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Members and stakeholders provide new impetus to future WCO work on cross-border e-commerce

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BELGIUM : World Customs Organization (WCO) held its Second Global Conference on Cross-Border E-Commerce on 28 and 29 June 2021, which was organized with the financial support of the Customs Cooperation Fund of Japan and gathered more than 800 experts from Member Customs administrations, partner international organizations, regional organizations, industry associations, the private sector, development partners and academia.

The online event was themed “Customs united effort on Recovery, Renewal and Resilience for a sustainable E-Commerce supply chain” and, throughout its six sessions, benefited from the insights shared by Directors General and high-level speakers from Customs administrations from all continents, Heads of International Organizations, and distinguished speakers from a variety of e-commerce stakeholders, including a number of private sector companies.

“New business models and the characteristics of e-commerce present a number of challenges that affect the basic principles of traditional Customs procedures”, said the WCO Secretary General, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya in his opening speech. “The WCO Framework of Standards on Cross Border E-Commerce offers 15 standards that broadly cover all issues of relevance to the management of the growing volumes of small and low-value consignments”, the WCO Secretary General added. “The Framework was developed between 2016 and 2018 as a result of intensive and futuristic discussions, not only among Customs, but also with e-commerce stakeholders and relevant international organizations, and subsequently the E-Commerce Package was finalized in 2020. During the conference we will hear about a number of initiatives and experiences related to the implementation of the Framework and the associated Package”, explained Dr. Mikuriya.

The Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Mr. John Denton, joined the WCO Secretary General in the opening session of the conference and highlighted the paramount importance attributed by the ICC to the relationship with the WCO. “The future belongs to a fully digitally-enabled trading system”, said Mr. Denton. “Customs administrations have made remarkable steps to secure cross-border trade in the face of the unprecedented shock created by the spread of the coronavirus. From an economic perspective, you are the true heroes of the pandemic. But it is vital that we don’t lose the gains that we have made through your emergency actions”, the ICC Secretary General added.

The WCO Deputy Secretary General, Mr. Ricardo Treviño, set the scene for Session 2 of the Conference that was devoted to the Customs perspective on e-commerce during the COVID-19 crisis and resilience of the e-commerce supply chain. High-level speakers from the United States Customs and Border Protection, the Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union of the European Commission and China Customs shared their views on the benefits of full implementation of the WCO E-Commerce Framework of Standards and the supporting tools forming part of the WCO E-Commerce Package. The speakers provided insightful information on various pilots and initiatives being implemented by their respective administrations in areas such as the exchange of advance electronic data (AED), fair and efficient revenue collection, simplified return procedures and partnerships in particular with e-marketplaces and e-platforms. “The WCO E-Commerce Framework of Standards and Package have been a global game changer in these endeavours”, one of the Session 2 speakers said. Information on various trends was also shared with conference participants, such as the use of all modes of transport for the transportation of e-commerce shipments and the exploitation of the e-commerce channel for illicit activities, such as the cross-border movement of counterfeit and dangerous goods.

Mr. Hideaki Genshin, Deputy Director General of Japan Customs, launched and moderated Conference Session 3, which was aimed at discussing the private sector perspective in adapting to new business models and expanding the concept of Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) to e-commerce stakeholders. The Director General of Belgian Customs and high-level speakers from Amazon, Dubai Customs and DHL examined the challenges and benefits to establishing mutually beneficial partnerships between Customs and e-commerce stakeholders. One speaker identified the need for adapting the existing legislative frameworks to enable the exchange and use of the huge volume of data that was already available in the supply chain. Among the challenges mentioned in this regard were cyber-security, data privacy and trust. The session also highlighted the importance of the new business models for micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). Less administrative burden was to the benefit of MSMEs, but presented a challenge to governments, and this was where e-commerce platforms came into play to support governments through partnerships based on trust. Ideas and experiences of expanding of the AEO concept to e-commerce stakeholders were discussed and received many questions. The Customs community, together with e-commerce stakeholders, needs to further consider the necessary adaptation of the AEO concept by collecting additional practical information and experiences globally to refine the WCO Secretariat Note on expanding the AEO concept to cross border e-commerce.

Session 4 of the Conference was themed “Reinforcing collaboration and harnessing technology” and was moderated by the Director General of Customs of the Kingdom of Bahrain and Chairperson of the WCO Council, Mr. Ahmed Al Khalifa. In this session, the Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization, the Director of Postal Operations at the Universal Postal Union and the Director-General of the Global Express Association shared their perspectives on collaboration and cooperation to facilitate and secure cross-border e-commerce, and on digitalization and the use of technologies in this regard. The importance and acceleration towards fully digitalized trade procedures was stressed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants heard that the use of AED between carriers, postal operators and Customs for a seamless and paperless e-commerce supply chain has been further promoted.

The WCO Director for Compliance and Facilitation, Mr. Pranab Kumar Das, set the scene for Conference Session 5, which was aimed at delving into the issue of ensuring safety and security through cooperation and the use of data and technologies. Panelists from the Korea Customs Service, the International Narcotics Control Board, the Canada Border Services Agency and a start-up company Dynaxion B.V. talked about various projects and initiatives involving the use of block chain, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and other innovative technologies with a great potential of contributing to the efforts of ensuring the safety and security in the e-commerce supply chain. In this regard, speakers underlined the importance of partnering with experts from industry and academia to explore opportunities to modernize Customs processes through technology-based solutions.

Conference Session 6 discussed the importance of fair and efficient revenue collection and was moderated by Mr. Guénolé Mbongo Koumou, Director General of Customs and Indirect Taxes of the Republic of the Congo and Vice-Chairperson of the WCO Council for the West and Central Africa Region. The session benefited from insightful presentations by the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force, and high-level speakers from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Alibaba Group. In particular, the need for collaboration was underlined where Customs and tax and other agencies should work together for effective revenue collection and for sharing intelligence to detect suspected illicit behavior.

In his closing remarks, the WCO Secretary General thanked all speakers and participants in the Conference for providing new impetus for future WCO work in the area of cross-border e-commerce. He reminded participants that innovative solutions would never come without a diversity of experiences and would never be implemented without collaboration. He urged participants to sit down with the e-commerce stakeholders to identify the gaps and to find solutions. In conclusion, the WCO Secretary General emphasized that the WCO will keep providing opportunities to share and discuss e-commerce with Customs, International Organizations and e-commerce stakeholders, to lead the second stage of implementation of the E-Commerce Framework of Standards, and the envisaged review of the Framework.

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