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Commission Publishes Strategy on the EU's Customs Union

On 21 December 2016, the European Commission published a long-term strategic plan to improve the management of the EU’s Customs Union. The Commission’s vision is presented in a Communication to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee.

The Communication addresses the question of how the European Commission and EU Member States can better act in partnership to ensure that the Customs Union makes the best possible contribution to economic development and security in the EU. According to the European Commission, a revitalisation of this partnership is of high importance since customs legislation is adopted at the EU level, whereas the implementation is done at the national level, creating the risk of non-uniform application in 28 Member States.

Since goods can move freely within the Union once they have been cleared by the customs authorities of one EU Member State, cohesive and uniform application of the EU customs rules is felt to be essential. In what follows, an outline will be given of certain key priorities of the Communication, which could be of interest to Hong Kong traders exporting their goods to the EU for circulation with the Customs Union.

First, the Communication aims at implementing effectively and uniformly the Union Customs Code (UCC). Hong Kong traders may recall that the UCC, which provides for the modernised legal framework of the EU’s Customs Union, entered into force on 1 May 2016 (see: Regulatory Alert-EU, EU’s Modernised Customs Code Enters into Force). In its Communication, the European Commission states that priority will be given to the effective and uniform application of the UCC.

The attainment of this objective will require frequent policy coordination of all EU Member States and a high degree of cooperation between them. To that end, the European Commission will formalise and further develop the role of the Customs Policy Group (CPG), which is an informal expert group and includes the heads of the national customs administrations.

In addition, the European Commission will reinforce its existing practice of establishing joint meetings between traders, national administrations and the European Commission, which can draw up advice on how to draft and implement efficient customs procedures. Furthermore, the European Commission pledges to submit biennial reports to the Council and the European Parliament, which will list the results achieved within the sphere of the Customs Union, as well as suggestions on priorities for the further development thereof.

Second, the European Commission intends to promote best practices for the cooperation and sharing of information between national authorities. According to the Communication, the European Commission will also present an Action Plan listing the activities to be undertaken to enhance human resources development within national customs authorities.

Third, the European Commission will also improve information exchange between customs authorities on the one hand, and administrations involved in other relevant policy areas on the other. The activities undertaken in the light of this objective should contribute to the enhancement of security within the Union.

For example, increased cooperation will be encouraged with border management and security authorities, such as national border and coast guards, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and Europol. In addition, the Commission has proposed a set of updated rules on the control of cash entering or leaving the Union, and will continue the ongoing work on legislation to tackle the illicit trade in cultural goods, which is foreseen to be adopted in 2017.

The European Commission has also made a priority of the development of a long-term vision for the so-called ‘Single Window’.  The Single Window is a trade facilitation concept which enables cross-border traders to submit regulatory documents at a single electronic location. In the short-term, an EU level certificates database will be developed, which will connect the national customs declaration systems, and allow for automated verifications of the certificates.

Fourth, the importance of developing a long term IT-strategy, and EU-wide IT-systems dedicated to customs procedures, is emphasised. This should ensure the best possible cooperation between the national administrations. As Hong Kong traders may recall, the new UCC has introduced a system of fully electronic communication between the customs administrations and traders. The European Commission will oversee the complex process of introducing and upgrading these new EU-wide IT-systems. Moreover, the European Commission will make sure that the upgrading of the EU Member States’ IT-systems is done in an aligned manner, in order to ensure their interoperability.

The European Commission concludes that the UCC constitutes an important step in strengthening the EU and its Customs Union. It is also noted that the UCC will allow customs authorities to play a more important role in the security of the EU internal market. However, the European Commission stresses that the effectiveness of the UCC depends on its uniform application throughout the Union. Consequently, the main focus will be on strengthening cooperation between the national customs authorities, within the existing institutional framework.

Finally, the European Commission invites the European Parliament and the Council to endorse the political direction and specific actions suggested in the Communication.

Please click on the following for the full text of the Communication.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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