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Charting the Future of Customs : Insights from the 243rd/244th PTC Meetings of WCO

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BRUSSELS : The 243rd/244th sessions of the Permanent Technical Committee (PTC) took place from 23 to 26 April 2024, in Brussels, Belgium. The meeting brought together more than three hundred delegates from WCO Members, international organizations, the private sector and academia to discuss, provide guidance and endorse issues on a wide range of topics. The blend of perspectives and experiences added depth and richness to the discussions. Since its first meeting in April 1953, this Committee has played a pivotal role in promoting trade facilitation instruments and tools and addressing contemporary challenges that Customs are facing.

In his inaugural address to the PTC as WCO Secretary General, Ian Saunders thanked delegates for their contributions to the PTC, emphasizing their expertise and dedication. He highlighted the PTC’s role in addressing trade facilitation issues and the importance of partnerships, echoing the theme of the year, “Customs engaging traditional and new partners with purpose.” The Secretary General urged delegates to reflect on their contributions and adapt to challenges like disruptive technologies and big data. He outlined key themes: cooperation, technology utilization, and adaptability. Examples included the WTO TFA implementation and discussions on blockchain and the Smart Customs Project. He stressed the need for continual evolution, citing ongoing reviews of initiatives like the E-Commerce package. Finally, the Secretary General encouraged active engagement from delegates in shaping the future of Customs.

On the first day, the PTC discussed the 2024 WCO Theme of the Year. Representatives from a range of organizations participated in a roundtable session and explored potential collaborations aligned with WCO objectives. The PTC provided guidance on future work of the WCO and encouraged Members to continue to seek opportunities to forge relationships with new stakeholders, to break down silos, and ensure new and established partnerships are equipped to adapt to modern challenges. The WTO Trade Facilitation Committee (TFC) Chair addressed developments taking place in that Committee and how they relate to the activities of the WCO. Furthermore, the WTO Secretariat briefed the PTC on the state of play regarding Trade Facilitation Agreement implementation. Through a panel discussion, the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility (TFAF) and Annex D organizations discussed the WCO’s cooperation with them and how collaboration and synergies between the WCO and these traditional partners can be strengthened. Presentations on multi-agency initiatives such as the Global Trade Helpdesk (GTH) and Trade4SMEs were featured. The PTC embraced the discussions, emphasizing a proactive approach to Customs practices and fostering international partnerships.

On the second day, discussions focused on e-commerce, highlighting progress and Member experiences with implementing the Cross-Border E-Commerce Framework of Standards. The PTC identified potential areas of the E-Commerce Package that might need to be reviewed and potentially amended during the second periodic review of the E-Commerce Package. Furthermore, presentations by major players including Amazon, Alibaba Group, and the United Kingdom explored e-commerce fulfillment and its implications for Customs. Discussions also covered the topic of expanding the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) concept to cross-border e-commerce, as well as updates on the WTO e-commerce negotiations. The PTC also endorsed the 5th edition of the Compendium of Case Studies on E-Commerce. Other topics of discussion on this day were traveler facilitation and control and the WCO Smart Customs Project.

On the third day, delegates discussed enhancing Customs operations and trade facilitation. “Digital Customs” focused on improving control, security, and compliance through blockchain technology. The PTC endorsed a concept paper exploring the challenges and benefits of blockchain use by Customs. The agenda item on “Single Window” (SW) aimed at streamlining trade processes, with a focus on updating international best practices. The PTC shared and discussed national/regional SW implementation practices and provided guidance on potential updates to the SW Compendium, focusing on consistency and optimal data exchange. The establishment of a mini- group for updating the SW Compendium was welcomed. Talks on Customs-Port Cooperation emphasized revising the guidelines for better collaboration. Discussions on Rules of Origin highlighted the ongoing feasibility studies followed by an examination and endorsement of the Business Process Models (BPM) and the revised dataset for the Interconnectivity Framework’s e-Certificate of Origin of the . The PTC also took note of the progress made and provided guidance on updating the TRS CLiKC! e-learning module and the TRS Guide.

On the final day, delegates focused on advancing Customs operations and trade facilitation. Presentations on transit initiatives aimed at supporting landlocked developing countries in addressing the challenges they face. The PTC then noted and acknowledged the success of the implementation of the SIGMAT system, which has delivered a positive impact for the West African countries involved–recognizing it could be used as a blueprint for connecting all Customs administrations in the region and beyond. The PTC also had an opportunity to discuss and provide guidance on the need to develop or update existing tools recommending that this should be done in line with the upcoming Strategic Plan in the areas under its responsibility. The draft Resolution of the Customs Co-operation Council on Strengthening Customs-Industry Resilience was endorsed. The “Green Customs” session highlighted waste shipment management progress. The PTC took note of the presentation by the Basel Convention Secretariat regarding the progress made by the Small Intersessional Working Group, which was entrusted by the Conference of the Parties at its Sixteenth Meeting (COP-16) to work on improving the functioning of the Prior Informed Consent procedure by identifying implementation challenges along with best practices and possible approaches and initiatives to be considered. Updates on the Glossary of International Customs Terms were shared and the Revised PTC Work Programme 2022-2025, including the progress in terms of its implementation since April 2023 meeting, were endorsed.

The PTC concluded by electing Hoai Nguyen of Vietnam as the Chairperson and Abraham F. Siafa of Liberia as the Vice-Chairperson for the financial year 2024/2025.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Pranab Kumar Das, Director of Compliance and Facilitation, expressed gratitude to delegates for their invaluable contributions, highlighting their passion and expertise in shaping Customs practices. He emphasized the significance of collaboration in addressing emerging challenges and commended the diverse topics covered. Mr. Das congratulated David Saville, the outgoing Chairperson, and Ririn Septiani, the outgoing Vice-Chairperson, welcomed their successors, and assured continued support from the WCO Secretariat. He thanked all delegates for their active participation and appreciated the efforts of the organizing team and technicians, looking forward to reconvening in October

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