In the spirit of the strategic partnership between ICC and WCO, the meeting, taking place from 16-17 October, gathered 50 participants from 20 countries to discuss ICC’s work in the area of trade facilitation. Participants included large multinational companies such as Fedex, Diageo and Samsung, as well as chambers of commerce and business associations representing a large number of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Opening the meeting, Norman Schenk, Vice-President of Global Customs Policy and Public Affairs at UPS and Chair of the ICC Commission on Customs and Trade Facilitation, emphasized the importance of Customs-Business partnerships. Illustrating the transparent and constructive continuous dialogue between ICC and the WCO, several representatives and experts of the WCO Secretariat, including WCO Deputy Director Compliance and Facilitation Heike Barczyk, participated in the commission’s deliberations on reducing barriers to cross-border trade.
Guest speaker Mr Mikuriya recognized ICC as the longest standing partner of the WCO in the context of customs-business cooperation. He encouraged ICC to share its insight in emerging new business models and to provide advice on how border procedures should be improved to support a true business environment. Mr Mikuriya said: “Borders divide but Customs connect”. Pointing out the increasing significance of global value chains and e-commerce, ICC commission members emphasized the importance of taking into account the experiences of SMEs’ while addressing bottlenecks hampering cross-border trade. Improved border and customs measures could trigger a 60-80% increase in cross-border SME sales in some economies, according to research. The proliferation of non-preferential rules of origin was also identified as a substantial challenge, for SMEs in particular, while at the same time it was noted that increasing Customs Deminimis thresholds could increase opportunities for cross-border trade.
Addressing the impasse on ratification of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade Facilitation (TFA), Mr Mikurya said: “Regardless of what happens with the TFA, in the short term we will push for trade facilitation.” It is noted that while the TFA is a WTO agreement, 85% of the articles will have to be implemented by border agencies and the WCO Mercator Programme offers a practical framework to ensure consistent implementation. Despite the setback in negotiations at the WTO, Mr Mikuriya underlined that the objective and importance of trade facilitation were not in question. While WTO negotiators are trying to address the political bottlenecks in Geneva, Customs agencies and the business community remain natural allies in enhancing trade facilitation. This is illustrated by ICC’s launch of an intense advocacy campaign to mobilize its global business network to push for ratification of the TFA signed in Bali in December 2013. Highlighting the diversity of the members of the commission – both geographically and in ideas and views – the commission chair reconfirmed ICC’s support to work together with Customs around the globe to drive economic growth. “ICC can help connect the dots in bringing the different groups together: Customs, trade and other government agencies,” said Mr Schenk.
Participants underscored that a major priority for the business community is the implementation of a ‘single-window’ system leading to commercially meaningful results. Such a one-stop shop would enable cross-border traders to submit necessary documents at a single agency or location. Noting that there was growing political understanding and support for streamlined border procedures and for the required cooperation between government agencies at the country level, Mr Mikurya said: “Political support can be encouraged by the private sector: in a way you are in the driver’s seat and Customs benefit from that.”
During its meeting the commission worked on business recommendations on Authorized Economic Operator programmes, the nexus between transport and the environment, Free Trade Zones, non-preferential rules of origin, and on providing business input to the forthcoming WCO Customs-Business Partnership Guidance. The WCO Guidance will lay out lessons learned to Customs agencies around the world on how to set up cooperation mechanism at the country level. Under the leadership of Vice-Chair Jean-Marie Salva, members also discussed ICC’s position on transfer pricing, Customs valuation, and ICC’s engagement in the Technical Committee on Customs Valuation and the WCO Harmonized System Committee. Recently appointed Vice-Chair Fernando Barbosa from Mexico led a discussion on the need for electronic Customs documentation in the context of Customs modernization and global value chains.
To improve business’ understanding of trade facilitation and the benefits for trade and economic growth of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation, ICC has created a practical online resource centre that provides an overview of available trade facilitation tools and guidelines. The overview includes information on the WCO Implementation Guide and the Mercator Programme.
The ICC Commission on Customs and Trade Facilitation has over 250 members from 50 countries. Commission members comprise customs policy, transport and logistics specialists from ICC member companies and business representative organizations.