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WCO - The time has come to take ownership for Customs involvement in Free Zones

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According to the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the time has come for customs to take control of Free Zones (FZ) in order to deter illegal trade. 

Mr Brendan O’Hearn, WCO Deputy Director of Procedures and Facilitation, reported this recently at an online international workshop on Free Zones hosted by the WCO for the Asia Pacific area. 

“Now is the time for Customs to take ownership of their involvement in free zones,” Brendan O’Hearn said, voicing his hope that the workshop will spark more dialogue among all customs administrations on what customs can do to ensure a clean, stable, and competitive business environment in free zones. The workshop, which was held in collaboration with the WCO Asia Pacific Regional Office for Capacity Building (ROCB/AP), was aimed at exploring how to apply the WCO Practical Guidance on Free Zones (FZ Guidance) in a harmonized and effective manner since it was endorsed by the 2020 December Council. 

Mr Pranab Kumar Das, WCO Director of Compliance and Facilitation, said, “Preventing illegal trade in free zones leads to enhancing the economic climate and competitiveness of free zones in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.” 

Mr Norikazu Kuramoto, the Head of the ROCB/AP, spoke about the significance of capacity building for the successful implementation of the WCO FZ Guidance in the AP area. 

During the three-day workshop, experts from Customs departments, free zone authorities, the private sector, and international organizations gave informative presentations. The OECD Free Zone Recommendations and the WCO FZ Guidance have good complementarities, according to a spokesperson from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He emphasized that the OECD and the WCO should work together to provide Members and the private sector with effective anti-illicit trade guidelines. 

The core elements defined by the WCO Free Zone Guidance for adequate Customs procedures in FZs were discussed in this workshop. Customs participation in FZs, successful Customs regulation, including onsite checks and audits, IPR protection, origin determination of products manufactured in FZs, data and technology usage, multidisciplinary and international collaboration, and extending the definition of Approved Economic Operator in FZs are among them. 

Participants acknowledged the influence of FZ extraterritoriality and the importance of Customs participation in the creation and activity of free zones for the competitiveness and survival of free zones by in-depth discussions on these subjects. They also acknowledged that improved collaboration, as well as the exchange and usage of data and emerging technology, was essential for enhancing the protection and security of FZs.

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