transit issues, the WCO Secretariat organized an Accreditation Workshop for French-speaking experts.

Special Customs zones/free zones (SCZs)

WCO Members agreed, last year, to conduct an analysis of the current situation, including the economic benefit of SCZs, Customs SCZ controls and procedures, and illegal activities associated with SCZs, through an online survey, field studies and regional workshops. These activities have been completed, and the results of some of the workshops are available online.

Based on the activities carried out thus far, as well as existing literature review, a research paper was published in September 2019, stressing the need for strong Customs involvement in SCZ policy as well as the proper application of Customs controls in SCZs. A guidebook will be developed, based on the research paper, which will be discussed at the WCO Permanent Technical Committee (PTC) in the coming months. The issue is also being discussed at the WCO Working Group on the Comprehensive Review of the Revised Kyoto Convention (WGRKC). The RKC is the only international convention that outlines Customs policy in relation to SCZs in Chapter 2 of its Specific Annex D.

Advance passenger information (API) and passenger name record (PNR) data

WCO experts provided support to Uzbekistan on the establishment of API/PNR systems to control and facilitate air passengers, and organized a workshop in Indonesia for Customs authorities in the Pacific. In addition, an e-learning module on the roles and responsibilities of Customs officers in the interdiction of passengers and crew at various points in the airport has been developed.

The Global Travel Assessment System (GTAS) software has been deployed in the Maldives. Available to Customs administrations free of charge, the system enables the collection and analysis of passenger data.

Although WCO activities have focused on the standardization and use of API and PNR for the control and facilitation of passengers in the air mode and, more specifically, scheduled flights, such data is also collected (or could also be collected) for other modes of transport and for non-scheduled flights. Discussions were held on the use of this data and related challenges for passengers transported by general aviation aircraft, cruise ships, road and trains, and will continue in the coming months.

WCO Data Model (DM)

Seventy-two countries reported that their information systems conform to the WCO DM, and around 58 countries have active implementation projects underway. Version 3.8.1 of the Model has now been released.

A “Data Model Business Guide” has also been published. The purpose of this Guide is to explain, in simple language, the WCO DM and its use and relationship with other international instruments including governmental best practice recommendations.

The WCO concluded the maintenance process of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Compendium on Electronic Business that contains technical standards for ship reporting. This work resulted in the creation of the IMO Reference Model that will connect with the WCO DM Derived Information Package (DIP).

Regarding technical assistance, WCO experts delivered national workshops in Colombia and Ukraine. In addition, a regional workshop on the WCO DM was held in Azerbaijan back-to-back with the WCO IT/TI Conference and Exhibition, with the objective of raising awareness on the WCO DM and enabling experiences to be shared on its implementation.

Single Window (SW)

WCO experts participated in different international forums, supported activities relating to the implementation of SW solutions, and promoted the use of WCO standards and tools, such as the SW Compendium, the WCO DM and the RKC ICT Guidelines. Their activities included:

  • assisting Customs administrations in Belarus, Comoros, Jamaica, Mongolia, Uganda and Uruguay with projects aimed at establishing or enhancing national SW environments;
  • conducting a workshop to help the five Members of the Eurasian Economic Union and the 26 countries of the WCO East and Southern Africa region to develop their respective SW systems, based on international standards and harmonized provisions in order to ensure interoperability;
  • organizing, in cooperation with UNESCAP experts, the 4th UNNExT Single Window Masterclasses, gathering mainly Asia Pacific countries.

Non-intrusive inspection (NII)

The WCO Council endorsed the document providing a summary of the Technical Specification of the proposed unified X-ray file format (UFF) for NII devices, namely UFF 2.0. WCO Members are invited to require their suppliers to deploy the UFF 2.0 on equipment in use, if possible, and to include a UFF requirement in their tender documents for the procurement of NII systems.

Postal traffic

The WCO is closely working with the Universal Postal Union (UPU) on a number of issues of mutual concern, which, in particular, include the implementation of the exchange of electronic advance data between Posts and Customs, postal supply chain safety and security, e-commerce, and the quality of data in CN 22 and CN 23 declarations. In addition, to further enhance Customs-Post cooperation, the WCO Council adopted the “Joint WCO-UPU Guidelines on Exchange of Electronic Advance Data between Posts and Customs.”

The two organizations provided support to Customs and Posts of Indonesia and Vietnam on the implementation of electronic advance data and on the implementation of the Customs Declaration System (CDS) that has been developed by the UPU’s Postal Technology Centre. CDS allows customers to enter data about an item online, and enables Posts to supply Customs with advance data about a postal item. It also enables Customs to inform Posts about the action to be taken with respect to any given item.

In addition, a joint WCO-UPU Customs-Post Workshop was organized for the Latin American sub-region, with the aim of improving knowledge and strengthening the existing cooperative relationship, including the exchange of electronic advance data between Customs and postal authorities in the sub-region. Furthermore, joint WCO-UPU workshops for the Asia/Pacific region and the Caribbean sub-region were held to enhance capacities for countering the transportation of dangerous and contraband items in the postal chain.


The WCO Council endorsed the technical specifications relating to the Framework of Standards on Cross-Border E-Commerce adopted in June 2018, as well as other guidance material further enriching the Framework, such as definitions of certain terms used in the instrument, flow charts, business models, and case studies. An implementation strategy, an action plan and a capacity mechanism aimed at ensuring the widespread adoption and implementation of the Framework was also adopted.

The above-mentioned documents have been brought together in an E-Commerce Package, a “living document” that would be regularly maintained and updated. Work on a reference data set for e-commerce, revenue collection approaches, the roles and responsibilities of e-commerce stakeholders, and other related work will continue, and documents related to these areas are expected to be submitted to the Council for consideration in June 2020.

In terms of capacity building, WCO experts provided assistance to Moldova and Panama, assessing their Customs administrations’ preparedness in managing e-commerce transactions effectively, and assisting them in developing an action plan. Moreover, a high-level regional workshop to promote and support the implementation of the Framework was organized for countries in the WCO Asia/Pacific region.

Also, a regional workshop on cross-border e-commerce was organized for the WCO Europe region to improve knowledge and strengthen the existing capabilities of Customs administrations in the region on issues concerning the implementation of the WCO Framework of Standards on Cross-Border E-Commerce.

Small Island Economies (SIEs)

SIEs, most of which are developing states, face specific social, economic, trade and environmental vulnerabilities and disadvantages associated with their small size, remoteness and proneness to natural disasters.

As part of activities aimed at supporting SIEs, the WCO Secretariat launched a dedicated initiative, and has organized sub-regional workshops for such countries located in the Indian Ocean region and in the Caribbean, and is planning to organize one more in the Pacific.

Going forward, a guidance for Customs administrations of SIEs is being developed by engaging relevant international and regional bodies and stakeholders, based on the specific needs and priorities of SIEs.

Study Report on Disruptive Technologies

The Study Report was developed by the Virtual Working Group on the Future of Customs, which has been operating under the PTC for the last four years. It aims to support Customs administrations in gaining a better understanding of what these technologies are about, how they are used today, and how they could potentially be used in the years ahead, by both Customs and other stakeholders in cross-border supply chains, for the purpose of securing, facilitating and boosting global trade, and ensuring proper revenue collection.

With this Study Report, the WCO is responding to a growing Customs appetite to learn more about the potential of disruptive technologies and ways in which they can manage their introduction. A robust strategy behind this technology will allow Customs to keep pace with the accelerating speed of IT advances, and to make full use of the opportunities they bring. Cooperation with the private sector is valuable and a number of recommendations have been laid out for consideration in this respect.


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