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Charting new horizons in Global Trade: Insights from the 6th WCO Global AEO Conference

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BRUSSELS : From May 8-10, 2024, the World Customs Organization (WCO) convened its 6th Global Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) Conference in the vibrant city of Shenzhen, China. Marking the return to in-person gatherings following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, this Conference, supported by the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China, brought together an array of global trade leaders under the theme “Harnessing the Power of AEO Programmes for Inclusive and Sustainable Global Trade.” Over three days, the event served as a platform for insightful discussions on the future of international trade and the pivotal role of AEO programmes.

Kicking off the conference, WCO Secretary General Ian Saunders set the tone with an opening address that not only welcomed attendees, but also outlined the agenda ahead. The Secretary General underscored the critical role of AEO programmes in fostering a collaborative environment where trade efficiency and security are paramount. Emphasizing the vision of making AEO programmes accessible and advantageous across all sectors of global trade, especially for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), he highlighted their potential to drive employment and economic growth worldwide.

Addressing the significant gap between MSMEs’ contribution to GDP and their representation in global exports, the Secretary General stressed the need to simplify the AEO application process, making it more accessible to smaller enterprises. This approach aims to demystify the compliance landscape and broaden understanding, thus encouraging greater participation in international trade.

Furthermore, Secretary General Saunders highlighted the importance of mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) and other forms of international cooperation in amplifying the benefits of AEO programmes globally. Strengthening these agreements enhances the attractiveness and value of AEO programmes, contributing to a more secure and efficient global supply chain.

The Vice Minister of the General Administration of China Customs (GACC), Wang Lingjun, thanked the WCO for organizing the conference in Shenzhen and extended a warm welcome to all the participants from around the world. He expressed China Customs’ strong willingness to actively respond to the WCO’s call on cooperation, join hands with other parties and stakeholders, capitalize on the advantages of AEO programmes and contribute to promoting the sustainable development of the global trade.

The Mayor of Shenzhen city, Qin Weizhong, congratulated the successful opening of the conference in Shenzhen. He emphasized the significance of this conference in strengthening AEO international mutual recognition cooperation, achieving high-level mutual benefits and win-win outcomes and safeguarding global supply chain security as well as facilitating trade. The Mayor also underscored that Shenzhen stood ready to integrate into a more open global economy through deepening cooperation with the WCO and different Customs administrations.

Throughout the conference, discussions delved into various dimensions of the AEO initiative. Plenary sessions explored how AEO programmes serve as a cornerstone for economic security and growth, streamlining Customs procedures while bolstering supply chain efficiency and security through enhanced cooperation across borders.

A notable session focused on advancing women’s empowerment through AEO programmes, addressing gender-specific barriers in global trade and outlining strategies to foster inclusivity. Another session examined the intersection of technology with Customs and trade facilitation, showcasing innovations in risk management and trade processes through data analytics and emerging technologies.

Harmonization and recognition of AEO standards across different jurisdictions were also pivotal topics. Participants explored challenges and opportunities in creating a seamless global trade mechanism through MRAs, aiming to enhance the predictability and reliability of cross-border trade operations.

In addition to presentations, interactive streams allowed for deeper engagement on specialized topics, including the expansion of AEO programmes to free zones and fostering an AEO culture within Customs administrations and the private sector.

Additionally, an outcome of this event will be the drafting of a Shenzhen Action Plan, intended for discussion at the forthcoming 30th WCO SAFE Working Group Meeting in November 2024. This draft plan will consolidate the key highlights of the conference and propose possible pathways for various topics deliberated upon, serving as a supporting foundation for the new draft Work Programme of the SAFE Working Group for the period spanning 2025-2028.

The 6th WCO Global AEO Conference in Shenzhen was a testament to the collaborative effort required to foster a secure, efficient, and inclusive global trade environment. The discussions and decisions made at this event are expected to have a lasting impact on the development and implementation of AEO programmes worldwide, helping to shape a more integrated and equitable global trading system.

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