Sanaullah Abro, Director Customs Reforms & Automation / RMS



The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused unprecedented upheaval in the world. Irreparable human loss coupled with unparalleled economic crisis has brought uncertainty and disruption in the supply chain throughout the world which has eroded millions of livelihoods.

Customs at the borders stood steadfast to embrace the challenge and never shied away to ensure that relief goods and medical supplies reached to the crisis hit affected people and relief organization, paramedics and hospital without any iota of interruption. Like other parts of the world, Pakistan Customs also lost a number of officers and staff and many were affected by COVID-19 while performing their duties at borders.

They never buckled down and remained steadfast not to allow disruption in the supply chain, ensured relief medical supplies reach victims and in warehouses to avert the crisis from turning from bad to worse. And we succeeded.

The passing year started with fear and uncertainty. World economies were dipped and recession was set in. International trade went down by 6% in the first quarter of 2020.

COVID 19 drove large international trade declines in 2020 and the services sector remained hardest hit by falling 15.4 % to levels seen in the 1990 and merchandise trade declined by 5.6% the biggest fall since 2009 (UNCTAD 20). In the few months of the pandemic, almost 10 million people in the US lost their jobs in the crisis which turned worse than the financial crisis in 2009. Manufacturing activity slowed down in most of the emerging economies and the equity markets endured decline.

All this adversely affected production, consumption, supply chain and international trade crossing borders. The crisis generated a number of trade restrictions and simultaneously triggered various trade facilitation measures. Pakistan Customs adopted the changes smoothly and enforced the measures diligently for sustainability of trade supply chain.

As the crisis broke, the World Customs Organization came forward and provided guidelines and issued SOPs on how Customs administrations all over the world deal with crises, particularly managing the clearance of goods at borders.

Through WCO web-site regular updates about the pandemic were provided and necessary guidelines about the use of instruments, tools, initiatives and databases were provided to handle the untoward situation in COVID-19. WCO issued COVID reference list for classification of medical supplies required in crisis in coordination with the WHO.

It facilitated Member countries including Pakistan to issue SROs for exemption for specific medical items which helped in making urgent clearance of medical supplies at borders.

In addition, the WCO invited the attention of Customs administrations to use important tools required in managing the crisis such as the 2011 Resolution of the Customs Cooperation Council on the Role of Customs in Natural Disaster Relief, Guidelines to Chapter 5 of Specific Annex J to Revised Kyoto Convention.

Pakistan Customs continued to work uninterruptedly amid the Corona crisis. The staff at cross border points continued to serve 24/7 ensuring the life saving supplies are reaching timely to the affected and hospitals are not short of medicines. Special provisions of prior release and the immediate clearance were applied at all major airports to release the related shipments immediately.

All relevant relief agencies and government organizations were helped out to handle urgent cargos. The Govt regulations to control COVID related supplies and export of face masks were enforced stringently. Customs staff went beyond the call of duty and raised themselves at the time of crisis when the nation needed them the most. They sacrificed their lives, risked their health and performed more than expectations.

The lesson learnt from the crisis is to harness cooperation among nations of the world, promote multilateralism, establish close working relations with cross border agencies, create partnerships with trade, leverage technology and establish permanent communication channels to manage pandemics effectively to maintain the sustainability of supply chain.