After three days of invigorating discussions on the latest trends and the emerging developments in the world of border and IT supply chain management, the 2017 WTO IT Conference & Exhibition was concluded on 9 June. The announcement by Secretary General Mikuriya that the WCO has decided to make the source code of the WCO Customs Targeting System (CTS) publicly available and that it will be placed on an open source before the end of 2017 was very well received by the participants of the conference and extensively relayed through social media.
Over 550 delegates from more than 80 countries gathered in Tbilisi, Georgia, to attend one of WCO’s prime events, co-hosted by Georgia Revenue Service and the Ministry of Finance of Georgia. The Conference was supported by more than 40 sponsors and exhibitors, including Smiths Detection as the corporate sponsor, while the agenda included 73 speakers who spoke under 8 keynotes, 14 round tables and various panels. In the year when “Women in Customs” is being celebrated, gender equality has stayed high on WCO’s list of priorities, with half of the 16 moderators being female!
The first session was dedicated to E-Commerce as governments are devising strategies to support its tremendous growth. The session looked into the scope of E-Commerce, the benefits as well as the challenges which especially the border authorities are being confronted with. How Customs and IT can better support customer service while addressing all potential risks, was one of the points of focus.
The WCO Secretary General Mr. Kunio Mikuriya underlined that E-Commerce is a game changer for both the private sector and Customs. It is allowing MSMEs to join Global Value Chains, but also bringing many unknown players moving goods across borders. Other issues raised include IPR infringements, security issues and revenue leakage.
The speakers recognized that traditional trade is slowing down and the E-Commerce is rising all the time and will impact logistics and many other areas. It will also contribute to reducing gaps between countries and economies, allowing for more fairness and inclusiveness in foreign trade, as well as more fair taxation. But the key issues raised were lack of data and poor data quality which does not allow for proper risk management.
The Vice Minister of Foreign Trade of Costa Rica, Mr. Jhon Fonseca stressed that developing countries still have gaps in digital infrastructure and e-payment solutions, which means that there are expectations that E-Commerce will continue to grow significantly. The Head of Customs Legislation at DG TAXUD (EU), Ms. Susanne Aigner, noted that only in the EU, E-Commerce grows 20% on a yearly basis.
In terms of data exchange mechanisms, the Secretary General of TIACA Mr. Vladimir Zubkov said that the question of trust is always being brought up as not all parties implement the same data privacy and data protection rules and regulations. Some good examples of data sharing projects were mentioned such as the one between the Slovenian Customs and Post. It was highlighted that a possible way forward could be to have Posts perform some of the duties of Customs on their behalf. It was also mentioned by Vice-President of EMEA Operations at Integration Point Ms. Michiko Lloyd that using standardized data requirements by all Customs administrations could provide for much better data quality and data analytics capabilities.
The speakers in this high-level round table further mentioned that E-Commerce will potentially completely change the way imports and exports look like today and that the cloud capabilities will be used much more. Furthermore, the potential impact of 3D printing was raised, as it could completely change the face of logistics.
Another session that raised particular attention was the one on Blockchain technology. The session brought together speakers from Customs (Singapore), National Agency for Public Registry (Georgia), the private sector (IBM and Humaniq), as well academia (Wageningen University of Research, the Netherlands). Blockchain was recognized as an excellent tool for enhancing cyber security by establishing a trusted network. The Blockchain can support authenticity of import/export data across the value chain and, according to the speakers, has the potential to transform the supply chain completely. Mr. Georges Al Medawar from Humaniq stated that we are now in what the 90s were for development of Internet. The speakers talked about the use of Blockchain technology in banking, agrifood, supply chain management, as well as for property registration. The advantage of Blockchain technology is that stored data is impossible to delete, alter, rewrite or illegally manipulate. It allows for improved efficiency and transparency of global supply chains by providing permissioned access to key shipping events and secure, digitized document workflows to all supply chain participants, with 10% efficiency savings, as suggested by IBM.
The Single Window session also attracted a lot of attention, bearing in mind that Single Window represents another commitment under the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement which entered into force in February 2017. The panel discussed governance issues and how to ensure that a Single Window system actually brings facilitation to the trade. Data has a critical role and data standards such as the Data Model can help. However, speakers pointed out to the multiple standards and multiple single windows as an obstacle to trade facilitation. Namely, the private sector has its own data standards and regulatory data has its own standards and the challenge is how to bring those two together so that the systems understand the same data in the same way. The more data and reliable data provided by traders, the faster the clearance, said one of the speakers. Another noted that creating a data pipeline and having the right data, from the right people, at the right time was critical.
Under discussions on big data, data mining and predictive analytics, it was mentioned that data is not necessarily the magic bullet, but what we do with it, as well as providing accurate and timely information. Global company data can help in risk assessment, but needs to be blended with internal Customs data and information.
The session shared some examples of building a data-driven smart Customs. This included for example mapping data from various sources, machine learning for developing the classification prediction model etc.
Other topics that were discussed include data governance, data security, data privacy, Integrated Supply Chain Management and others.
The ITC delegates also had a chance to hear from a number of high level speakers on some of the latest trends and IT solutions available for improving border and supply chain management. More on these and all other sessions including the presentations can be found on the WCO event page at the following link: https://www.eiseverywhere.com/ehome/itc2017/574209/ as well as on the Conference web app (search for 2017WCOITC).
A 2017 WCO ITC video event overview, including interviews by a number of speakers can be found at the following link: https://www.eiseverywhere.com/ehome/itc2017/482334/