Consulting and cooperating the Dutch way
In the Netherlands Customs and trade and industry have been coming together for years in the context of the Customs-Business Consultation forum (ODB). This platform recently acquired the status of a National Committee on Trade Facilitation (NCTF). What does this mean for the cooperation and consultation’s structure? Policy adviser and ODB Secretary Thy Nguyen and Wouter Brookman, Secretary of the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW) and the Royal Association MKB Nederland (Dutch SMEs) explain.
The prelude to the ODB being upgraded was the establishment of the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Facilitation Agreement in Bali at the end of 2013. This agreement will enter into force as soon as it has been ratified by 120 countries. In anticipation of the agreement’s entry into force the Netherlands already wants to start implementing it and to do so it must – the same as every participating country – run through a number of steps. One of these involves establishing an NCTF: a National Committee on Trade Facilitation. The ODB, with Customs NL at the helm, appeared to be the ideal body for this task. “Registration was completed quickly via the coordinating Ministry of Foreign Affairs”, reveals Nguyen. “There were questions, such as: will there be a structural joining of forces? Is there structural consultation between the authorities and the business community? Do you have a secretariat? Who participates? We had all the answers prepared. The desired cooperation already existed.”
Brookman: “Various organisations are involved in the ODB, including umbrella organisations such as ACN, EVO-Fenedex and FENEX. Other Dutch business are broadly represented thanks to the participation of the VNO-NCW and MKB Nederland. These two organisations currently represent 90% of employment in the Netherlands.”
“Apart from the Customs Administration, two public organisations have also been involved in the ODB for the past three years or so: the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate and the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority”, adds Nguyen. “They may well be allocated a more extensive role in the NCTF. I can imagine that in the future other supervisors will be party to certain agenda points in one of the three ODB working groups. It is also worth examining whether we are missing other potentially interesting government parties or organisations around the table.”
“The structured way in which we consult and cooperate is unique in Europe”, explains Brookman. “Here’s an example: the European umbrella organisation for the business community, Business Europe, asked us to attend a meeting about the upcoming Union Customs Code. The aim was also to invite national representatives from the Customs Administration and the ministries concerned, as well as national umbrella organisations. We arrive at the meeting together, very amicably – we all know each other and work together. In other countries this is certainly not self-evident – you often see that there is considerable distance between them.”
“Our organisation may not be the only customs administration that consults with the business community, but it’s all about the way this takes place”, Nguyen states. “We don’t throw announcements over the fence, but engage in dialogue. We were also able to answer the justifiable question put by ODB members about what has actually changed now that we are an NCTF: in the day-to-day practice, very little – at least when it comes to this cooperation. Businesses can still rely on our services. And if there are legitimate complaints, we take them seriously. When the business community raised the alarm last year with regard to our excessively long response times, we set up an ODB task force. It focused on better agreements, which we also respect. This creates support on both sides.”
Off to Brussels together
“Customs plays an enforcement role, the umbrella organisations defend the interests of their members”, outlines Brookman. “As a result there is the occasional conflict, but this is possible precisely because the relationship is so good. We are able to get along, point out important matters to each other. For example, civil servants from the Customs Administration and DGFZ (the Ministry of Finance department that negotiates customs legislation in Brussels) publish reports in the ODB on relevant UCC issues in the EU context. Including on the lack of a regulation for excise goods, which could cause bottlenecks for rail freight. This was picked up by the business community as well as Customs and as a result we were able to take immediate joint action. If Dutch enterprises alone sound the alarm in Brussels, the response might be: the business community is complaining again. If you raise this kind of problem as a Member State, people think: perhaps something is actually amiss. Thanks to the vigilance on both sides the old regulation is now enforced, until a new one has been established.”
Customs expertise is important
“It is important that customs formalities are properly applied in a business”, says Brookman. “Unfortunately, until recently little attention was devoted to this in higher professional education and university study programmes. Many employees in the business community have made the matter their own. You recoup every Euro you invest in knowledge of customs formalities twice or three times over.”
Nguyen: “This is why it’s very positive that more interest is emerging in the customs side of logistics. Customs naturally supports the development of a higher professional education study programme related to customs and we send employees to the Customs and Supply Chain Compliance master’s study programme. Customs and the business community sharing a classroom: expands their knowledge of each other and increases mutual understanding.”
The NCTF will be officially launched on 10 March 2017, during a special event at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Brookman: “The meeting is intended for the Dutch business community in the broadest sense – not only shippers and forwarding agents. Also for the boss of the lemonade factory who is basically unfamiliar with the world of Customs, but who wants to know how he can get his bottles from the factory across the EU border.”
Nguyen: “Every single one of the themes examined is also aligned to the target group. For example, we tackle the importance and the consequences of trade agreements for Dutch businesses. And we reflect on the question of the contribution made by Customs to the growth of the economy and the economic business climate. Each one is an interesting topic. Therefore we advise anyone that is thinking about attending the meeting to be on time. Because there is only room for around 230 visitors.”
Three working groups fall under the ODB General that are occupied with implementing laws and regulations and discussing the profession’s generic issues:
• ODB Current Issues discusses implementation and other issues that are relevant to the primary Customs process and should be dealt with in the short term.
• ODB Medium-Term Issues focuses specifically on issues arising from implementing the Union Customs Code and on broad developments in collaboration with other enforcement departments in the case of cross-border logistics.
• ODB for Information Technology handles specific IT-related issues.