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MEMO/05/60

Brussels, 24 February 2005

Customs security at external borders: Frequently Asked Questions

Won't pre-departure declarations impose additional burdens on EU traders, particularly exporters, and have a negative effect on their competitiveness?

No. The impact upon traders is likely to be minimal. In the first place, the declarations required will never involve more onerous obligations than those imposed by many third countries, for example the declaration required 24 hours before shipment by the United States. Furthermore, exporters already normally present their export declaration before the goods arrive at the customs office of exit. In the vast majority of cases, pre-departure advice by the use of the customs export declaration itself will reduce the burden on Community exporters at the actual time of export. In fact, if the Community can assure the safety of its own exports then its trading partners will have less need to impose increased controls at import, which should provide a competitive benefit to EU exporters.

Why does the Regulation provide for pre-departure declarations for all exports from the Community?

The Community needs to ensure a global approach to security and safety for exports to all countries. The Community's commitment is to protect not only its own trade and citizens, but those of its trading partners as well. The Community has therefore looked beyond measures restricted to purely reciprocal arrangements and to the control of imports and looks to promote international standards founded upon risk-based controls of exports as well. This global approach is widely supported by Member States and by trade organisations. The aim is to ensure a proper balance between customs controls and the facilitation of legitimate trade.

What is to be the time-limit for the lodgement of pre-arrival and pre-departure declarations?

The time limits will be set out in the implementing provisions that will support the Regulation. The intention is that these will be set at the shortest reasonable period that will allow for effective risk analysis, taking account of the various types of trade and modes of transport. It is anticipated that a 24 hour deadline for prior declaration will apply only to goods brought into the customs territory of the EU by sea, where the voyage duration exceeds that period, and that in most other cases, prior notification will probably need to be given just 2 hours, if electronic, or 4 hours if on paper, before the goods are brought into, or out of, the customs territory of the EU.

Special rules will be created for authorized economic operators and for shipments between neighbouring countries, such as Switzerland, or for goods moving under computerised customs procedures, such as the New Computerised Transit System. Where an international agreement provides for satisfactory security checks to be carried out in the country of export, the time limit may be reduced substantially.

What data will be needed for these prior declarations?
The data will be set out in the implementing provisions that will support the Regulation. It is intended that the data sets will be the minimum required for effective risk analysis and will not vary greatly from that which is currently required for summary declarations, on one hand, and for export customs declarations, on the other. It is not intended that a large amount of additional data be required, even though this is to some extent an inescapable consequence of the safety and security concerns that have led to these measures. Work on devising the probable data sets will include the examination and consideration of other similar requirements, notably World Customs Organisation harmonised data requirements.

How will the Regulation benefit traders?

Prior declarations will, particularly when combined with uniform Community risk-selection criteria for controls that are supported by computerised systems and the exchange of information between customs administrations and other relevant authorities such as police and veterinary services, improve risk-analysis and open the way for total pre-selection for controls. It will be possible for customs resources to be better deployed and this will result not only in better security but also in the instant release of all legitimate goods upon their arrival at offices of entry and exit. This speeding up of border processing will benefit Community traders and will counterbalance if not even outweigh any cost or disadvantage of having to provide information earlier than is currently required and electronically rather than on paper.

What are the special user-friendly options that the Regulation provides for authorised traders?

The Regulation will allow traders of proven trustworthiness to benefit from reduced customs controls. It will allow the development of an authorised economic operator programme, introducing general provisions for the Community-wide accreditation of such operators and the criteria for their accreditation.

In essence the authorised economic operator programme entails an extension to the existing concept in the Customs Code of authorised traders to take account of security aspects so as to maintain a proper balance between customs controls and the facilitation of legitimate trade.

Have traders been consulted about the Regulation?

Yes. Consultation with trade representative groups and other stakeholders has been a key part of the deliberations and their views and concerns have been fully considered. This is reflected in the fact that the Regulation incorporates many amendments to the original text which ensure greater clarity, such as in the definition of the role of customs offices, and more flexible and less burdensome legislation, such as that for goods leaving the Community the customs declaration is treated as the pre-departure notice. The general provision for the accreditation of authorised economic operators was also introduced as a result of these trade consultations.

The Commission has also undertaken to involve businesses in drawing up the provisions that will implement various elements of the Regulation.

How do bilateral agreements between individual EU Member States and third countries create level playing field problems?

Bilateral agreements between individual Member States and various trading partners create a serious burden for traders, who must in such cases supply different data to different countries, depending upon the individual agreements.

The Commission's proposals are based upon setting standards that are acceptable to the rest of the world, so that all Community exports, from all EU Member States, may be accepted as safe.

Is the safety and security of goods crossing Community borders mainly a matter for customs authorities?

Within the EU, the Member States themselves designate the competent authorities for this purpose and the police may also be involved. But the fact that customs operate at international borders give them an essential role in this area. The EU's Council of Ministers in November 2003 adopted conclusions acknowledging the important role of customs at the EU's external borders.

How does this modification of the Customs Code relate to the forthcoming complete modernisation of the Customs Code?

These amendments are separate from, but wholly consistent with, the planned proposal for a modernised and simplified Community Customs Code which the Commission intends to present to the European Council and Parliament later this year (see IP/03/1100). The electronic declarations, electronic exchange of information, and authorised economic operator programme are, in particular, elements that will be taken forward in the proposal for a modernised Customs Code.

When will the changes come into effect?

The Regulation will take effect in all Member States immediately following its signature by the Presidents of the Parliament and Council. However, elements of the Regulation such as the information to be included in pre-arrival and pre-departure declarations, the framework for the exchange of risk information between Member States and the criteria for the accreditation of authorised economic operators will have to be spelt out in implementing regulations. Work on these implementing provisions has already started in working groups involving both national customs administrations and trade federations with a view to their entry into force in mid-2006. In addition, work is taking place on the development of the information technology that is required to allow electronic information exchange and electronic declarations. The Regulation requires these electronic systems to be in place three years after the implementing provisions for these legal changes have come into force.

(See also IP/05/209)


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