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Highlights of the WCO Global Conference on Transit

From 10 to 11 July 2017, the WCO hosted its first Global Conference on Transit with the objective of boosting discussions among its Members on transit regimes’ efficiency and of promoting its Transit Guidelines, which were released in 2017.

Representatives from Customs administrations, development partners and international organizations attending the event welcomed this new WCO tool and affirmed their commitment to implementing the measures prescribed in it.

During the discussions, political will was identified as crucial for the improvement of transit conditions.  
On this point, the Minister of Finance of Zambia, Mr. Felix C. Mutati, reminded the audience of the African Union Summit decision to establish a Continental Free Trade Area by 2017 and the consensus among African countries on the need to cooperate to ensure freedom of transit on the African continent. Representatives from  several of Africa's Regional Economic Communities present at the Conference, such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), also highlighted the need to ensure that establishment functioning legal frameworks are in place to address the main challenges of regional transit regimes.

The use of existing information and communication technology (ICT) solutions was also raised at the Conference.  Today, numerous technologies are available to secure the movement of goods, such as electronic Customs seals which are actively used on containers transported from China to Europe and have proved to be reliable and efficient.  The regional electronic tracking system used for goods transiting between Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda was also mentioned as a successful project resulting from cooperation between neighbouring Customs administrations.  The Representative from ECOWAS informed participants that work has started to connect the IT systems of ECOWAS Members.  Regarding the challenges related to interconnectivity, the benefits of global implementation of the WCO Data Model were pointed out.  Challenges relating to the use of technology were also discussed, with the Director General of Togo Customs drawing the audience’s attention to limitations such as electricity blackouts or no internet connectivity.

Particular attention was given to the difficulties faced by landlocked developing countries.  During a special session on the issue, moderated by Ms. Gladys Mutangadura from the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), several concrete suggestions were made on how to turn land-lockedness into land-linkedness.  The Director General of Paraguay Customs indicated that trade transactions in his country incur 30% additional costs due to Paraguay’s geographical limitations.  The Representative from UN-OHRLLS confirmed that on average, LLDCs bear up to 40 % additional costs on trade transactions.  The investment being made in hard infrastructure, such as roads, rail infrastructure, intermodal logistical hubs and dry inland ports, remains one of the main priorities in order to improve the situation.  However, all the participants also confirmed the need for harmonization and simplification of border control procedures, as well as the promotion of ICT for the management of transit systems.  

Transit systems, such as the European Union’s New Computerised Transit System (NCTS), the Convention on International Transport of Goods Under Cover of TIR Carnets (TIR Convention) and relatively new transit facilitation initiatives in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), were also discussed in detail.  Turkey, a user of two transit systems - NCTS and TIR - highlighted the importance of digitalization of the transit processes and explained its involvement in the
e-TIR project aimed at providing an exchange platform for all actors (Customs authorities, holders and guarantee chains) involved in the TIR system.  In this regard, Turkey has participated in two pilot projects with two neighbouring countries, namely Georgia and Iran.

Railway transport is playing an increasingly important role in moving goods between countries in Eurasia, as explained by the Representatives from China and Russia Customs as well as the Representative from the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF).  It was pointed out that block trains now bring goods from China to Europe through Russia and Central Asian countries within a fortnight; four times faster than via maritime routes.  It is worth nothing that in the absence of a global instrument regulating the movement of trains across borders, which would obviously be of benefit to transit operations, bilateral agreements are the norm.

The Transit Guidelines were developed in close cooperation with international organizations and development partners, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), UN-OHRLLS, World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), and African Development Bank Group (AfDB).  During the session on “Enabling Transit Facilitation”, development partners, such as the WB, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and German International Cooperation (GIZ), confirmed their readiness to use the WCO Transit Guidelines in the implementation and design of their current and future capacity building and technical assistance projects.  Mr. Erich Kieck, a senior expert at the WB, stressed the need to compare the projects’ scope with the content of the Transit Guidelines.  The Representative from GIZ announced the organization of a regional transit workshop in Central Asia in conjunction with the WCO, while the Representative from JICA declared that his Agency will continue to support the implementation of One Stop Border Posts.

Last but not least, it was announced that the revision of the Transit Guidelines will be on the Agenda for the next sessions of the WCO Permanent Technical Committee.  The WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, noted the possibility of developing a separate publication on transit encompassing national or regional best practices. 

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