“Our ever closer cooperation benefits even the consumer”

Liesbeth Kooijman and Ria Leferink op Reinink about streamlining the supervisory processes of NVWA and Customs. “Our joint efforts lead to better coordination of our operations at the border.”

For years now, Dutch Customs has been working closely with the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) – responsible for product and food safety, plant and animal health and animal welfare, among others. Based on the one-government principle, the two organisations are increasingly integrating and streamlining their supervisory processes. In this light, a project was launched in 2018 that should lead to more effective inspections and significant efficiency benefits for both agencies, as well as time savings for international trade and logistics. This at the same time is good news for the consumer, who finds an increasingly fresher and safer piece of meat or fish on his plate.

“In recent years we, as national regulators, have taken considerable steps towards integrated border management,” Liesbeth Kooijman (left on the photo) of the NVWA says. “The Joint Inspection Centre was established at the national airport and the State Inspectorate Terminal opened its doors in the port of Rotterdam in 2018. They’re ultramodern sites, where Customs, the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate and we can increasingly coordinate our inspections and, therefore, increasingly act as a single government. The business community too is involved in the discussion on how we organise our work at the border – public and private parties are, therefore, combining forces to ensure freight is handled smoothly and safely. As NVWA, we don’t perform all our checks at the one-stop-shops mentioned. Veterinary checks – on animal products and livestock, for example – are carried out at special External Border Inspection Posts, such as here at Freshport Schiphol. And especially with these types of inspections, there’s still room for improvement in our cooperation with Customs, in terms of efficiency.”

Tighter risk profiles
“That’s why we started comparing our work processes in the area of Entry/Import in 2018,” customs officer Ria Leferink op Reinink (right on the photo) explains. “The question was, where do they overlap and what permanent improvements can we achieve there? We mapped out a total of twelve of those overlapping areas and immediately set to work with a top 3. The optimisation of the so-called risk learning circle was given priority. As Customs, we apply a variety of risk profiles to the mass amounts of declaration data received by us – partly on the basis of risks identified by the NVWA, such as the type of product or country of origin. Our automated systems then flag incoming consignments that qualify for an inspection by the NVWA. If the results of these inspections are communicated properly and quickly, we can further tighten our risk profiles. However, the quality of the feedback turned out to be rather employee-dependent. In order to make it less person-related, we’re going to set up fixed domain groups. As such, NVWA and Customs file coordinators will discuss and record experiences and new insights from operational control. This way, we get a clearer picture of the shipments that constitute a real risk, while increasing safety and facilitating the movement of goods at the same time. It means we can reduce the number of unnecessary disruptions in logistics.”

Faster release of goods
“The automated sharing of so-called batch decisions is also high on the agenda”, Kooijman says. “When we’ve carried out our check and the goods in question are okay with us, they still need to be released by Customs. Prior to this, the administration also checks the batch decision that the NVWA has taken. So far, this is done almost entirely manually, which means that time is lost sometimes. Naturally, companies benefit if the release proceeds as quickly as possible. Otherwise, a truck full of Nile perch fillet is ready for departure for example, but the driver must wait until all customs formalities have been completed. We are now heading for a situation in which the company concerned – as soon as our inspection has completed – receives a digital code that will allow the customs declaration to be completed straight away. This is provided that Customs doesn’t want to physically check the goods, of course. We achieve this by making fairly straightforward software modifications in our systems and those of Customs. In fact, this is how we eliminate the time factor from this process. That’s good for commerce, as well as for the competitive strength of a party as Schiphol Airport. We know that some sectors – such as the horse trade – are sensitive to any kind of delay. You don’t want a market like that to move to other, foreign airports.”

Addressing illegal imports
“The third process that we’ve started makes our joint supervision more adequate,” Leferink op Reinink explains. “This specifically concerns the compulsory inspection of veterinary products from outside the European Union. These goods are associated with certain risks, for example, they may be unsafe for human or animal consumption or lead to the introduction of animal diseases. Companies must, therefore, report such shipments to the NVWA in advance – something they sometimes fail to do. By comparing the administrative records of the NVWA with the declarations for temporary storage that companies submit to Customs, we can detect any missing preliminary reports earlier. And, therefore, be more effective in tackling potential illegal imports and market parties engaged in these practices. Until recently, comparing our data was a manual process as well, but now we’re automating this using a matching tool. That is, of course, much less labour-intensive. In those situations where human assessment remains necessary, we’ll continue to rely on the knowledge and experience of our employees.”

Better coordination, more synergy
All in all, Kooijman and Leferink op Reinink are positive about the course that their organisations have taken in 2018. “Initially, the joint screening of our processes regularly led to some classic confusion”, Kooijman says. “After all, you each have your own jargon. But as you gain a deeper understanding of each other’s professions, it all starts to fall into place. You start to understand why things are done in a certain way but you also see how things could be done differently. Our joint efforts lead to better coordination of our operations at the border and we create more synergy. And we’re only at the beginning of this journey; in the near future, we want to implement more of these structural improvements. As we said before, many more parties will ultimately benefit from this, more than just Customs and NVWA alone.”

This interview also appeared in our recently issued overview ‘Dutch Customs in 2018’. Click here to read the full publication.

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