A new strategy to plug gaps in the EU’s customs security safeguards was adopted by the European Commission yesterday (21 August).  

Effective measures are needed to protect legitimate businesses from smuggling, but they must not prevent the smooth flow of trade.  Customs risk management can also fight the spread of contagious diseases such as Ebola, stop illicit food such as bush meat entering the supply chain, and prevent the illegal trafficking of weapons.

The action plan looks at the movement of goods into and within the EU. It builds on a 2005 proposal to improve the security and safety of goods crossing EU borders.   

The new strategy was developed after failures in the current framework were identified. In June 2013, the Council of Ministers called for measures to address those failings.

The 2005 initiative introduced the electronic exchange of information between customs offices on movements of goods, required traders to provide customs authorities with information on goods through electronic summary declarations; and introduced an EU-wide computerised system for risk management.

Algirdas Šemeta, commissioner responsible for customs, said: "Customs holds the key to smooth trade and safe trade. With 300 million declarations to process and €3.5 trillion worth of trade in goods to supervise every year, EU customs need to optimise their use of resources, without compromising security or disrupting legal trade.”

The new strategy identifies areas for improvement and sets deadlines for them to be achieved.

Common risk criteria need to be introduced across national customs authorities and better information sharing is also required.  

EU support could be given to identify differences between member states in their custom risk management, the strategy said.

Relations between customs and reliable traders should be further developed by promoting the EU Authorised Economic Operator programme.

Member states can grant the AEO status to trusted traders meeting compliance, security, safety and financial solvency standards. The status is recognised by other member states, cutting red tape.

More efficient customs controls are needed and better communications to ensure that they are carried out at the right time and place and are not duplicated by customs authorities.

Adjustments also need to be made to legal, procedural and IT systems to deliver accurate and timely information on goods entering and leaving the EU.  The adjustments must be brought in in a way that does not create excessive costs for businesses or authorities.

The EU must also contribute to creating global standards to promote them among international trading partners, the strategy said.