Customs Bolstering Recovery, Renewal and Resilience for a Sustainable Supply Chain

Faiz Ahmad, Chief Collector of Customs Enforcement Central



The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the economy of the world in the year 2020. It took the lives of millions of people around the globe and changed the lifestyles of billions into a new normal.

Complete shutdown of every aspect of life was seen as the only solution to contain the spread of this previously unknown virus. The pandemic not only posed unprecedented challenge to public health and safety but also to the international supply chain.

Furthermore, international trade saw an unparalleled decline around the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains worldwide and revealed vulnerabilities on a scale never before experienced.

From shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) to delays in obtaining parts and materials, we saw firsthand the fragility of global trade and supply chain.

Around 190 Customs Administrations celebrate the World Customs Day under the leadership of World Customs Organization (WCO) each year on 26th January.

This year the WCO has decided to celebrate a theme well interlinked with the past chain of events related to the world economy and the resolve of Customs to not only overcome the challenges but to make the Customs Administrations resilient to any further shocks through promotion of resilience and sustainability.

Around the globe, the Administrations will celebrate World Customs Day under the slogan “Customs bolstering Recovery, Renewal and Resilience for a sustainable supply chain”.

This year’s WCO theme mainly emphasizes on digitization of supply chain processes, data sharing across the entire supply chain, strengthening & collaboration of Customs Administrations with international communities so that the economies around the world are capable of weathering future storms.

Throughout 2021, the custom community will be focusing on contribution towards restructuring of the global supply chain and strengthening operational resilience. By making the supply chain more resilient, we will be better positioned to recover from the current pandemic and be ready to immediately respond to future disasters.

Since the coronavirus crisis has revealed fragility of the supply chain, it has led to the development of themes focused at emerging from this contagious crisis by strengthening the global supply chain.

While there is definitely much to be achieved on the trade facilitation front, I am pleased, to share that during the year 2020, Customs Administrations were far more prepared than many other Governmental Organizations to cope with the pandemic due to automation and use of information and communication technology (ICT).

The use of advanced software and Artificial Intelligence, by many countries for clearance of goods, helped in reduction of face to face contact and paper documentation. Many countries, for example, use the UNCAD Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) to electronically submit and exchange data/documentation, and computerized procedures to expedite the clearance of imports, exports, transits and other trade transactions, thereby reducing to a great extent the need for face-to-face interaction.

Back home, Pakistan Customs has achieved a reasonably effective level of automation in the form of WeBOC-Glo, a web-based computerized clearance system, providing end to end automated customs clearance of import and export of goods, thereby reducing customs processing time (under 04 hours) while maintaining transparency and integrity.

WeBoc allows all routine custom processes to be performed online by customs without involvement of trader or agent along with computerized loading and gate out events. WeBOC has reduced the cost of doing business enabling increase in Customs Efficiency and efficient deployment of resources.

Supply chain visibility initiatives will allow all the stakeholders in the supply chain to share data while ensuring privacy and security. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies and WCO proposes to use TradeTech (shifting from analogue to digital process & to achieve greater connectivity and collaboration in trade process).

Since, COVID-19 pandemic has come to question the very fabric of our global marketplace, in an unprecedented way, replacing arcane custom processes by adopting digital technologies, enhancing international supply chain security as well as transparency and working on trade facilitation agenda will help to achieve WCO to accomplish objectives at international level.

The WCO Customs Environmental Scan 2020 helps the Administrations understand the political, economic, social, technological and legal (PESTLE) developments as well as the impact that these developments could have on the way Customs operates.

Environmental Scan 2020 focused on the impacts of pandemic and the response of custom in dealing with it by providing countries the requisite tools and information so that the flow of goods and other trade related activities could be carried out without hindrance.

The environmental scan 2020 is important as it makes us aware of the global trends and gives food for thought for developing new policies and altering existing ones for good. During the year 2020 WCO helped the Administrations by providing guidance on sensitive issues related to international trade

WCO played a very crucial role in mitigating the deep impacts of the crisis by providing guidelines and valuable assistance to customs administrations around the world in time. The annual WCO PICARD Conference (23rd-26th Nov, 2020) was held virtually and was attended by a huge number of participants.

The conference was dominated by debate on COVID and response of Custom Administrations while dealing with the crisis. After three days of intense discussion, WCO concluded by guiding members to place more focus on digitization and utilization of WCO tools especially AEO (authorized economic operator) and single window for facilitating the trade.

Moreover, WCO has developed various prominent tools and instruments for enhancing supply chain security such as SAFE framework of standards including risk management using advanced electronic information and custom administrations around the world played a vital role in strengthening supply chain security by implementing best practices in custom operation and policies.

WCO HS Classification List for COVID-19 Medical Supplies accelerated the cross-border movement of goods by systematizing codes of commodity nomenclatures of foreign economic activity. The COVID-19 pandemic has reiterated the importance of both WCO Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) and World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), including major concepts supported by these instruments: an all-digital clearance process and efficient risk management.

Pakistan Customs during the year 2020, acted resiliently in facilitating all stakeholders. Several measures were taken to facilitate the cross border movement of relief goods and essential supplies (like coronavirus detection kits, surgical masks, multi-mode ventilators with air compressors, face shields, and other medical supplies).

Exemption of custom duty, regulatory duty and additional custom duty on medical and testing equipment was also provided. Sales tax was also exempted on medical and testing equipment related to the health and safety of the citizens of Pakistan.

In order to mitigate the impact of supply chain relationship to global shock, Pakistan Customs assured 24/7 clearance of cargo at ports, airports and all land border stations for protecting the social and economic interest of people. Moreover, a large number of anti-smuggling operations were carried out during the pandemic.

It is important to highlight here the heroic efforts of courageous and inspiring officers during these trying times. Pakistan Customs lost many dedicated and meticulous officers/officials, while fighting the COVID and performing official duties.

Shaheed Zahid Khokhar did not have a pre-existing medical condition but was tested positive for COVID-19 and could not win the battle against this deadly virus. We salute our martyrs and frontline workers on the World Customs Day as they make us proud during these trying times.

We are far from being able to assess the actual implications of COVID-19, yet there seems to be consensus about the need for transformative measures. One thing, however, has become very clear; the continued importance of global trade and of initiatives supporting the smooth flow of goods across borders, especially essential goods to areas where they are most needed.

Pakistan Customs will build on its experience and closely coordinate with international as well as national trade communities. One thing is for sure, that the global crisis calls for global answers. Pakistan Customs will provide full support to WCO and other trade bodies in order to make the movement of passengers, goods and transport as smooth and swift as possible for solidarity and coordination are crucial, within and among countries; no one is safe unless all of us are safe.

In the end I would like to sincerely congratulate the officers and officials of Pakistan Customs on this auspicious occasion, for their dedicated role and services during these trying times.

I expect them to continue to strive for greater professionalism in line with international best practices, to enable them to take intelligent enforcement decisions on the basis of information sharing, targeted data analysis and greater engagement with stakeholders to ensure sustainability of the global supply chain.

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