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World Meeting of Customs Law Brussels 2013

From 4 to 6 September the World Meeting of Customs Law 2013 was held in Brussels. The meeting which is held annually since 2005 is organized by the International Customs Law Academy (ICLA). All speakers are experts in the customs profession and come from different countries and fields of expert. This year’s conference was held under the title “Studies on Harmonization of Customs Law and Contributions of the Academy for updating and improving the WCO Instruments”.  Prof. Dr. Hans-Michael Wolffgang participated in the 2013 conference representing the University of Muenster. In the following paragraphs you can read an abstract of the speech Prof. Dr. Wolffgang delivered at the conference. It is bearing the title "Legal thoughts on how to merge trade facilitation and safety and security".


Legal thoughts on how to merge trade facilitation and safety and security

by Prof. Dr. Hans-Michael Wolffgang, University of Muenster, Muenster/Germany;        Dr. Edward Kafeero, Uganda Martyrs University, Kampala/Uganda

Trade facilitation understood as the simplification, standardization and harmonization of procedures and associated information flows required to move goods from seller to buyer and to make payment has a lot to do with security of the global trade supply chain. Different international bodies interested in trade matters have come up with various rules, regulations, guidelines and other instruments intended to enhance trade facilitation and safety and security. This multiplicity of regulations causes some duplications and redundancies which may ultimately complicate the implementation of trade facilitation and supply chain security measures. As a solution to this, we explore the possibility of merging trade facilitation and safety and security by means of a single binding agreement under the auspices of either World Trade Organization or World Customs Organization.

The preference for a single binding agreement is based on our contention that hard law (as opposed to soft law)  is more likely to be effective particularly with regard to the implementation of trade facilitation and security-related provisions. And this is because hard law tends to increase states’ commitment to international agreements; can be self-executing or require domestic legal enactment; and foresees dispute settlement mechanisms which aid enforcement.

By comparing the various trade facilitation and safety and security instruments under the WCO particularly the Revised Kyoto Convention and the SAFE Framework, it is evidenced that trade facilitation and supply chain security are just different sides of the same coin. In other words, the trade facilitation principles and standards contained in the Revised Kyoto Convention are the basis of the safety and security provisions. Moreover, it is shown that some provisions of the SAFE Framework are similar in content to those of the Revised Kyoto Convention. It is therefore argued that these two instruments need to be merged and an all-encompassing agreement under the auspices of the WCO be formed. This, however, should concurrently go with the institution of an effective dispute settlement system under the same organization.

The on-going trade facilitation negotiations under the WTO are also discussed and it is observed that in the current consolidated negotiating text safety and security issues are not adequately addressed. In this regard, we therefore hold that it is feasible to merge trade facilitation and security at the WTO level as long as substantive safety and security provisions are incorporated. In addition, it would be preferred that this agreement provides for the establishment of a “Technical Committee on Trade Facilitation and Security” managed by the World Customs Organization just as it is the case with the technical committees on customs valuation and rules of origin.

Text: Philipp Busche

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