Developments in the Global Customs Environment

Under the auspices of the Dialogue Facility of the Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement (TDCA), the South African Customs cooperated with the EU on key aspects of Customs administration during 2013 and 2014. The project’s overall scope entailed technical assistance and the exchange of best practices on a wide range of issues, including the implementation of the World Customs Organisation (WCO)’s standards. Although this three phased project covering Tariff, Valuation and Origin was planned to culminate with the conclusion of exchanges on Origin issues in the Netherlands in May 2014, the scope was expanded to include the capacity building leg to ensure sustainability of this intervention.
Recent developments in the global Trade environment, notably, the Bali Agreement reached in December 2013 and the subsequent development of a protocol of amendment to the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO, to include trade facilitation in November 2014, are especially pertinent to the work of Customs, globally. Approximately ninety percent of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation (ATF) relates to Customs, hence the prominence and leading role Customs plays in the implementation of this Agreement. Accordingly, the implementation of the ATF draws on the various WCO tools and instruments such as the Revised Kyoto Convention, Coordinated Border Management Compendium, Globally Networked Customs, the Handbook on Transit, etc. It has thus become imperative to bring together all these various WCO standards, tools and instruments to support the implementation of the ATF at international, regional and national levels. The WCO policy and technical committees are hard at work coordinating processes and programmes in this regard. Some of the highlights are as follows:
• Opening the International Customs Day at the WCO headquarters on 26 January 2015 the Secretary-General of the WCO unveiled a 2015 WCO theme that deals with “Communication and Coordinated Border Management”. The importance of this theme as it relates to the ATF cannot be overemphasized.
• In keeping with the above discussions and within the context of regional integration, the WCO is planning a Conference on Regional Integration to be held immediately after the June 2015 Policy Commission and Council. This conference is envisaged to bring together various developments and outputs of other pertinent WCO Committees that provide assistance to the regional integration agenda. These will include, inter alia, work done or being done around Coordinated Border Management (CBM), Advanced Passenger Information/ Passenger Name Record (API/PNR), data quality within the SAFE Framework, issues and potential benefits of using Trader Identification Number (TIN), Mutual recognition of AEOs, etc.
• Work in preparation for the implementation of the Agreement on Trade Facilitation (ATF) constitute the main focal point around which programmes, discussions around standards setting and developing implementation tools pivot around. The expansive nature of the ATF dictates and requires an intergovernmental approach, especially by all border agencies and pertinent role-players in the Capital Pretoria to ensure coordinated effort. Accordingly, the process of establishing the National Trade Committee, as espoused by the ATF, is currently under way.
• Working within the regional ambit and in conjunction with the WCO, South Africa is running two pilot projects on exchange of data with both Swaziland and Mozambique. This work takes place within the context of the Globally Networked Customs (GNC) and the region-approved Utility Block (UB). Both these pilots have been successful and will in due cause be stepped up to encapsulate exchange of real time data once all the legal processes and approvals have been completed with respective governments. The outcome of, including the lessons learnt from these exercises are of vital importance to various WCO members and regions when they embark on similar projects given the centrality of automatic exchange of information in the implementation of the ATF.