After almost 10 years of pilot projects and almost four years of preparations and negotiations, the Regulation establishing the EU Single Window Environment for Customs made its way into EU law in December 2022. This Regulation provides a new legal framework to improve information sharing and digital cooperation between customs administrations and other government authorities in charge of enforcing non-customs formalities at the EU border in areas such as health and safety, environmental protection, food and product safety, agriculture, etc. This will allow economic operators to clear certain customs formalities more easily.
The EU Single Window Environment for Customs will enable interoperability between the customs and non-customs domains to streamline the electronic exchange of documents and information required for the goods clearance process. The framework legally establishes a centralised system to interconnect the import, export and transit systems of the Member States with Union non-customs systems that manage non-customs formalities. The system is known as the EU Customs Single Window Certificates Exchange System (EU CSW-CERTEX) and has been running in pilot mode since 2017. This system is designed to improve the sharing and processing of data submitted to customs and non-customs authorities by economic operators by ensuring that those authorities receive the original data in real time.
The implementation of the EU Single Window Environment for Customs will be phased in gradually over the coming decade. The first phase will come into effect by 2025 and focus on enhancing intergovernmental exchanges at EU borders. Customs authorities will be able to automatically verify that non-customs formalities comply with the rules enforced by partner competent authorities. This verification will further ensure that the quantities of goods imported or exported at the EU level are properly monitored and controlled, thus reducing risks of fraud and gaps in the enforcement of non-customs requirements. A second phase, planned for 2031, will provide a Business-to-Government scheme to simplify clearance processes for economic operators when moving goods in and out of the EU. This scheme will allow economic operators to use a single portal to submit data in an individual Member State for each specific policy domain phased in under the EU Single Window Environment for Customs, instead of submitting the data separately to both the customs systems and the partner competent authorities’ systems. Going forward, economic operators will benefit from an easier customs clearance process. Existing bottlenecks will be largely eliminated.
Components of the EU Single Window Environment for Customs
The EU Single Window Environment for Customs is designed to provide a framework for cooperation that facilitates interoperability between customs and non-customs authorities through three main components: Union non-customs systems, national single window environments for customs and the European Union Customs Single Window Certificates Exchange System, known as EU CSW-CERTEX. This framework enables information to be exchanged between national customs systems and Union non-customs systems through EU CSW-CERTEX to facilitate administrative checks electronically at the moment of customs clearance.
Union non-customs systems
Non-customs formalities are regulatory requirements that certain goods are subject to at the EU border in policy domains such as health and safety, environment protection, fisheries, agriculture, market surveillance, etc. Union non-customs systems are electronic systems that store information about the fulfillment of specific non-customs formalities required for the international trade in goods. These systems are developed by various policy departments of the Commission to facilitate exchanges between economic operators and partner competent authorities. They are fully regulated by EU sectoral legislation in line with specific policies established in different policy domains. For example, to protect human and animal health, animals and animal products being imported into the EU must undergo veterinary inspection by the partner competent authority responsible for carrying out these controls before customs authorities are provided evidence of compliance to allow their entry into free circulation. The TRACES system is an online platform for sanitary and phytosanitary certification managed by DG SANTE which facilitates the exchange of data, information, and documents for these products between import control authorities in EU Member States and economic operators. Other Directorates-General of the Commission have developed or are currently developing databases or licensing schemes to meet the needs of their economic operators and the EU obligations stemming from the specific framework of their sectoral legislation. Still, several of them have chosen TRACES as a host platform to manage their non-customs formalities.
In the context of this Regulation, Union non-customs systems will be connected to EU CSW-CERTEX to exchange information with the national single window environments for customs. These systems are used on a mandatory or voluntary basis depending on the requirements of EU sectoral legislation for each policy domain.
For information about existing and future Union non-customs systems covered by the Regulation in the respective sectoral domains, click on the links in the document below.
The European Union Customs Single Window Certificates Exchange System (EU CSW-CERTEX)
EU CSW-CERTEX is an electronic system (known technically as a middleware) managed and developed by the Commission (DG TAXUD) in collaboration with the Member States. As the central component of the EU Single Window Environment for Customs, EU CSW-CERTEX allows for information exchange between national single window environments for customs and Union non-customs systems. EU CSW-CERTEX covers digital exchanges for a multitude of non-customs documents (i.e., certificates, licences, permits and other non-customs formalities) stored at different Union non-customs systems and regulated by sectoral legislation under the responsibility of various Commission services.
EU CSW-CERTEX was launched as a pilot project with several different partner competent authorities, in slowly but steadily increasing numbers. The system allows national customs authorities to access non-customs formalities through a single interface. Since the scope of formalities and functionalities is steadily expanding, EU CSW-CERTEX is in constant evolution. A major reengineering effort took place in 2019, which allows for an expansion of scope that results in minimal effort for the Member States connecting to it.
