What do customs do for you?
The customs administrations across the European Union are uniquely equipped to play a central role in policing the EU’s external borders. This means, for instance, combating smuggling, seizing dangerous counterfeit goods, freeing internationally protected animals and fighting criminal networks, thereby defending the safety and security of European citizens.
There is not one EU customs service but 27 national customs administrations working together on the basis of a European policy and a common legal framework (the Community Customs Code) which sets out the rules and procedures to be applied. The 27 customs administrations must act as one.
“Customs authorities shall be primarily responsible for supervision of the Community’s international trade, thereby contributing to fair and open trade, to implementation of the external aspects of the internal market, of the common trade policy and of the other common Community policies having a bearing on trade, and to overall supply chain security. Customs authorities shall put in place measures aimed, in particular, at:
a. Protecting the financial interests of the Community and its Member States;
b. Protecting the Community from unfair and illegal trade while supporting legitimate business activity;
c. Ensuring the security and safety of the Community and its residents, and protection of the environment, where appropriate in close cooperation with other authorities;
d. Maintaining a proper balance between customs controls and facilitation of legitimate trade.”
The two faces of customs
Customs services in the EU play a dual role. Customs officers still act as collectors of customs levying import duties and taxes but increasingly they also work as “watchdogs” securing the Union’s external borders to protect citizens’ health and safety. Checks to enforce security and safety rules can only be performed at the EU’s external borders. It is inevitable that certain cargo shipments which could pose a risk to the safety or security of the EU and its citizens must be stopped and checked. These checks are different from the task of levying import duties, which customs authorities can perform at a later stage along the supply chain, for example on the premises of the importer or exporter, to avoid congestion at the EU’s external borders.
Border checks to guarantee the safety and security of European citizens are performed by customs officers in close cooperation with other border agencies, such as veterinary and product safety authorities. Two particular causes of concern for customs authorities with respect to health and safety are counterfeit goods and drug precursors.
The collector of customs
Every shipment of goods which enters the European Union has to be declared to customs. On the basis of the customs declarations, customs officers check the shipment and levy the import duties and taxes due. In 2007, import duties totalling over €15 billion were levied, which is equivalent to 13.2% of the revenue side of the EU budget.
Since the Community Customs Code entered into force on 1 January 1993, simplified customs procedures have been introduced to make life easier for European importers and exporters, who generate 22% of world trade.
Simplified procedures allow checks to be carried out at the locations most convenient for traders and at the most opportune point in the logistical process. Use of these procedures is subject to authorisations granted to compliant operators once customs have ascertained that they are reliable. Audits also regularly check compliance by authorised operators when they use their authorisations.
Customs in the 21 st century
Customs authorities across the EU are aiming to become the most modern administrations of all in order to serve all Europeans better. In the next ten years, two major initiatives will be phased in.
The electronic customs plan will establish secure, interoperable IT systems for exchanges of data and should lead to a paperless customs system by 2012. European citizens will benefit from a more secure flow of goods, greater protection and less bureaucracy. And modernisation of the Community Customs Code is the legal side of electronic customs. It will pave the way for electronic exchanges of information between national customs and other authorities, which will boost the fight against dangerous products and increase consumer protection.
Use of technology
Customs authorities in the European Union use the most modern ICT (information and communication technologies) and equipment to perform their tasks. Information is analysed mainly by automated systems which enable customs to single out high-risk shipments for checking. High-tech scanning equipment enables customs officers to have a look inside containers carried by sea without completely unloading them.
A European network of customs laboratories is working on a common quality policy that will ensure uniform interpretation of new technical standards across the EU. For example, the laboratories are cooperating on joint use of specialised equipment. They are also sharing their scientific knowledge and test results, to make sure that tests carried out on products in one EU country will not have to be repeated in another. The customs laboratories’ role is constantly expanding to meet new challenges in the areas of health, environmental monitoring and combating counterfeiting.
…in the EU and beyond
National customs services in EU countries cannot work in isolation. Nor can the European Customs Union itself in a global trade environment. Cooperation is crucial to the efficiency of EU customs authorities in the face of the many threats they have to ward off.
Alongside the systems for exchanges of information between EU Member States provided for under the EU customs legislation, a number of contact groups have been established to tighten up cooperation between customs officers at the EU’s major airports, biggest seaports and main land border posts.
In addition, the EU has signed agreements with its main trading partners around the world. Based on those agreements, joint operations and pilot projects are being moved forward to enhance cooperation on the ground between customs officers from the EU and non-EU countries.