A path towards streamlined customs controls and trade facilitation through enhanced cooperation between authorities at the EU borders
On 28 October 2020, the European Commission proposed a new initiative that will make it easier for different authorities involved in goods clearance to exchange electronic information submitted by traders. The “EU Single Window Environment for Customs” will enhance cooperation and coordination between different authorities, and will support the automated verification of non-customs formalities for goods entering or leaving the EU.
Each year, the Custom Union facilitates the trade of more than €3.5 trillion worth of goods. Efficient customs clearance and controls are essential to allow trade to flow smoothly while also protecting EU citizens, businesses and the environment. The EU Single Window Environment for Customs is designed to provide quicker and more efficient sharing of electronic data between different government authorities involved in goods clearance at the border. Once fully rolled out, the Single Window will also allow businesses to complete border formalities in one single portal in a given Member State. Customs and other authorities will then be able to automatically verify that the goods in question comply with EU requirements and that the necessary formalities have been completed.
Why has the Commission proposed the Single Window?
Currently, the formalities required at the EU’s external borders often involve many different authorities in charge of different policy areas, such as health and safety, the environment, agriculture, fisheries, cultural heritage and market surveillance and product compliance. As a result, businesses have to submit information to several different authorities, each with their own portal and procedures. This is cumbersome and time-consuming for traders and reduces the capacity of authorities to act in a joined-up way in combatting risks.
This proposal is the first step in creating a digital framework for enhanced cooperation between all border authorities, through one Single Window. The Single Window will enable businesses and traders to provide data in one single portal in an individual Member State, thereby reducing duplication, time and costs. Customs and other authorities will then be able to collectively use this data, allowing for a fully coordinated approach to goods clearance and a clearer overview at EU level of the goods that are entering or leaving the EU.
The EU component of the Single Window
The EU Single Window Environment for Customs has a central component called the EU Customs Single Window Certificates Exchange (EU CSW-CERTEX), developed by the Commission to link Member State customs systems to EU systems or databases managing non-customs requirements, such as TRACES. The proposed digital solution will enable customs authorities to automatically verify the respective non-customs formalities. This will allow the authorities in charge of these formalities to monitor and control the imported or exported quantities of authorised goods at EU level. It will also make the information received from traders through the national single window environments for customs available to partner competent authorities.
Member State components
The Commission’s proposal is just the first step in creating the Single Window Environment for Customs. This initiative will be implemented based on interfaces with existing import, export or transit systems at national level, rather than introducing entirely new IT platforms. This is an ambitious project that will entail investment at both EU and Member State level, with gradual implementation over the next decade or so. Member States will need to invest in transforming their national legislation, processes and IT systems, so that they can fully reap the benefits of the Single Window. In this context, Member States should set up harmonised national Single Windows, through which businesses can upload the information related to the goods they are bringing in or out of the EU. These national portals will then link up through EU CSW-CERTEX with the EU systems or databases managing non-customs formalities, so that all relevant authorities can access the relevant data and collaborate more easily on border checks. This will create a much more streamlined, coordinated and holistic approach to goods clearance within the Union. Where possible, the Commission is ready to support the Member States in this work, including through funding from the Recovery and Resilience Facility.
How was the proposal prepared and who was consulted?
The proposal was preceded by the preparation of an impact assessment, carried out under the leadership of DG TAXUD. An interservice steering group, chaired by the Secretariat General (SG), supported the steering of the initiative.
A project group was launched in December 2016 to collect data for the purposes of the impact assessement. Its activities continued until June 2019, combining the expertise of customs and IT delegates from 19 Member States administrations and representatives of six trade associations.
A public consultation ran from 9 October 2018 to 17 January 2019. In total, 371 valid responses were received, most of which were from businesses. A detailed analysis of the results of the public consultation can be find in here.
Additional targeted consultation activities were carried on to collect stakeholders’ views. Annex 2 to the Commision’s Staff Working Document on the impact assessement report provides an overall synopsis of the outcome of the different consultation activities and how this input has been taken into account.
What are expected benefits?
The proposal foresees creating the appropriate conditions for the digital collaboration between customs and partner competent authorities to properly implement the external aspects of many internal market policies and reduce the administrative burden on trade.
The development of the EU Single Window Environment for Customs rests on two pillars of digital administrative cooperation among customs, partner competent authorities and traders. The first includes government-to-government (G2G) digital cooperation between customs and partner competent authorities to support the automated verification by customs of the non-customs formalities required for goods clearance. This would also would allow partner competent authorities to properly monitor and control the quantities of authorised goods imported or exported. The proposal provides for the interconnection of eight non-customs formalities for which the data relevant to customs authorities is available centrally in EU non-customs systems. The process of the automatic exchange of information foreseen under the G2G dimension is illustrated in the figure below.