National single window environments for customs
The national single window environments for customs are a set of services and systems owned, managed, and developed by the Member States that constitute the national components of the EU Single Window Environment for Customs. These environments enable information to be exchanged between the electronic systems of the customs authority, partner competent authorities and economic operators in an individual Member State, thus bridging these systems with Union non-customs systems. The national single window environments for customs will initially focus on intergovernmental exchanges. These involve interconnecting national customs systems with EU CSW-CERTEX to enable customs authorities to automatically verify non-customs formalities and allowing partner competent authorities to reserve the declared quantities of goods based on their release by customs. At a later phase of the EU Single Window implementation, the national single window environments for customs will provide a Business-to-Government channel. This will allow economic operators to submit all border data required for goods clearance directly to the national single window environments for customs, instead of submitting the data separately to both the customs systems and Union non-customs systems.
In the spirit of the regulation, each Member State can develop its national single window environment for customs as it sees fit, provided that the basic functionalities mentioned above are ensured. This means that Member States can allocate responsibilities between departments according to how these environments are structured. Since multiple authorities and administrations operate within each national single window environment for customs, a national coordinator will be appointed in each Member State to act as a national contact point for the Commission for all matters relating to the implementation of the EU Single Window Environment for Customs.
Detailed information on the national single window environment for customs of each Member State and their national contact points will be provided as it becomes available.
Functionalities of EU CSW-CERTEX
One of the most substantial benefits that EU CSW-CERTEX provides to the national customs administration of the Member States is a process for the transformation of data from non-customs documents into customs declaration compatible data to enable the automated exchange of the required information. Another core business service provided by this system is quantity management. This functionality reserves quantities of goods in the source Union non-customs system based on their release by customs. EU CSW-CERTEX can be used to exchange information not only on certificates, licences, permits, and statements, but also to check registration requirements, control authorisation or quota consumption and monitor exemption thresholds. It can also be used as a tool for the exchange of information and coordination of controls between customs and other authorities (e.g., market surveillance authorities) when non-compliance is suspected. These functionalities, along with a few others described in greater detail below, enable the automated exchange of required information, ensure the synchronised application of legislation among the EU Member States, and the enforcement of relevant non-customs formalities by customs authorities.
Technical and business transformation of data
The exchange of information between the national customs systems and Union non-customs systems occurs in both directions through EU CSW-CERTEX. This exchange is initiated by the national customs authorities when an economic operator lodges a customs declaration containing the reference number of the non-customs document issued by the relevant partner competent authority. The national customs system sends a request for information to EU CSW-CERTEX to verify the non-customs document for customs clearance purposes. EU CSW-CERTEX uses the reference number entered in the customs declaration to retrieve the relevant information from the Union non-customs system where the document is stored. The source system sends back a response with the non-customs document data in the specific format and language used by the issuing partner competent authority. At this point in the process, EU CSW-CERTEX performs a process known as the technical and business transformation of data to return the required information to the national customs system in a format compliant with the customs declaration.
The technical transformation of data is performed to modify the format of data elements into customs declaration compatible data. In cooperation with other Commission departments, DG TAXUD has designed “data transformation tables” for each non-customs formality processed in EU CSW-CERTEX. These tables map the content of the message retrieved from Union non-customs systems to the EU Customs Data Model (EUCDM) in a format compliant with the customs declaration. The EUCDM is a technical tool that models the data requirements specified in EU customs legislation, setting the guidelines for the technical developments of the various systems used by national customs authorities in the EU. The publication of EUCDM is supported by a design tool known as GEFEG.FX. Considering the diversity of non-customs documents and varying levels of complexity associated with their lifecycle management, the data transformation tables are specific to each non-customs policy domain. During this process, EU CSW-CERTEX transmits to national customs systems only the data relevant for their purposes, removing those deemed unnecessary or insignificant for the execution of customs checks. As shown in the figure below, the data element “operator responsible for the consignment” in the Union non-customs system has a different format than the corresponding data element “declarant” in the customs declaration. EU CSW-CERTEX performs the technical transformation of data to convert all the attributes of the data element in the source format to a single string data element in the target format used by customs authorities.
The business transformation of data is performed to align the original decision of partner competent authorities with the specific customs procedures applicable when goods are cleared through customs. This means that the status of a given non-customs document and the decision of the issuing authority should be matched with the relevant customs procedure. For example, if a Common Health Entry Document (CHED) shows the status of the goods as “validated” in the Union non-customs system, EU CSW-CERTEX sends a message to the national customs systems indicating that the CHED document can be used for clearance. Customs authorities can then apply all procedures relating to the release for free circulation (i.e., cleared by customs) to the consignment. EU CSW-CERTEX does not store any information beyond a log file indicating that a conversion of the referenced documents has taken place. The figure below illustrates this process more clearly.
