Give private sector a voice at WCO
Thomas Winkowski, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in June recommended the World Customs Organization do more to gain regular private sector input on operational and enforcement guidelines by establishing a structure similar to CBP’s Commercial Operations Advisory Committee.
COAC is a body of 20 industry experts that meets quarterly - and works in between through subcommittees, working groups and conference calls — to provide industry feedback and advice on policies and programs to minimize the impact on trade. Its official constituents are the Homeland Security and Treasury departments, but it mostly serves CBP.
COAC has had a direct hand in CBP’s development of the popular Centers for Excellence and Expertise that are designed to provide more uniform trade processing by assigning specialists to work with specific industries on post-clearance compliance issues. It is also played a big role in setting up the simplified entry pilot program, is actively advising CBP on the air cargo security pilot currently underway, as well as CBP’s evolution into export facilitation and how to reform regulations governing customs brokers.
The relationship between CBP and COAC has grown closer during the past three years when the agency embraced the twin principles of co-creation and bi-directional education. Rather than developing policies from within and then presenting a finished product to stakeholders to comment on, CBP officials believe the best solutions for meeting the needs of government and industry can be developed by giving industry a role in shaping initiatives from the beginning. The collaboration is further enhanced by a commitment to meet often with industry experts and observe their operations in the field so CBP specialists can learn how businesses actually operate and better appreciate their challenges when crafting rules. In turn, CBP has allowed industry more access so it can learn how CBP functions and the constraints it faces so industry has more realistic expectations about the agency’s activities.
At the August COAC meeting, Winkowski repeated that the trade community has to be an active participant in modernizing customs authorities around the world.
A COAC-like approach would be beneficial for helping the WCO achieve its global goals, CBP officials say.
The WCO currently has a Private Sector Consultative Group with representatives from trade associations and companies worldwide to provide policy advice.
But Maria Louisa Boyce, senior advisor for private sector engagement at CBP, told me the PSCG’s involvement is limited to supply chain security. CBP wants private sector input at the global level for all aspects of cross-border supply chain movement, she said.
“What we want to share with other countries is that we have found the benefits of working with the private sector,” she said.
Businesses have an important stake in inter-governmental organizations of all stripes and vice versa. Policymakers and regulatory authorities need to understand how global businesses work and how to maximize the private sector’s ability to advance job creation, economic growth, environmental sustainability, security and public health and safety.
The private sector has the resources, experience and technology that can help policymakers achieve their goals. The WCO and other inter-governmental organizations would do well to follow CBP’s lead in this matter.
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