The European Union announced recently a new action plan setting out a series of measures to “make EU customs smarter, more innovative, and more efficient over the next four years.”

The EU Customs Union forms a single territory for customs purposes, where a common set of rules are applied. However, individual member states’ customs authorities are responsible for performing a wide and increasing range of controls, and the EU said it has become apparent in recent years that they are “struggling with the challenges of performing their various roles.” These difficulties will continue and possibly increase due to issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Kingdom’s impending departure from the EU, the rise of digitalization and e-commerce, fraud linked to non-payment of duties and value-added taxes, and the smuggling of illicit or unsafe goods.

In response, the new action plan focuses on the following.

- establishing a new analytics hub within the European Commission to collect, analyze, and share customs data, which will allow intelligent, risk-based supervision of supply chains and support efforts to fight fraud and manage risk

- strengthening the obligations of payment service providers and online sales platforms to ensure customs agencies have access to information needed to help fight customs duty and tax fraud in e-commerce

- a single window initiative (expected to be proposed by the end of October) that will promote compliance by (1) making it easier for legitimate businesses to complete their border formalities in one single portal and (2) allowing for more collaborative processing, sharing, and exchange of information and better risk assessment for customs authorities

- funding for (1) modern and reliable customs technical equipment, (2) updates of the digital infrastructure on which customs agencies operate, and (3) the development and support of the electronic systems necessary to make customs a paperless environment

- working toward an agreement with China on a new strategic framework for customs cooperation by the end of 2020

- launching a comprehensive analysis of the EU’s system of international cooperation in customs matters with a view to proposing possible enhancements in 2021

- increasing monitoring of the customs-related aspects of the EU’s 41 free trade agreements

- reviewing EU legal tools; e.g., determining if the rules underpinning member state cooperation on customs fraud are suitable to deal with new fraud patterns and evaluating the Union Customs Code to see if it is still fit for purpose

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