The alignment of data between customs and non-customs data models will be legally formalised through the tertiary legislation governed by the Regulation. On an operational level, an external review process is pursued to ensure that the Member States assess and approve the technical documentation detailing the transformation of data.
Each year, customs authorities process millions of customs declarations for goods entering the customs territory of the Union. Some of these goods are subject to non-customs requirements for which only a specific consignment can be imported in the EU, such as an authorisation for a specific consignment of crops of a certain quantity. Before being released into the Single Market, these consignments could be split across different Member States, while the whole consignment is covered by the same authorisation. A similar principle applies to goods subject to quotas, meaning that the economic operator can import only a certain quota of the concerned goods in the EU and further imports are prohibited after a threshold is reached. EU CSW-CERTEX provides an EU-wide quantity management functionality that allows authorities to verify that quantities have not been exhausted before allowing goods to be released, irrespective of the Member State in which the release has taken place. This functionality digitalises a process that was carried out manually between the customs offices of different Member States speaking different languages and sometimes using a different alphabet.
Quantity management takes place in two steps. First, when the customs declaration is lodged, EU CSW-CERTEX sends a request to the source Union non-custom system to reserve the declared quantities of goods. Upon receipt of this request, this system automatically checks the validity and status of the non-customs document and verifies the quantities based on the information sent by EU CSW-CERTEX. If all checks are successful, the source system reserves the declared quantities and sends a response back to EU CSW-CERTEX, including the content of the non-customs document and the outcome of the reservation. The second step in the process is triggered after receipt of feedback from customs systems. At this stage, the Union non-customs system must either write-off the quantities released (i.e., the goods are released) or cancel the reservation made previously (i.e., the goods are not released). In the latter case, EU CSW-CERTEX provides one of two possible routings: an orange routing if the automatic validation fails and the non-customs document is redirected to manual control to match the authorised quantities, or a red routing if the reservation fails because the relevant non-customs document is rendered unusable.
The interconnection of EU CSW-CERTEX to all Member State customs systems will fully extend the EU-wide quantity management functionality to the formalities covered. This means that customs authorities will perform an instantaneous verification of these formalities, preventing any goods over the authorised quantity from being cleared and reducing the risk of fraud and documentary forgery in the import or export of sensitive goods, such as high-emission fluorinated greenhouse gases.
EU CSW-CERTEX provides business services to the customs authorities of the Member States through a standardised interface by offering an optimised solution that guarantees a satisfactory level of automation and security. The “Check Availability” function is used to provide information to customs authorities on whether the required non-customs document has been issued and, if so, to present its status and content.
Request for list
The “Request for List” function allows customs authorities to retrieve a batch of non-customs documents based on a set of criteria, such as the issuing country, the country of destination, document status, etc. This enables customs authorities to locate the required documents in a given Union non-customs system and embed them in their national systems to use for facilitating joint controls, replication purposes, risk analysis, etc.
The “Partner Competent Authority Document Subscription”, also known as the “push functionality” helps customs authorities avoid polling the server repeatedly to check for new data. Instead of transmitting the data of a specific non-customs document based on a request by customs systems, the Union non-customs systems “inform” EU CSW-CERTEX about the modification of said document, thus triggering its transfer to customs systems.
Protection of personal data
The EU Single Window Environment for Customs is designed with privacy and data protection at its core. Data is retrieved and processed under data minimisation rules, and solely based on existing legislation. Data is kept in the source systems (customs or non-customs) and used only for the purposes already established by customs legislation and sectorial legislation. EU CSW-CERTEX does not store any data when performing data processing operations. In fact, all the exchanges and transformations take place in real-time, triggering the contextual erasure of any data as soon as the processing operations are completed. The only data kept in the system is a log file indicating that a transmission has taken place and the reference numbers of the document concerned.
The Commission and the Member States will jointly determine the purpose and means of processing personal data in relation to EU CSW-CERTEX. The Regulation establishing the EU Single Window Environment for Customs sets out the overall provisions for the protection of personal data within the EU Single Window Environment for Customs and mandates the Commission to adopt the Joint Controllership Arrangement for EU CSW-CERTEX through an implementing act. This arrangement will fully cover the specific elements of personal data processing operations tied to the joint controllers.
Interoperability between the components of the EU Single Window Environment for Customs
The interoperability between the components of the EU Single Window Environment for Customs is enabled through two layers of digital and administrative cooperation to allow information to be exchanged between customs, partner competent authorities, and economic operators.
