International customs standards adopted

World Customs Organization

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Robert Bonner, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency’s commissioner, announced the formation of a new unit that will help developing countries build systems that provide electronic information and other capabilities.

A standards decision by an international organization preceded the unit’s creation. The World Customs Organization (WCO), an independent intergovernmental body based in Brussels, Belgium, yesterday afternoon adopted a minimum set of standards that would help customs officials worldwide seamlessly and securely transport cargo from port to port.

“This is truly a milestone and it will make safe global trade not just a concept but a reality,” Bonner said from Brussels via videoconference to several Washington, D.C.-based reporters.

Nearly 100 or about one-third of the 166 member governments have signed a declaration of intent to implement the framework, which would require them to use interoperable electronic systems to share advance information that identifies high-risk containers or cargo. The document also calls for the use of non-intrusive inspection equipment, an automated risk assessment system and development of performance measures, among other principles.

Pravin Gordhan, chairman of the WCO Council and commissioner of the South African Revenue Service, said the WCO members represent 98 percent of world trade, so adoption of the standards will make an impact.

Bonner said the framework provides a security envelope “beyond anything that’s ever existed in the movement of global trade.” Essentially, he said goods can be moved more rapidly, predictably and efficiently than ever before. Essentially, nations will try to secure their supply management chain to improve accountability and transparency, while reducing fraud, waste and theft.

A principle component of the framework is helping other nations build their capacity once they commit to the international standards. The United States along with several others – including Canada, Japan, the European Union, and Australia – have pledged to provide assistance, WCO officials and Bonner said.

Bonner said CBP’s new capacity building unit will provide technical assistance and training to other nations that request such help. But he said the framework also requires them to implement certain practices and policies, such as the notion of inspecting outbound cargo that may pose a security threat.

“That’s a revolutionary concept because we’re typically looking at what’s coming into these countries,” he said. Such practices require risk management tools and non-intrusive inspection equipment, such as X-ray machines and radiation detectors.

He said CBP will also reach out to leading institutions and funding entities, such as the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States, to help WCO’s capacity building initiative, Bonner added.

The WCO has also created a new capacity building directorate and his agency will assign a “capacity building attaché” to the WCO directorate, but Bonner stopped short of saying how much money the United States will pledge because the internationals standards were just adopted yesterday, he said.

But Bonner said there are “hundreds of millions” of dollars out there at least to help other nations build their technological customs capacities.

Through a translator, Michel Danet, the WCO secretary general, said Canada has pledged about $3.2 billion to help Central American and Caribbean nations in this initiative. But while money is important to build capacity, he said there are certain things that developed countries can provide. For instance he said the Brazilian government recently purchased $600 million of X-ray equipment, but needed experts to help them install it.

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