A historic high for international trade
For many years, the Netherlands and China have been committed to strengthening their mutual trade relationship. Cooperation between the customs administrations of both countries has traditionally played an important role within the context of secure and reliable logistics chains. In this area, a milestone was achieved mid-May, when a special batch of goods from Schiphol arrived at Baiyun Airport at Guangzhou. It was the world’s first air freight consignment that was delivered as part of the public-private pilot project Smart & Secure Trade Lanes. This called for a celebration.
A delegation from Dutch Customs was invited to the Chinese metropolis for a few days last May to attend a meeting about the multiannual programme of cooperation between Customs Guangzhou and Customs Schiphol Cargo. The meeting was characterised by various themes that are directly related to trade facilitation and customs supervision. Consider mutual recognition of conditions for AEO companies, new developments in the field of e-commerce and progress within the European-Asian Smart & Secure Trade Lanes pilot project (SSTL). As it turned out, it was during this very visit that Guangzhou was to be the first city where an aircraft landed with on board an SSTL air freight consignment. This memorable fact was given splendour by a short ceremony with representatives of Dutch Customs symbolically transferring the documents accompanying the goods to their Chinese colleagues. Many local senior officials and executives from the business sector were witness to this. This event is therefore of great importance to the Belt and Road Strategy implemented by Beijing, which serves to further strengthen China’s position as an economic power
Involved from the outset
The significance of SSTL, however, reaches much further. The research project was set up by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) over eight years ago. The aim is to increase the security of supply chains, while at the same time providing bona fide businesses with better facilities in their logistics. This is, amongst others, to be achieved by recognising each other’s customs inpsections (linked to detailed agreements about risk analysis) and exchanging data on a large scale through a secure communication channel for customs services. China and several EU Member States, including the Netherlands, have been partners within this programme from the very beginning. As from 2013, Hong Kong also participates. The customs authorities of the participating countries already make use of each other’s inspection findings, share risk information and develop global-based systems for this. This has resulted in significant efficiency improvements for these services over the past period.
Until recently, the project focused solely on maritime freight flows, but the scope has since been extended by air transport. More SSTL flight routes are expected to follow Schiphol-Baiyun. In good time, rail transport will be added as well.
Quicker release of goods
Of course, the initiative cannot transpire without the input of private parties. Participating companies, that must meet the strictest criteria, can benefit significantly from a quicker release of goods upon arrival in the country of destination. The starting point of SSTL namely is that the exporting country can inspect the goods in question and that, in principle, the importing country does not check the consignment. This, of course, makes the procedures of customs formalities significantly swifter, and reduces customs costs for market operators. To illustrate, the load of cockpit instruments arriving mid-May from Amsterdam at Guangzhou was on its way to a nearby aircraft manufacturer within 21 minutes after landing on Chinese soil, and once there it immediately entered the production process.
All in all, both the world of Customs and the international business community could potentially greatly benefit from SSTL. Reason for Customs NL inSight to report more about the ambitious programme, more specifically from a Dutch point of view.
It goes without saying that Dutch Customs readily participates in a project such as Smart & Secure Trade Lanes. The objectives of the programme are closely linked to the enforcement vision ‘Pushing Boundaries’, which forms the basis of all policies developed within the service. This philosophy for the future aims to find the optimal balance between trade facilitation and customs supervision, with suitable inspection pressure tailored to every market operator. The starting point is that 100% of the means of transport and goods passing through the Dutch EU external border will be under supervision in the near future. This does not mean that Customs will inspect everything, however, it means that the service can verify whether each means of transport that enters or leaves the Dutch EU border has filed the required reports and declarations. And, that the organisation has a proper understanding of each incoming or outgoing container and pallet, based on the information from the declaration and from other sources.
The SSTL pilot project has a private counterpart that also focuses on better securing logistics chains: the EU research project CORE (see www.coreproject.eu). Market operators are in the lead in this project, driven by more commercial motives. Dutch Customs also participates in this project. More information about this is available in the item ‘Safe logistical chains within reach’ in Customs NL inSight, number 1 2017.