The 8th Meeting of the Council of ECO Heads of Customs Administration (CHCA) was inaugurated by H.E. Mr. Haroon Akhtar Khan, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Revenue and the Minister of State, Islamic Republic of Pakistan on 14 November 2017 in Islamabad. It was also attended by the H.E. Mr. Mikuriya Kunio, Director General of World Customs Organization (WCO).
The delegations of six ECO Member States', namely, the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the republic of Kazakhstan, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (the host), the Republic of Tajikistan and the Republic of Turkey actively participated in the Meeting and deliberated on the ways for exploring further areas of cooperation in Customs matters.
Director General of World Customs Organization (WCO) in his statement highlighted the trade profile of the ECO Region. He stressed on importance of Customs cooperation amongst the ECO Member States for enhancing trade. Chairman of Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR), Mr. Tariq Mehmood Pasha, in his remarks expressed his gratitude to the participants for participating in the Meeting. He highlighted that the Customs cooperation in the region would contribute to regional integration.
ECO delegation headed by Deputy Secretary General Mr. Kanan Nazarov participated in the Meeting. In his statement, he extended warmest felicitation to the Federal Bureau of Revenue of Islamic Republic of Pakistan on holding of this important meeting in Islamabad and welcomed the ECO Member States' delegations.
He informed the participants that despite its great economic and trade potential, the regional ECO trade is much below its potential and has to be enhanced. He maintained that the increase in volume of trade requires efficient facilitation at the border crossings and an efficient transport network as both are deeply interlinked. He added that trade and transport are, amongst other areas, the priority sectors identified for enhanced cooperation in the ECO Vision-2025, approved during the 13th ECO Summit in Islamabad. Besides, better coordination and cooperation among the Customs Authorities of the ECO and removal of impediments can greatly contribute to regional integration.
He maintained that ECO Member States need to move towards automation, standardization and harmonization of the Customs procedures, as stipulated in the WTO’s Agreement on Trade Facilitation. This will ultimately reduce cost of doing business and accelerate economic growth and development and benefit both the producers and consumers in the ECO Region. He highlighted that the need for cooperation was even more important as 6 out of 10 ECO countries are landlocked. Free flow of goods & services, sharing of Customs information and simplifying procedures for expediting movement of trucks and trains are some of the areas where progress is imperative to move on.
He also presented the economic profile of the region by keeping customs cooperation in perspective. He stated that the total trade of the ten ECO countries amounted to US$ 626 billion in 2016 which registered a marginal decline by decrease of 3.4 percent mainly due to the global recessionary trends which resulted in decrease of global trade from US$ 18 trillion to US$ 16 trillion. A part of this decrease was also due to decrease in oil prices. However, ECO's share in global trade has been stagnating around just 2 percent despite the fact that ECO has 6.2 percent of world population.
He underscored that in order to realize the true potential of the region, the ECO has already put in place the necessary legal frameworks and has developed and strengthened the existing institutional arrangements though moving forward in slow pace. Besides, ECO Member States are collaborating with international and regional organizations to enhance capacities in the field of trade. He referred to the ECO Trade Agreement (ECOTA) which aims at liberalization of trade through gradual reduction in the tariffs. It also aims at reduction of the Non-Tariff Barriers. He hoped that the 5th Ministerial Meeting on Foreign Trade scheduled to be held in January, 2018 in Islamabad will further explore ways to enhance trade and effectuate ECOTA.
In the area of Customs, he stated that the Agreement on Establishment and Operation of ECO Smuggling and Customs Offences Databank, developed for sharing information for revenue protection and development of databank of offenders, will enter into force after receipt of Instrument of Accession from the Republic of Azerbaijan. He also referred to the Agreement on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters and hoped that it would soon be ready for signatures and ratifications, after completion of the necessary formalities.
He added that ratification of TIR Convention by Islamic Republic of Pakistan and reactivation of the convention by the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will be mutually beneficial for boosting trade in the region. He underscored that six out of ten ECO countries have joined the WTO while all ten are members of World Customs Organization (WCO).
He expressed his trust that the UN Agencies like WCO will further cooperate with ECO in paving the way for expanding intra-regional trade through Customs cooperation. He stated that it was quite encouraging that this year’s meeting has been held as planned. He maintained that regular holding of these meetings will produce concrete results and deliberate on the impediments to free flow of goods & services across borders and suggest result-oriented measures to address these problems not only to help improve intra-regional trade but it will also boost the spirit of the business community of the ECO.
The Heads of delegations of the Member States also made their statement and expressed their confidence to benefit from the agreements in process and making other initiatives underway. They urged upon other fellow members to consolidate their efforts to increase intra-regional trade. The Council unanimously adopted the Report of the Meeting.
The Deputy Secretary General of ECO also held a meeting with the Director General of WCO on the sidelines of Council meeting. They discussed matters relating to Customs cooperation in the ECO Region. They exchange views on ways and means to further enhance this cooperation.
In the end, the ECO Deputy Secretary General presented ECO plaques to the hosts and the Director General of WCO and expressed his gratitude to the ECO Member States for participating in the Meeting. He also expressed confidence that this Meeting would contribute to strengthen the regional cooperation in Customs matter and will yield results in near future.