Press remarks by Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni on the Customs Union Action Plan

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Monday, September 28 2020.

Good morning. We present today the Customs Action Plan.

Building on an already major overhaul that entered into force 4 years ago - the Union Customs Code. The Plan we adopted last week will make our Customs Union smarter, more innovative and more efficient: this is our goal.

We have reached the autumn of a very trying year, because of the pandemic, we will never forget this year. A year marked by the severe social and economic effects of the pandemic, but also by an unprecedentedly ambitious response from the European Institutions.

Despite uncertainties surrounding us, one thing is clear: Europe must become more resilient in the social, economic, geopolitical, green and digital spheres. As a cornerstone of our single market EU i customs are at the heart of addressing these challenges.

Our Customs Union forms a single territory for customs purposes where a common set of rules is applied. It is an asset that we cannot afford to neglect or overlook. Even though it is working in the background, the work it is doing is highly important and ever more complex. This is why we are coming with this new Action Plan.

Indeed, maintaining and accelerating flows of legitimate trade through customs will help support our economic recovery from the current crisis while contributing to future growth.

Last year, EU customs treated imports and exports worth 330 billion euros per month - that's 15.3% of world trade in imports and 15.8% of world exports.

EU customs are also a key player in helping the EU and Member States address emergencies, as the pandemic demonstrated.

At the onset of the crisis, customs were instrumental in facilitating the flow of imports of important medical and protective equipment that helped us face the deepest public health crisis of our lifetime. At the same time, they kept dangerous and illicit products at bay.

In the face of new challenges and threats, we need cutting-edge solutions to make customs more resilient and future-proof.

Our customs authorities also face a growing challenge from fraud linked to non-payment of customs duties and VAT. Smugglers and fraudsters being able to pinpoint the weakest entry points on the EU's external borders to avoid detection.

This also has significant ramifications for the EU budget, of which customs duties form an integral part. 25 billion euros in 2018 or 13 per cent of our total revenues.

E-commerce, while also an opportunity, has given rise to fraud at customs.

And of course, EU customs are at the forefront of efforts to protect EU citizens by keeping dangerous and illegal goods like weapons and drugs out of the Single Market.

They also play a major role in protecting us from potentially unsafe counterfeit and fake goods such as medicines, electrical equipment and toys.

Let me take you through the main points in this Communication.

First of all, will set up a new analytics hub within the Commission to collect, analyse and share customs data. This will support Member States in their efforts to fight fraud and increase their capacities to manage risk.

We need better tools to indicate which imports might merit a more detailed verification.

So we will harness new technologies to create a nerve centre of information that will support customs' key tasks. In the longer term this work could help us to anticipate vulnerabilities and future crises.

Second, to support the fight against fraud in the field of e-commerce, we will strengthen the obligations of payment service providers and online sales platforms,to ensure that customs agencies have access to VAT payment data on transactions.

In this way, they can verify that the correct amount of customs duties and VAT are being paid. You may recall that the amount of VAT revenues lost in 2018 to tax fraud and inadequate tax collection has been estimated at 140 billion.

Third, next month we will put forward a proposal for the so-called ‘Single Window initiative' for customs. This is a new digital environment to allow businesses to complete border formalities in one single portal.

This means that, for example, an importer of agricultural products will no longer have to lodge separate customs and phyto-sanitary declarations.

We estimate that this can save up to €690 million for EU businesses during the first seven years and between €140 million and €200 million per year thereafter, with many benefits also for customs administrations.

The single window is one of several actions aimed at strengthening and facilitating compliance. This is vital in order to free up customs' resources to focus on suspicious movements of goods.

Fourth, we are setting out details of our plans for funding a roll-out of modern and reliable customs technical equipment in Member States under the 2021-2027 EU budget.

Funding will also be available for crucial updates of the digital infrastructure on which customs operate, to make it more modern, integrated and future-proof. And to help support and deepen cooperation between customs authorities and officials in all participating countries.

There will also be financing for the development and support of the customs electronic systems necessary to make customs a paperless environment. I am confident that co-legislators will agree on the final details of the budget soon so that this financing can be used from 2021.

Fifth, in the international sphere, we will enhance our customs cooperation with major international trade partners such as China. This will support our efforts to facilitate trade and, at the same time, ensure effective controls.

We will also step up the monitoring of certain customs related aspects of the EU's 41 Free Trade Agreements.

Finally, we will set up a new reflection group chaired by the Commission to examine how the Customs Union can be better prepared for the future. We are keen to work with Member States and trade representatives to make the Customs Union smarter and more technologically advanced

The Customs Union, one of the first concrete achievements of EU integration, has been working hard on behalf of all of us already for 52 years.

We now need to harness what we have learned in those five decades, while taking advantage of new technologies and tools that will make customs work even better for Member States, citizens and legitimate businesses.

This is imperative for our future health, prosperity and wellbeing and for a confident, dynamic and globally minded European Union.