The second pillar, business-to-government (B2G) digital cooperation, focuses on various ways of streamlining clearance processes for traders when dealing with certain EU non-customs regulatory requirements. The proposal imposes an obligation on the Member States to establish a set of digital services to enable information to be exchanged electronically between customs authorities, partner competent authorities and traders - referred to as ‘national single window environments for customs’. In addition to the G2G exchange of information between authorities, these environments are intended to also serve as single communication point for traders to fulfil the relevant customs and specific EU non-customs formalities required for goods clearance. The non-customs formalities applicable to this proposed simplification measure would need to be explicitly identified by the Commission based on their relevance to trade facilitation as well as legal and technical feasibility. This process requires the collaboration of the Commission and Member States and will be pursued by means of implementing acts based on specific evaluation criteria. The figure below depicts an overview of the B2G processes for goods clearance.
In addition, the legal proposal foresees additional facilitation measures to support the G2G and B2G cooperation. This involves extending the use of the Economic Operator Registration and Identification System (EORI) to partner competent authorities, and appointing national coordinators in each Member State to coordinate all activities associated with the effective functioning of the Single Window.
The proposed G2G digital cooperation will save significant time in the customs clearance, as it introduces possibilities for automated verification and reduces reliance on customs manual documentary checks, saving human resources and ultimately expanding the control capacities of customs administrations. In particular, economic operators will benefit from the direct automated exchange between authorities not having to present supporting documents physically for the customs clearance. Given the 24/7 availability of the automated supporting documents verification service, the clearance of standard cases may happen even outside the working hours. In addition, the B2G aspect of the proposal will simplify the fulfilment of regulatory formalities and address key problems, such as the need to submit similar information to multiple authorities for the same movements. The simplification of regulatory formalities, the decrease of clearance time and the resources needed to deal with them, may ultimately benefit citizens, as lower costs may be transferred to them in the form of lower prices.
Apart from rendering the customs clearance more efficient, the proposal will bring significant improvements on the compliance and enforcement of non-customs regulatory requirements. The automated quantity management at EU level will enable the automated verification of ‘write-offs’ throughout the Union, providing a control tool to avoid fraudulent use of supporting documents over the authorised quantities. A better compliance and enforcement of the non-customs regulatory formalities under scope will have positive impacts on protecting public health and safety, enhancing security, preserving the cultural heritage and protecting animal welfare and the environment.
How was the project conceived?
The 2008 e-Customs Decision was the first piece of EU legislation that the Commission and the Member States to endeavour to establish a framework of single window services. To achieve these objectives, the Venice Declaration was endorsed by the Council Conclusions of 17 December 2014, proposing a progressive action plan to implement and regulate these services at EU level.
The EU Customs Single Window-Common Veterinary Entry Document (EU CSW-CVED) pilot and its successor, the EU Customs Single Window-Certificates Exchange (EU CSW-CERTEX) project, have contributed to the operationalisation of this vision. These projects enable the automated verification by customs of several non-customs regulatory formalities submitted with the customs declaration as evidence of compliance. The formalities interconnected with EU CSW-CVED included the common entry document (CED) and the common veterinary entry documents for imports of animals and products of animal origin (CVED-A and CVED-P), stored in DG SANTE’s original version of TRACES system, known as TRACES Classic. EU CSW-CERTEX is connected to the successor of TRACES Classic, TRACES New Technology, to support the automated verification of the new common health entry documents that entered into force on 14 December 2019 and to implement new key functionalities. This system further covers the certificate of inspection (COI) for imports of organic products and the forest law enforcement, governance and trade (FLEGT) for imports of timber. Additional expansion is foreseen to other non-customs regulatory requirements, including ozone-depleting substances licences (ODS) , fluorinated greenhouse gases formalities (F-GAS), dual use export licences and import licences (ICGL) and importer statements (ICGS) for cultural goods. The integration of additional formalities such as non-food product safety and compliance and the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora licences (CITES) has started in late 2020. EU CSW-CERTEX will continue to operate as a pilot project to interconnect these new formalities until the latter are regulated by the legal proposal.
What are the next steps?
The European Parliament and the Council are currently reviewing the Commission’s proposal in line with the ordinary legislative procedure. DG TAXUD is closely following the discussions of the Council’s Customs Union working group and the EU Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee.
Looking ahead, the Commission will continue working on expanding the scope of the initiative to new regulatory formalities to increase its added value for both economic operators and Member State administrations. As the B2G cooperation aspects require further reflection, the Commission plans to launch a study to analyse in depth the technical and legal viability of this approach. This study will be supplemented by a project group, which will provide a valuable forum for sharing expertise and knowledge, ensuring that Member State positions are taken into account and properly reflected.
Background information and related links
More detailed information about the milestones and deadlines of the EU Single Window environment for customs initiative can be found in fiche 1.13 of Annex II of the MASP.