Government-to-Government (G2G) cooperation
The G2G layer of cooperation is aimed at enhancing and streamlining the sharing of information between customs and partner competent authorities. As its name suggests, G2G enables government authorities’ systems to “talk” to one another. This scheme supports the automated exchange and verification by customs of non-customs documents required for goods clearance. It does so by interconnecting the national single windows with the Union non-customs systems through EU CSW-CERTEX. Such information sharing will allow partner competent authorities to properly monitor and control the quantities of authorised goods imported or exported at the EU level, and will provide customs with the original, non-repudiable, digital certificates/licences/permits issued by the partner competent authorities.
The G2G mechanism and data flows are illustrated in the figure below.
The EU Single Window Regulation ensures that EU CSW-CERTEX is used by Member States to cover exchanges for a multitude of Union non-customs formalities across policy domains. Each of these formalities will meet the specific legal and technical requirements to be phased in under the EU Single Window Environment for Customs. The G2G layer of cooperation will come into effect by 2025, and EU CSW-CERTEX will initially cover sanitary and phytosanitary requirements, rules regulating the import of organic products, some environmental requirements, and formalities related to the import of cultural goods. In certain instances, Member States will be able to benefit from using EU CSW-CERTEX on a voluntary basis even if partner competent authorities are not mandated to use Union non-customs systems.
Business-to-Government (B2G) cooperation
The B2G layer of cooperation builds on the G2G layer and further enables the streamlining of clearance processes for economic operators dealing with certain Union non-customs requirements. The B2G layer will allow economic operators two options: submit the data separately to customs and Union non-customs systems or submit all data at once to the national single window environments for customs. The data submission will take place through an “integrated data set” that contains all data required by customs and non-customs authorities for all policy domains applicable to a given product. Important to note is that EU legislation may require more than one non-customs document from partner competent authorities for each customs declaration. For example, when importing organic melons economic operators must submit with the customs declaration as evidence of compliance three different non-customs documents issued by the agriculture, food, and phytosanitary authorities. In this case, the integrated data set will contain all data required by customs and by these three partner competent authorities. To obtain the integrated data set, the Commission will identify the common data elements included in both the customs declaration and the application for a non-customs document and the data sets required only by customs and partner competent authorities. This process will be pursued in line with the guidelines on trade facilitation promoted by international organisations, such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and proposed through a delegated act governed by the Regulation. The national single window environments for customs will use the integrated data set to transmit the common data set and the partner competent authority data set to EU CSW-CERTEX, and the common and the specific data required by customs to customs authorities.
However, before this process occurs, the implementation of the B2G mechanism requires an enabling G2G framework and the fulfilment of certain eligibility criteria relevant to trade facilitation. These criteria include the modification of EU sectorial legislation to allow for changes in the way economic operators interact with the respective partner competent authorities.
The figure below depicts an overview of the B2G processes for goods clearance.
The implementation of the B2G scheme will offer economic operators the flexibility to use the B2G channel depending on the scope and scale of their operations. Hence, the processes for lodging customs and non-customs data would be significantly improved. It will establish a level playing field for economic operators and ensure a move towards simplified regulatory compliance despite the growing number of non-customs requirements.
Identification of economic operators (EORI)
The Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number will be the main identifier to ensure that economic operators are identified in a consistent and coherent manner for the information exchanged through the G2G and B2G channels, including for controls carried out by partner competent authorities.
The Commission (DG TAXUD) maintains a central EORI system to store and handle EORI related data. While customs systems have used the EORI number as an identifier for each economic operator engaged in customs operations in accordance with EU customs law, Union non-customs systems have used their own means to identify economic operators. This Regulation extends the use of the EORI system to partner competent authorities to validate the EORI number in the context of their formalities.
Overview of training activities
The Commission supports an overall approach to training and knowledge sharing in interconnecting the national single window environments with EU CSW-CERTEX. The Customs 2027 programme is the funding instrument that facilitates and enhances cooperation between national administrations in the EU to implement interoperable customs IT systems. The Commission is responsible for implementing this programme and allocates resources to ensure the effective functioning and modernisation of the EU Customs Union through joint actions, such as project groups, expert teams, trainings, and other activities.
DG TAXUD has created an e-Learning course on the EU Single Window Environment for Customs to provide training support to customs officers and economic operators. The course focuses on understanding the context in which the initiative emerged, an overview of the components of the overall environment, its underlying mechanism and its benefits for customs administrations, partner competent authorities and economic operators. The course is available here.
The ABCs of the EU Single Window Environment for Customs
Work is also ongoing to prepare dedicated e-Learning courses for specific non-customs formalities covered by the EU Single Window Environment for Customs. As part of this work, DG TAXUD created an e-Learning course on the “Enforcement of the fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gas) Regulation via EU CSW-CERTEX” given that the import of the F-gases is one of the most challenging domains impacting on climate change.