14 December 2020
The first WCO Global Free Zone Online Conference was convened virtually on 14 December 2020 at the WCO Headquarters with support of the Government of Japan. The Conference was welcomed by Customs administrations and external stakeholders under the theme “Meeting the SDGs – Ensuring Customs involvement for Free Zones’ competitiveness, safety and sustainability”. Mr. Norikazu Kuramoto, Head of ROCB A/P, and Ms. Chloe Au, Program Manager of ROCB A/P, attended the Conference as participants.
The number of Free Zones (FZs) in the world has been dramatically increased over the past few decades, driven by political decisions with concerns on the national economic development strategies. Along with the associated economic benefits of FZs, such as special arrangements on duties and regulatory exemptions, there were numerous publications pointing out the potential risks of illicit activities owing to the lack of oversight therein. Therefore, issue of adequate and efficient Customs procedures or control in FZs has been appeared on the WCO’s agenda for several years. Building upon the work done thus far by the WCO, its Members and partners, this Conference provided a platform for Customs administrations and external stakeholders to explore the key principles for suitable Customs roles that conform to the safety, competitiveness and sustainable development of FZs.
Notable speakers from various international organizations, such as Financial Action Task Force (FATF), International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), experts from relevant industries together with some Members with full experience in operating FZs were invited to share their views and suggestions at the High-level Round Table and panel discussions. The scope of Customs involvement on economic competitiveness, safety and security requirement of goods, money laundering, IPR as well as Rules of Origin were widely discussed at the Conference. The Conference concluded with the acknowledgment of Customs involvement in every stage of FZs implementation and use of data for risk management. In order to increase economic competitiveness, Customs administrations should maintain good partnership with other government agencies as well as private sector.
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