“Free zones often mean free from customs duties but should not be “free” from necessary customs procedures and controls. Customs should be there as one of the main authorities and needs to coordinate with all public and private authorities, with the objective of contributing to a safe and sustainable global trade ecosystem,” says the Deputy Secretary-General of World Customs Organisation (WCO), Mr. Ricardo Treviño Chapa.
Deputy Secretary-General of WCO, Mr. Ricardo Treviño Chapa stated this in his opening remarks at an online Regional Workshop on Free Zones for the North of Africa, North and Middle East (MENA) region organised by the World Customs Organization (WCO) last week.
The Chairman of Qatar Customs, H. E. Ahmed bin Abdullah Al Jamal highlighted the importance of facilitating the entrance and exit of cargo to FZs during the COVID-19 pandemic and capacity building for effective implementation of the WCO FZ Guidance in the MENA region. He also emphasized this workshop embodied the WCO theme for this year, “Customs to foster recovery, renewal, and resilience for a sustainable supply chain” in FZs.
The workshop, attended by experts from Customs administrations, FZ authorities from Qatar and Morocco, the private sector and the UNCTAD, covered the key elements identified by the WCO FZ Guidance for adequate Customs procedures in FZs. These include Customs involvement in FZs, effective Customs control including onsite check and Customs audit, risk management in FZs, origin determination of goods produced in FZs, reporting requirements with the use of IT, multidisciplinary and international cooperation and expanding the concept of Authorized Economic Operator in FZs.
Participants recognized the impact of the extraterritoriality of FZs and the significance of customs involvement in the development and operation of free zones for the competitiveness and sustainability of free zones.
Some MENA members shared their experience on strengthening Customs involvement via the application of better customs control and by conducting a joint onsite inspection with an FZ operating body. Also, the effectiveness and importance of connecting IT systems between Customs and FZ operating bodies were stressed. They also recognized that the sharing and use of data and advanced technologies, as well as enhanced cooperation, were prerequisites for improving the safety and security of FZs.
“Please share the results of this workshop within your administration with a message that now is the time when customs needs to fully involve in FZs based on the WCO FZ Guidance,” said Mr. Pranab Kumar DAS, Director of Compliance and Facilitation, in his closing remarks.
He expressed the desire that the workshop would trigger further discussions within all administrations on what customs can do to obtain a safe, secure and competitive business environment in FZs.