Green customs: from strategy to action to promote sustainable development

VCN - The COVID-19 pandemic, wars, and climate change are hindering the world's sustainable development process, posing a risk of not achieving the 17 sustainable development goals set by the United Nations (UN) in 2015. To promote the goals for 2030, aiming to end poverty, preserve the green planet, and ensure peace and prosperity for all, every individual, organization, including Customs authorities, needs to take practical actions to build and develop the economy and society in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, conserving natural resources for future generations.
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The author (far left) at the Green Customs Discussion Session at the WCO Technology Conference and Exhibition held in Hanoi from October 10 to 12, 2023
The author (far left) at the Green Customs Discussion Session at the WCO Technology Conference and Exhibition held in Hanoi from October 10 to 12, 2023

Green customs in the context of sustainable development goals

Green customs is not a new concept for Customs authorities. Since 2004, the "Green Customs Initiative," initiated by the UN Environment Program and the World Customs Organization (WCO) along with other international environmental organizations, aimed to enhance the capacity of Customs and related border protection forces to monitor and facilitate legal trade, while detecting and preventing the illegal trade of environmentally sensitive goods regulated by international conventions and multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).

Since 2015, the UN and world leaders have adopted the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), calling for global commitment to end poverty, protect the planet, combat climate change, and ensure peace and prosperity for all by 2030. To promote the achievement of these development goals, every individual or organization, including Customs authorities, needs a practical strategy and action plan to develop the economy and society in an environmentally friendly and sustainable direction, protecting the Earth and preserving natural resources for future generations.

In June 2023, the WCO Council approved an action plan to promote Customs authorities as pioneers in green transformation, supporting sustainable economic development that is environmentally friendly. Accordingly, the concept of Green Customs is elaborated, requiring each Customs authority to be a proactive organization enhancing capacity for officers and raising awareness for businesses to promote the achievement of UN's sustainable goals through three pillars: (1) Green Existence (supporting the implementation of SDGs 11, 12, and 13), (2) Green Enforcement (aiming at achieving SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, and 15), and (3) Green Innovation (supporting the achievement of SDGs 4, 5, 16, 17).

Action program towards Green Customs

Building a digital economy, a green economy, and a circular economy are top priorities for the current stage, especially during the economic recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic. In Decision No. 628/QD-TTg dated May 20, 2022, issuing the Customs development strategy until 2030, the Prime Minister directed that by 2030: "Implement Green Customs, encourage and promote trade activities towards sustainable development through the efficient implementation of international agreements on environmental and wildlife protection that Vietnam has signed, with measures to encourage import-export businesses to implement solutions in line with the circular economy."

As the "guardian of the economic gateway," controlling the import and export of goods across borders, Vietnam Customs always proactively enhances the efficiency of checking and controlling goods to ensure the safety and quality. It applies modern techniques such as customs clearance systems, scanning machines, and centralized monitoring systems to improve the efficiency of environmental protection and community health. However, the reality showed that there were still many shortcomings in controlling standards and the quality of environmentally related goods in Vietnam today. The legal documents and guidance documents on the management of imported goods checked by the state for quality and goods inspection have been issued, but they are still incomplete and overlapping.

In addition, enforcement still has many limitations, and Vietnam Customs has not truly focused on issuing regulations and raising awareness and competence of officers and employees about green culture and climate change through practical actions to protect the environment. The process of building and designing the problem for the Customs digital system and smart Customs has not truly imposed requirements for green and sustainable development as a central task.

Given these limitations and the requirement to achieve global sustainable development goals by 2030, Vietnam Customs needs to set new requirements for more comprehensive management, greener towards Green Existence, Green Enforcement, and Green Innovation.

For Pillar 1 - Green Existence, Vietnam Customs needs to build a green culture through a system of rules, propaganda, and training to raise awareness and actions of officers and employees regarding environmental protection and climate change. It should prioritize the purchase of machinery, vehicles using renewable energy, build offices, and warehouses according to green standards, saving energy and using environmentally friendly materials, implement waste classification at the source, and promote actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The practical actions of Singapore Customs can be a typical example of the Green Existence goal. The design of the Singapore Customs headquarters and customs clearance points at border gates requires the green certification from the Singapore Ministry of Construction. All procurement contracts of Singapore Customs prioritize green products and must maximize energy efficiency. Customs events are organized at facilities that meet green criteria, and the use of single-use water bottles is discontinued.

For Pillar 2 - Green Enforcement, Vietnam Customs needs to focus on recommending the construction and improvement of a modern, coherent, transparent legal system for modern customs, in line with international commitments on sustainable development. Research and recommend the issuance of appropriate customs and tax policies and procedures to promote trade activities according to the circular economy model, enhance the capacity to improve customs control efficiency through integrated supply chain risk management.

The European Union (EU) is the best example in the process of building a strategy to enforcement through the ambitious Green Deal program to reduce carbon emissions in the global supply chain. To fulfill the role of controlling compliance with these environmental regulations, Customs authorities have made significant reforms, such as researching and proposing the WCO to amend the harmonized and encoded system of goods to better control environmentally friendly goods; controlling the implementation of Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) at the border; increasing control of the export of waste to third countries; enforcing control of goods that destroy and degrade forests; and controlling illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

For Pillar 3 - Green Innovation, Vietnam Customs needs to promote the effective implementation of border control under the smart border management model, simplify procedures to facilitate and support the development of green, sustainable supply chains. It should leverage initiative and creativity in researching, testing, and applying new 4.0 technologies; modernize the method of exchanging information with customs of other countries and international organizations to control the safety and quality of products at the source.

The green economy promotes initiatives to extend the life cycle of products, limit waste, and encourage recycling. Supporting and controlling the circular supply chain, especially for plastic waste products, poses challenges to the control methods and trade facilitation of Customs authorities. In the ASEAN region, Indonesia is one of the largest importers of plastic waste since China closed its doors to imported plastic waste. Indonesian Customs has implemented many new measures to control the quality of imported plastic waste, such as source control, building risk profiles for waste exporters and importers, countries of origin, and HS codes. With a comprehensive range of measures, Indonesian Customs actively contributes to ensuring the sustainability of the environment through the enforcement of MEAs, applying a single window, reducing plastic waste that destroys the ocean.

The green transformation of customs: from strategy to action requires strong political determination from leadership at all levels, collaboration from ministries, sectors, and scientific management methods. Corresponding to each pillar, which are green existence, green enforcement, and green innovation, Vietnam Customs needs to build specific action plans tied to resources and time, ensuring the successful implementation of the Green Customs goals outlined in the Customs Development Strategy until 2030.

By Khanh Hong/ Ha Thanh

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