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Trade Facilitation

Trade facilitation is a key policy for customs. European exporters and importers are responsible for 22% of world trade. The facilitation of these operations brings benefits to both the European economy and the economies of our trading partners.

Customs has a major role to play at all levels of facilitation in particular

  • helping to defining the policy space,
  • drawing up the framework and rules of implementation, and then
  • putting into place the tools and processes at operational level.


Trade facilitation can be defined as the simplification and harmonisation of international trade procedures including import and export procedures.

Procedures in this context largely refer to:

"the activities (practices and formalities) involved in collecting, presenting, communicating and processing the data required for movement of goods in international trade".

Examples of active strategies and priorities

  1. Customs 2020
  2. Modern Customs Code
  3. Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down the Union Customs Code pdf(MCC recast)
  4. electronic customs projects

Trade facilitation and security

The facilitation of trade is a major factor in the development and application of operational policy issues. Please find further information on the linkage between customs and security on our dedicated web page.

Trade facilitation and the WTO negotiations

Trade facilitation was added to the WTO agenda in December 1996, when the Singapore Ministerial Declaration directed the Council for Trade in Goods "to undertake exploratory and analytical work, drawing on the work of other relevant organizations, on the simplification of trade procedures in order to assess the scope for WTO rules in this area."

The ministers of WTO members adopted on 14 November 2001 a declaration that embodied, among other things, a mandate for negotiations in the area of trade facilitation.


WTO Mandate as agreed in Doha on 14-11-2001

Recognizing the case for further expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit, and the need for enhanced technical assistance and capacity building in this area, we agree that negotiations will take place after the Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference on the basis of a decision to be taken, by explicit consensus, at that Session on modalities of negotiations. In the period until the Fifth Session, the Council for Trade in Goods shall review and as appropriate, clarify and improve relevant aspects of Articles V, VIII and X of the GATT 1994 and identify the trade facilitation needs and priorities of Members, in particular developing and least-developed countries. We commit ourselves to ensuring adequate technical assistance and support for capacity building in this area.

Launch of negotiations - August 2004

A framework for the next stage of the "Doha Development Agenda" (DDA) negotiations was adopted on 1 August 2004 . The Framework is contained in a Decision of the WTO General Council on the Doha Work Programme (document WT/GC/W/535 of 31 July) - Modalities of negotiationspdf(17 kB).

The Commission has set out in a number of papers a comprehensive set of ideas on facilitation of trade, with a view to advancing on a series of agreed commitments at international level. These papers are arranged around the existing WTO themes:

  • Article V - Freedom of transit
  • Article VIIIpdf - Fees and formalities connected with importation and exportation
  • Article Xpdf - Publication and administration of trade regulations

 Launch of Negotiating Group

On 15 th September, the First Meeting of the Negotiation Group was held. A Work Plan (agenda) was agreed. The Group will address as follows:

  • Clarification and improvement of relevant aspects of Articles V, VIII and X of the GATT 1994; enhancement of technical assistance and support for capacity building; effective cooperation between customs or any other appropriate authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues;  
  • Special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed countries;  
  • Least-developed country members;  
  • Identification of trade facilitation needs and priorities; concerns related to cost implications of proposed measures;  
  • Technical assistance and support for capacity building;  
  • Working with and work of relevant international organizations.

Trade Facilitation and Customs- now highlighted in our relations with partner countries

Facilitation and customs increasingly feature in agreements with 3 rd countries, covering such matters as:

  • simplification of requirements and formalities in respect of the release and clearance of goods, including, to the extent possible, collaboration on the development of procedures enabling the submission of import or export data to a single agency,
  • improved working methods and ensuring transparency and efficiency of customs operations,
  • reduction, simplification and standardisation of data in the documentation required by customs,
  • application of modern customs techniques, including risk assessment, simplified procedures for entry and release of goods, post release controls, and company audit methods,
  • provisions that facilitate the importation of goods through the use of simplified or pre-arrival customs procedures and processes.

See for example: Agreement establishing an association between the European Community and its Member States , of the one part, and the Republic of Chile , of the other part (Final act)

EC - working with specialist international organisations

International organisations such as the World Customs Organisation (WCO) whose work includes customs and trade issues now recognise the importance of trade facilitation. The Commission actively participates in, and works with such organisations.

Trade Facilitation and Technical Assistance

The Commission's DG responsible for Taxation and the Customs Union is active in providing advice on technical assistance and capacity building projects and programmes. This includes the preparation of conceptual blueprints based on in-depth experience in the design and management of customs and tax administrations, and also includes resources for consultation, advice, planning, and co-ordination of actions in this field.

Please find background information on the expected effects of trade facilitation for developing countries in this documentpdf(22 kB).