The coronavirus crisis has shone a spotlight on how challenging it is for countries to protect the health of the population. To contain the pandemic, governments have taken unprecedented measures such as closing borders or shutting off large areas of their territories.
These measures can cause major disruptions to global supply chains and transportation systems. According to the World Trade Organization, global trade in goods could fall in 2020 between 13% and 32%, depending on the scenario modeled.
In the absence of health crisis management policies that would enable timely interventions, such as large-scale testing campaigns and intelligent data management for contact tracing, governments have taken short-term measures to contain the emergency, including closing borders or restricting border crossings.
Given this context, customs administrations play a critical role in guaranteeing supply capacity during the crisis and mitigating sanitary, social and economic difficulties.
To do this, customs services need to coordinate their efforts efficiently with other authorities involved in clearing goods and people across borders. In other words, countries should be operating coordinated border management schemes.
Some countries have placed restrictions on passenger flows, but still allow trade in goods and services to guarantee the supply of food, medicines, sanitary equipment, intermediate goods, telecommunications equipment, and fuels, among others, to maintain national production at a minimum level.
Supply chains need to continue to function
Supply chains need to remain as intact as possible to prevent the collapse of the global trading and financial system, and to maintain domestic production and employment levels in critical sectors of the economy.
While health services are at the forefront of the battle against the epidemic, rapid and coordinated responses from customs services and other border agencies are essential for expediting the clearance of essential goods such as food, medicine, masks, gloves, respirators, protective equipment. Also, they need to ensure that imported or donated products do not jeopardize public health for not meeting quality and national security standards, or both.
Governments should also strive to adopt protocols to prevent trade disruption in other goods that are also important to maintain the provision of domestic markets, consumer goods, and intermediate goods, all of which will enable countries to make rapid economic recoveries.
The critical role of customs administration
Here are some examples of measures that customs administrations can take to help manage the pandemic:
- Work with other border control authorities to implement a simplified, expedited emergency procedure for clearing critical goods, regardless of whether these are aid or donations or standard commercial imports.
- Coordinate with health authorities to identify the goods that countries need to respond to the crisis and consider lifting tariffs temporarily.
- Implement an expedited licensing process together with the Ministry of Health (or any other competent authority) to quickly verify health permits or certificates.
- Facilitate the temporary admission of teams from international organizations involved in assistance efforts to overcome the emergency.
- Use non-intrusive control mechanisms to fast-track the release of goods.
- Collaborate with reliable, certified importers, such as Authorized Economic Operators (AEOs) and companies that frequently import essential goods to facilitate the import process.
- Maintain lines of communication with public and private players in the logistics chain to communicate new processes and jointly adjust them according to the evolution and needs of the emergency.
- Strengthen communication with other customs administrations, especially those of neighboring countries and those that export emergency products.
The coronavirus crisis makes us give higher value to the importance of collaboration at all levels. Responding effectively to this emergency requires coordination within governments (health, public order, and trade authorities), between national, regional, and international government authorities, and collaboration with the private sector.
Coordinated border management is even more essential during an emergency, be it a pandemic or a natural or climate-related disaster. Coordinated border management systems include the following features:
- Simplified processes and rapid action protocols that are agreed on by customs and all border management authorities.
- State-of-the-art technology for non-intrusive inspections and to facilitate the shipping of medical materials without undermining customs controls.
- Automated systems and online payment facilities.
- Coordinated work with reliable companies such as AEOs to import critical goods and ensure that the transportation and distribution systems for these are operating.
- A support network of customs professionals at ports, airports, and border crossings to expedite the entry of life-saving goods during the most challenging stages of the health emergency.
The IDB is aware of how essential customs authorities in the region are for managing the pandemic and for supporting the reactivation of the economy. The Bank is also committed to modernizing and transforming customs authorities by improving their processes, systems, and facilities through new technologies and by strengthening their human resources.
The pandemic has made it clear how important it is for countries to work collaboratively at the domestic level through coordinated border management schemes. It is also important to work at the regional level with organizations such as the United Nations (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA), the World Customs Organization (WCO), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to develop action and contingency plans to be better prepared for future emergencies.
- WCO webpage on COVID-19
- WCO Disaster relief consignments (in Spanish)
- WCO disaster relief consignment recommendations (in English)
- WCO natural disaster recommendations (in French)
- Harmonized System classification reference list for COVID-19 medical supplies published by the WCO to address the pandemic crisis
- WHO COVID-19 page
- United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs COVID-19
- EU Customs guidelines for COVID-19
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