A new handbook documenting best practices at border crossings is looking at facilitating trade through harmonization, technology and metrics.
Released in 2012 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the “Handbook of Best Practices at Border Crossings-A Trade and Transport Facilitation Perspective” was a joint effort of the Office of the Coordinator of the OSCE, and the Transport Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
A panel of border experts presented highlights of the Handbook at the May 2012 International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany.
The idea for the handbook emerged in 2006 during an OSCE Economic Forum. Participating States needed help with the implementation of legal instruments to promote integrated border management and legitimate trade flows across borders.
A pilot project was then designed, consisting of two seminars and aimed at capacity-building and training activities for the public and the private sectors.
The UNECE International Convention on the Harmonization of Frontier Controls of Goods of
1982 was chosen as a test case, on the grounds that it was the first facilitation agreement of its kind to have provided for harmonized and simplified border procedures, single window application and overall smoother transactions. With its 55 Contracting Parties, it remains a major source of efficiency gains for participating countries and their businesses, said the OSCE.
Eva Molnar, Director of the Transport Division, at UNECE, said that the aim is to “go global” with this convention.
Also taking off slowly, she said, is a UNECE E-CMR protocol, signed in May 2008 by seven countries to establish a legal framework and standards for electronic consignment notes (e-CMR) in international road transport. (The e-CMR protocol is part of the CMR agreement - the standard regulation for goods transport contracts - that was established in 1956 and currently has 53 contracting parties.)
The Handbook’s best practices are offered as “guidelines”, but the authors caution against using the material simply as a checklist, since the policies, processes and technologies “have to be integrated and adapted to the particular needs of each OSCE participating State/UNECE member State”.
The following topics are covered in the Handbook: relevant legislation, legal issues, the role of international organizations, comprehensive border management, participation of and collaboration with users from the private sector, trade facilitation and security, freight processing
and goods control policies, risk management, border design, information and inspection technologies, human resource management, financial management, and, finally, performance indicators and benchmarking.
Included in the Handbook are a series of case studies, in which Canada-US Smart Border Declaration and Action Plan is featured as an example of stronger border cooperation between nations.
Molnar noted that one of the next steps and follow-ups to the publication will be a border crossing methodology, and a study of the TIR Convention (which establishes an international customs transit system and covers customs transit by road and with other modes of transport (for example, rail, inland waterway and even maritime transport).
She said the development of border crossing performance indicators is also on the agenda.
Emphasis is placed on the need for governments to find a better balance between security and
“Currently, many countries are tailoring and implementing measures to secure their borders.
However, if the closing of borders to illegal traffickers also entails their being closed to legitimate traders and businesses, such measures have a negative effect. Governments must therefore find a better balance between securing their borders and facilitating lawful trade,” said the OSCE.
Customs and other border management agencies should “step away from their traditional transaction per-transaction document checks and physical inspection techniques and, instead, adopt a risk-based management approach,” said the Handbook, which details methods for
developing and implementing risk management, as well as options for the actual design of border crossing points.
Achieving a balance between security and facilitation is about first identifying what is high risk.
“The Handbook is not making the case for more scanning but using a risk-based approach in identifying the high risk operators or vehicles,” said Roel Janssens, Economic Adviser, Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities, OSCE Secretariat.
“In each Customs service there is a special department dealing with risk assessment analysis and selectivity, analyzing many situations. Even for Customs officials it’s sometimes a real secret what the risk assessment is looking for. If we see that or those transport operators for the first time, this constitutes a risk. If we’re dealing with excisable goods or goods which have a large value it’s also a risk,” said Igor Makhovikov, Head of the Transit Department, with Belarus Customs.
“Risk analysis and transparency are something different. Risk analysis is something top secret. Trusted operators will always cross the border faster than anyone else,” said Didem Dirlik, of Turkey’s Ministry of Customs and Trade.
“Many problems can be improved just by improving procedures and harmonization,” said Makhovikov.
For example, he said, in Europe railway systems are currently using two separate railway consignment notes: the CIM and the SMGS.
A project is currently underway to make these legally interoperable, through the implementation of a comprehensive contractual framework.
In 2006, noted Makhovikov, Belarus started to use the common CIM/SMGS railway bill-simplifying paperwork formalities, and reducing the time required for crossing the border. The country also established a pre-arrival notification system in 2007 and has started to use mobile scanning systems for non-intrusive customs inspections.
Didem Dirlik, of Turkey’s Ministry of Customs and Trade, said that in Turkey, efforts at improving border crossings stem from a strong belief in public-private partnership , based on a “Build-Operate and Transfer” protocol.
“The model sees the border gate facilities built by a private party, but not involved in its administration, and after a certain amount of time transferred to the public free of charge. A pilot project with joint use of border gates-between Turkey and Georgia is on the way,” she said.
Based on the Revised Kyoto Convention (World Customs Organisation), the model imposes joint customs control, aims at harmonization and the elimination of duplicated controls and processes.
The country of exit is responsible for declaration procedures, while the country of entry is responsible for full controls, Dirlik noted.
“Success depends largely on human resources management, investment in customs and border staff. Border training policy in Turkey encompasses six programs covering transport legislation, communication skills, and intelligence,” she said.
Over the next five years, Molnar said there should be close to 170 contracting parties to the UNECE International Convention on the Harmonization of Frontier Controls of Goods.
“We have an initiative with the World Bank that they should move to transfer loans so countries can join and implement the convention,” she said.