Recovery, Renewal and Resilience: a few words about the WCO theme for 2021

24 February 2021
By Kunio Mikuriya, WCO Secretary General

Each year, the WCO Secretariat chooses a theme that is relevant to the international Customs community and its partners. The slogan chosen for 2021 is “Customs bolstering Recovery, Renewal and Resilience for a sustainable supply chain”. It invites Customs administrations to contribute to finding a way out of the ongoing crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic and to rebuilding the economy against the new backdrop of greater focus on social distancing in daily life, working from home, digitization and the upsurge in e-commerce. The collective efforts by the global Customs community to address these challenges will renew the Customs system, make supply chains more sustainable and help the global economy recover from the pandemic.

Recovery, Renewal and Resilience

Safeguarding smooth flows of legitimate trade by facilitating efficient clearance processes will help support economic recovery from the current crisis and ensure a fiscal basis with fair revenue collection. We know that this cannot be done in isolation but rather requires the cooperation of all border agencies, the private sector and other supply chain stakeholders. Building on the lessons learned from our collaborative approach during the crisis, we should look at the way goods are cleared at borders from a fresh perspective, examine how we adapt workflows and procedures jointly with our stakeholders, retain our capacity to be agile in the face of changing business conditions and improve transparency about trade-related policy actions and intentions.

In the face of new challenges and threats, and especially given the rise of e-commerce, we need cutting-edge technological solutions and an innovative approach to bring about renewal enabling Customs to adapt in the face of changing demand – and to be future-proof. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of major concepts which we have been promoting for years, including all-digital and paperless clearance methods, the use of technology to indicate which imports might merit a more detailed inspection, and the implementation of automated, fast and effective controls.

People must, of course, remain at the heart of all strategies aimed at building resilience. The most important asset of an organization is its workforce. To achieve their missions, Customs administrations need a knowledgeable, well-trained, well-led, properly supported and therefore resilient workforce. A resilient workforce is one that is healthy (physically, mentally and emotionally), has high morale, is adaptable, finds purpose and meaning in its duties, and is both productive and engaged.

Ensuring swift and reliable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across borders

The top priority right now is to support the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines which will soon be rolled out to a larger percentage of the world’s population, with the process expected to last for many months to come. Customs clearance of vaccines and related supplies and equipment must be carried out pre-arrival and should follow the recommendations set out in the “Resolution on the Role of Customs in Facilitating the Cross-Border Movement of Situationally Critical Medicines and Vaccines”, adopted in December 2020 by the WCO Council.

More guidance is provided in the joint statement I recently issued with the Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Dr. Fang Li, and which outlines a number of measures to be implemented by governments with the objective of expediting air cargo transport and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The WCO Secretariat has also published Harmonized System (HS) classification references for vaccines and related supplies and equipment.

Tools and guidance materials issued by the WCO Secretariat, partner international organizations and industry associations along with WCO Members’ practices have been brought together on a page on our website.

As Customs is also called upon to verify the safety of imported products and protect citizens from counterfeit medical products, the WCO Secretariat organized webinars with vaccine suppliers, during which the latter shared information about vaccine production and distribution processes, labelling and packaging requirements, and how to authenticate genuine products.

Last but not least, the Secretariat is organizing a second edition of Operation STOP, targeting the illicit trade in goods which are generally used to diagnose or treat COVID-19. You can consult an article on the first edition of the Operation, as well as several articles on product quality, conformity controls and cooperation between Customs and market surveillance agencies in the “Focus” section of this magazine.

Dossier contents

Let me now turn to the actual contents of this Dossier. It starts with an article by Moroccan Customs explaining the Administration’s modernization journey and how COVID-19 allowed it to take full stock of the changes introduced.

This is followed by an article by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) on the digitalization of ATA Carnet procedures. It explains how the ICC ATA Carnet digital system operates, provides a general overview of its design and architecture, and gives a summary of progress made towards full implementation of the system.

Digitalization is also the subject of an article highlighting the need to review the current processes for implementation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement and explaining how adoption of information technology to enhance workflows would benefit both the import and export economies, as well as trading partners. It illustrates the fact that many digitalization projects are an opportunity to review procedures in place, enhance transparency and strengthen compliance.

The fourth article addresses impact assessment and is written by representatives of academia, the private sector and Customs. The authors present Montenegro Customs’ pre-arrival processing procedure for authorized express parcel operators and explain how they conducted an impact assessment using a stakeholder needs analysis, from which key performance indicators were derived.

A groundbreaking initiative by Singapore Infocomm Media Development Authority and Singapore Customs is then presented in an article on TradeTrust, a set of governance and legal frameworks, document standards and a set of software components, all of which facilitate the interoperability of electronic trade documents and their exchange between different digital ecosystems.

This is followed by an article introducing a methodology for using machine learning to identify transactions involving strategic goods, though not declared as such. Given the data-dense nature of international trade transactions, Customs administrations are in an excellent position to exploit advances in machine learning in order to improve risk analysis, enforcement and outreach. I truly hope that this article will inspire Customs management and analyst teams.

The Inter-American Development Bank then gives us an update on CADENA, a project launched to enable the automatic exchange of information on Authorized Economic Operators (AEO) between Customs administrations having entered into a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA). It will be of special interest to those considering the use of blockchain, as the article draws some important lessons from the CADENA experience.

The last article sheds light on the capacity of Customs administrations to adapt to the current constraints facing them. It explains how Malaysia Customs has conducted a Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) of its newly procured scanners and radiation portal monitors (RPM) using virtual communication tools.

I would like to bring my comments to a close by sincerely thanking all the contributors to this Dossier, along with all the other contributors to the magazine. If we want to support governments and citizens as they try to emerge from the current crisis and move towards a healthier, more resilient and sustainable economic model, we must remain dynamic and strive for improvement. The varied initiatives and experiences featured in this magazine bear witness to the commitment by the Customs and trade community to do just that.