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WCO looks to round out e-commerce framework

A final draft on technical specifications and annexes for the World Customs Organization e-commerce framework is moving through the approval process, according to an official.

   The World Customs Organization (WCO) is looking to approve additional standards as part of its Cross-Border E-Commerce Framework of Standards soon, said Ana Hinojosa, director of the WCO Compliance and Facilitation Directorate, via a video message aired Wednesday during the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America (NCBFAA) Annual Conference in San Antonio.
   The WCO received approval for the initial framework in June, but the body since then has been developing other parts of the framework, including technical specifications corresponding to all the standards and annexes providing context for those specifications, Hinojosa said.
   The June-released framework includes eight general principles: advance electronic data and risk management; facilitation and simplification of procedures; safety and security; revenue collection; measurement and analysis; partnerships; public awareness, outreach and capacity building; and legislative frameworks.
   The WCO Working Group on E-Commerce has developed a final draft of the technical specifications and annexes to be considered for approval by the WCO Policy Commission in June and “hopefully” by the WCO Council “immediately afterwards,” she said.
   The council is the supreme body of the WCO and makes final decisions regarding the organization’s work and activities.
   While the framework is nonbinding, the WCO hopes the final product will be a “living document” that provides standardization, harmonization and guidance to customs administrations facing the challenge of how to organize efforts to deal with e-commerce shipments, Hinojosa said.
   “We are expecting that we will have a system in place for a continual review and update of this framework of standards because we recognize the technology will continue to change, the trends in … consumer habits will change and it will be important to ensure that the document stays relevant, it stays accurate and it stays useful for our members and the stakeholders that they deal with,” she said.
   The WCO has been working with several other international organizations on e-commerce, including the World Trade Organization (WTO), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.N. Conference on Trade and Development and the World Bank, Hinojosa said.
   “I think we’re very aligned on the importance of having this framework finalized and available,” she said.
   Further, the WTO has invited representatives of the WCO to participate in the WTO’s discussions on e-commerce, and the WCO is “very interested in staying engaged” with that process, Hinojosa said. “We’re hopeful that those conversations will be fruitful and that something will come out of that.”
   WTO e-commerce talks have recently gained momentum, and 76 WTO members earlier this year announced intentions to launch negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said April 1.
   Issues raised in discussions include customs facilitation, paperless trading, e-signatures and e-payments, market access, data flows, consumer and personal data, and transparency of e-commerce measures and regulations, Azevedo said.
   Speaking at the NCBFAA conference, Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Trade, said she believes the agency’s current work on Type 86 entries is informing the WCO’s work on e-commerce.
   Type 86 is a type of entry being developed for de minimis imports for which CBP’s partner government agencies have oversight responsibilities.
   Mary Jo Muoio, senior vice president for trade services and government relations for Geodis, during the conference said that Entry Type 86 is an opportunity for customs brokers to alert the U.S. government to packages of interest while giving clients the benefit of duty and tax exemptions associated with de minimis, or Section 321, shipments.
   The ongoing e-commerce boom also presents an opportunity for brokers, but it’s going to require brokers “to think differently” about their work, Muoio said.
   “It really is uncharted territory,” she said. “How can this growth in trade not be an opportunity for us? The more that comes in the merrier. But it’s up to us to figure out how we can maximize on this opportunity, how we can make it a real business opportunity for us, and I think that’s going to require some change on our part.”

Brian Bradley

Based in Washington, D.C., Brian covers international trade policy for American Shipper and FreightWaves. In the past, he covered nuclear defense, environmental cleanup, crime, sports, and trade at various industry and local publications.