Skip to main content
Taxation and Customs Union

Union International cooperation in customs matters

Customs matters, insofar as they concern trade in goods across the borders of the Union customs territory, have by nature an international dimension. Those matters cannot however be properly addressed and managed only through unilateral action by the Union. The customs authorities in the Union can accomplish their missions, as defined in Article 3 UCC, only if their action in the Union is supported by cooperation with the customs authorities of third countries. That international cooperation in customs matters is part of the Union customs and trade policy.

And pursuant to Article 5(2)(d) UCC, the EU 'customs legislation' includes 'international agreements containing customs provisions, insofar as they are applicable in the Union'.

More information on EU Trade policy

Main objectives and scope

Improving trade facilitation worldwide

The objective is to simplify and facilitate procedures for reliable traders so as to increase the speed of trade.

That objective can be pursued through international commitments by each Party: to ensure predictability and transparency of legislations and efficient administration of customs procedures, to simplify customs formalities in particular for trusted traders ('authorised economic operators' or 'AEO'), to facilitate the transit of goods, to apply risk management techniques to improve customs controls and speed up the release of goods, to provide legal certainty through 'advance rulings' (binding information on tariff classification or 'BTI' and origin or 'BOI'), to eliminate unjustified burdensome requirements (like pre-shipment inspection, mandatory use of customs brokers, fees or charges), etc.

Examples of such commitments can be found e.g. in the WTO,Agreement on Trade Facilitation, the WCO,Revised Kyoto Convention, or the Customs and Trade Facilitation or Trade in Goods chapters of bilateral or regional Free Trade Agreements.

That objective is even better achieved through the development of customs cooperation between Parties, based on the definition and use of common standards (e.g. the use of the WCO Harmonized System or Data Model), exchange of information, mutual recognition of trusted traders programmes for facilitation purposes.

Ensuring safety and security of the EU

In cooperation with other law enforcement authorities, the customs administrations ensure through efficient controls the safety and security of the European Union, the economic operators, the citizens and the environment in the European Union.

That objective may be pursued through international commitments by each Party on the security of the supply chain, like the ones taken by WCO Members to implement the SAFE Framework of Standards or bilaterally through customs agreements on security and the mutual recognition for security purposes of trusted traders programmes, of risk management techniques and of control results.

Protecting the financial interests of the EU

Customs cooperation between Parties is fundamental for protecting the financial interests of the EU and its Member States. It consists in mutual administrative assistance against fraud (affecting e.g. the tariff classification, origin or value of goods, then the amount of duties and other charges like VAT or excise on imports) and may include joint initiatives and control operations to ensure compliance and a better protection of the revenue of the Parties.


The Union international cooperation in customs matters is set up and implemented through various international forums and instruments and the implementation of international customs provisions may deserve Union autonomous legislation.

Customs matters are dealt with in various international organisations and forums (like WTO, WCO, UNECE or ASEM), under the auspices of which multilateral agreements are concluded and managed.

Customs provisions may be contained in, and international customs cooperation organised through, international instruments with a regional or bilateral scope.

Regional and bilateral instruments

Customs provisions may be contained in, and international customs cooperation organised through, international instruments with a regional or bilateral scope.

Those provisions and mechanisms may be part of agreements dedicated to customs matters (e.g. Agreements on Cooperation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in customs matters, or the Common Transit Convention); or of agreements with a broader coverage: preferential trade agreements (like Free Trade or Customs Union Agreements), agreements with a wider political but non-preferential purpose (like Partnership and Cooperation Agreements), or Association Agreements covering both.