On 28 September, the European Commission launched a new Customs Union Action Plan, setting out a series of measures to make EU customs smarter, more innovative and more efficient.
The Action Plan proposes steps such as improved use of data, better tools and equipment, the promotion of compliance, more cooperation within the EU and with customs authorities of partner countries and better preparation for future crises.
Why is the Commission launching a Customs Action Plan?
The EU’s Customs Union has developed into a cornerstone of the Single Market, providing revenues for the EU budget, keeping EU borders safe and protecting our citizens from prohibited and dangerous goods such as weapons, drugs and products that are harmful for the environment. The Customs Union also facilitates trade with the rest of the world, which is vital to the prosperity of the EU.
EU customs authorities now manage a long and growing list of responsibilities at the EU’s borders. A modernised framework of customs legislation is in place since 2016 in the form of the Union Customs Code. To find out more about the latest progress in the management of the Customs Union, please read the 2nd Biennial Report on Governance of the Customs Union.
However, fraud linked to customs duties and VAT, as well as the smuggling of illicit or unsafe goods, have become major problems. Uneven customs control capabilities between Member States can lead to goods being diverted towards the weakest entry and exit points in the EU customs territory, to avoid detection. Moreover, new business models such as e-commerce have added to enforcement challenges faced by EU customs. At the same time, customs authorities need to be able to react better to changing or emergency circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Customs Action Plan therefore announces ways to address these challenges and take the Customs Union to the next level.
What does the Custom Action Plan say?
The 17 actions in the Customs Action Plan are grouped under four headings: risk management, managing e-commerce, promotion of compliance and customs authorities acting as one. Key initiatives under these four headings are:
- A new analytics hub: the Action Plan will ensure greater availability and use of data and data analysis for customs purposes. Better data analysis helps with risk management, customs clearance and post-clearance, and anti-fraud actions. In the longer term, monitoring trends and patterns though data analysis could, for example, help the Commission and customs authorities to identify shortcomings and vulnerabilities, with a view to fixing them.
- Strengthening obligation son payment service providers and online sales platforms: To help fight cross-border tax fraud, as well as customs fraud, the Commission wants to ensure that, from 2024, customs authorities will have access to the data that payment service providers like Paypal and Amazon Pay will be obliged to provide to tax authorities of Member States. The Commission will also put forward plans to introduce new customs reporting requirements for platforms.
- Single Window environment for customs: The upcoming proposal for a ‘Single Window environment for customs’ will make it easier for legitimate businesses to complete their border formalities in one single portal. It will allow for more collaborative processing, sharing and exchange of information and better risk assessment for customs authorities.
- Aroll-out of modern and reliable customs equipment: The Commission aims to provide Member States with state-of-the-art customs control equipment to carry out better and more effective controls. In addition, the proposed new Customs financial programme will support and deepen cooperation between customs authorities and officials in all participating countries as well as financing the development and operation of customs electronic systems.
- International customs cooperation: the EU will work towards an EU-China agreement on a new Strategic Framework for Customs Cooperation 2021–2024 before the end of 2020. It will also launch a comprehensive analysis of the Union’s system of international cooperation and mutual administrative cooperation in customs matters at the end of 2020, with a view to proposing possible enhancements in 2021.
- Reflection group: A new reflection group formed of Member States and business representatives will be set up to help prepare for future crises and challenges such as unanticipated global developments and future business models. Also announced is an exploration of how certain activities such as the management of customs electronic systems, storage of data analytics and training of customs officials are organised.
For further information and the full list of 17 actions, please see the Communication including its Annex.
Are there any further initiatives coming up?
The Commission aims to adopt its proposal for a Single Window Environment for Customs towards the end of October.
In 2018, the Commission launched an innovative foresight project on “The Future of Customs in the EU 2040.” This aims to create a shared and strategic understanding of current and future challenges for customs, and a vision for how EU customs should look in 2040. The report by the Commission services on this exercise is due to be published at the end of October as well.
For more information