Posts and Customs: a long-standing relationship

Speech by Bishar A. Hussein, director general, Universal Postal Union
World Customs Organization Council meeting - Brussels, 28 June 2013

Let me begin by saying how pleased I am to have this opportunity to address the World Customs Organization (WCO) Council.

Relations between the WCO and the UPU have been historically close. Given the missions of both organizations, this is not surprising. The WCO’s mission is to enhance the capacity of its members to implement effective cross-border controls, to facilitate legitimate trade and travel, and to stop illicit transactions and activities. The UPU’s mission, on the other hand, is to facilitate interactions between the peoples of the world. These two missions are complementary.

It is thus natural that the UPU and the WCO have been partners practically since the time the WCO was founded. Collaboration between our two organizations is institutionalized through a contact committee, which has now existed for several decades. Our organizations have signed a memorandum of understanding. We participate regularly in each other’s meetings. The Revised Kyoto Convention contains a specific annex on postal traffic. In short, ladies and gentlemen, the WCO is a partner of critical importance for the UPU. The UPU and the WCO are Siamese twins conjoined by common objectives: serving the citizens of the world and facilitating trade and commerce while ensuring security and safety of our networks.

However, both organizations are now facing new challenges as the world around us evolves. Increased trade is contributing to global economic development, and both organizations must play their part in this process. E-commerce is growing. The security environment has become more complex. And while technological change is creating new opportunities, both organizations must reconcile the conflicting requirements of security and facilitation.

For the Posts, the environment is becoming more and more competitive. Traditional letter-post volumes are dropping due to the internet and to new technologies. However, e-commerce is affording new opportunities, with business-to-business and business-to-consumer traffic set to take off. Transporting goods ordered online represents a golden opportunity for  Posts.

Posts must develop commercial and competitive mindsets if they are to take advantage of these opportunities. The postal customer base will increasingly be comprised of small and medium-sized enterprises in the future. We have to offer high-quality services to our customers if we are to retain our market share. Since Customs is a critical link in the global postal supply chain, the Post-Customs interface must be as efficient and as streamlined as possible to ensure a high-quality postal service. Posts are allocating significant effort and resources to improve this interface.

Firstly, we recognize that paper-based exchanges of information between Posts and Customs is outdated. To help speed up customs clearance of postal items, the WCO and the UPU have collaborated to jointly develop electronic messages to permit the pre-advice and possible pre-clearance of postal items. We now look forward to the electronic linking of Posts and Customs worldwide. This is the major strategic project that awaits us to take customs to the next level. Electronic data exchange between Posts and Customs will facilitate tracking and tracing, a key customer requirement. It will also permit better synchronization of goods and associated data.

Secondly, we have created a legal basis for the provision of advance electronic data for risk-assessment purposes. The UPU Convention, which is the fundamental legislative text governing international postal operations, was amended last year to make this possible. The UPU has also developed security standards, the observance of which will be mandatory for UPU members from 2014 onwards. These standards were developed in collaboration with the WCO and ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization. We are also working in collaboration with the WCO and ICAO to practically implement a system that will enable Posts to give Customs officials information about the contents of airmail for risk-assessment purposes and allow any feedback about a suspicious item to be acted upon, all before aircraft takeoff. Ladies and gentlemen, the postal sector takes safety and security very seriously.

Thirdly, the UPU’s Postal Technology Centre has created an electronic Customs Declaration System, or CDS. This is an integrated system that serves customers, Posts, and customs administrations. It enables customers to enter data about an item online, and enables the Posts to give Customs advance data about a postal item. It also enables a customs administration to inform a Post about the action to be taken with respect to any given item. It can also be programmed to assess and calculate customs duties. CDS has been demonstrated at many customs forums, including the WCO IT conference in Dubai a couple of months ago. I am happy to add that the UPU is concluding an agreement with UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, to integrate our Customs Declaration System into its ASYCUDA system. As you know, ASYCUDA is an automated system to capture customs data.

These three projects demonstrate the UPU’s commitment towards streamlining and automating the Post-Customs interface. But technical improvements are not enough. They must be accompanied by managerial and organizational improvements as well if full benefits are to be obtained. It is for this reason that the UPU is placing much emphasis on capacity building. In this sense, the UPU is: 

  • updating and modernizing the customs-related documentation. 
  • developing a new online system for prohibitions and restrictions.
  • developing projects to promote the production of accurate and complete customs declarations.
  • developing training material to be made available online.
  • organizing workshops involving both Posts and Customs officials.
  • collaborating with the WCO to organize joint regional workshop for African countries.

Like Customs, Posts, too, want to stop illicit transactions and activities. The UPU works with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to combat the use of the postal network for the transport of illicit substances. The UPU has also passed legislation to make the transport of counterfeit and pirated articles illegal. We have also organized seminars to raise awareness about this subject.

More needs to be done to improve the interface between Posts and Customs in implementing electronic data exchange as a priority. The advantages of such exchanges are well known.

The UPU believes there must be regular contacts between postal and customs authorities at the national level. We believe that such a meeting held even twice a year can improve coordination and enable a better appreciation of each other’s problems and requirements. Both Posts and Customs can only win from such an arrangement. In recognition of this, the UPU and the WCO are developing guidelines for establishing a memorandum of understanding between a customs administration and postal operators at the national level.

Such an MoU, defining the obligations and responsibilities of each party, will help ensure even more efficient customs clearance and the timely delivery of cleared items. With communication between Posts and Customs formalized at the global, national and regional levels, collaboration between both parties should reach a new high. I call upon you to support these initiatives when you return to your administrations. 

In closing, let me, on behalf of the postal sector, thank all of you for your support. Both our organizations have enjoyed an excellent history of working together. I am glad that this collaboration seems set to intensify even further. Driven by technology, trade and security, both our organizations are evolving. The decisions that we take now will affect the quality of life and economic well-being of everyone in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, we pledge to work with you to make international trade and communication faster and safer than ever before.

Thank you for your attention.