The 5th WCO Global AEO Conference, held over three days from 25 to 27 May 2021, concluded successfully with over 3,917 registered participants from 158 World Customs Organization (WCO) Member administrations and stakeholders’ representatives around the world.
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During the intensive discussions some 80 prominent experts shared their insights with the global Customs community. The event, hosted virtually by Dubai Customs and the Federal Customs Authority (FCA) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with support from the Korea Customs Service and various sponsors, achieved its objectives of re-establishing the importance of Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) programmes and helping to shape the vision of AEO 2.0.
Under the theme “AEO 2.0: advancing towards new horizons for sustainable and secure trade”, the Conference kicked off with a high-level discussion that identified the strengths and weaknesses of the AEO concept and provided a glimpse into the future of AEO 2.0.The second session looked at the importance of Coordinated Border Management (CBM) and of other government agency (OGA) cooperation. It was followed by the third panel discussion on expanding AEO programmes to e-commerce operators which emphasized the need to include these entities, particularly in the current environment where consumers have become more dependent on e-commerce.
The WCO Secretary General, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, acknowledged that one of the main challenges with current AEO programmes was a lack of harmonization due to various factors, including the level of automation, physical security, environmental aspects and the question of a guarantee. He went on to say that it was critical to harmonize AEO application, validation and authorization processes through increased use of technology.
Addressing the question of how to achieve higher volumes of trade while maintaining the resilience of supply chains in the post-pandemic era, speakers underscored the role of technology and the importance of human resources. Focus was placed on the crucial need to ensure that the whole system becomes contactless, including the entire trade documentation process.
Representatives from inter-governmental organizations stressed the importance of Customs and the Post working together to strengthen the supply chain, especially in the e-commerce domain.
On Day 2, participants had an opportunity to take part in eight dynamic sessions looking at the technical aspects that could and should be considered for AEO 2.0. The various sessions addressed the importance of digitalization, leveraging new technologies, emerging threats and the significance of data exchange. A number of sessions also identified partnership as a critical aspect that required further development and enhancement. The need to expand AEO programmes to new economic operators, the importance of engaging with OGAs and the potential of AEO implementation to enhance agricultural security were also emphasized.
On Day 3, the Conference looked at building trust for genuine partnerships in AEO programmes and Mutual Recognition Arrangements/Agreements (MRAs) and at the vital capacity building needs to ensure that Customs and business are able to flourish. The speakers stressed that AEO was key to facilitating and securing trade but that implementing an AEO programme required trust. Customs administrations should therefore try to establish a meaningful dialogue with private sector stakeholders, understand their concerns and fully inform them of what to expect from an AEO programme.
It was pointed out that Customs, other border agencies and the private sector need to continuously assess and further develop their human capital to ensure that the latter possesses the required skills. In the case of AEO programmes, it is not only a question of knowledge or competences but also of ensuring that staff show an aptitude for engagement and communication and that their skills in these areas are developed on an ongoing basis.
The outcomes of the discussions over the past three days have highlighted the importance of the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards as a unique instrument designed to secure and facilitate global trade, especially through sound partnerships with AEO companies and OGAs, and that reinforcing this collaboration to enhance supply chain sustainability and expedite the post-pandemic recovery is critical.
The Conference came to a successful conclusion with closing remarks by Mr. Pranab Kumar Das, WCO Director for Compliance and Facilitation, and H.E. Dr Thani Bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dubai, UAE. Mr. Das congratulated Dubai Customs and the FCA of the UAE for organizing this impressive virtual event, the first Global AEO Conference to be held in the WCO’s North of Africa, Near and Middle East region.