An increase in flexibility around the practical application of the Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) programme of the World Customs Organization (WCO) was the focus of the body’s 5th Global AEO Conference that was virtually held over three days at the end of May.
Suitably titled AEO 2.0: advancing towards new horizons for sustainable and secure trade, customs portal entrepreneur Louise Wiggett summed up the conference as a successful examination of enhanced alignment strategies to deepen AEO immersion across the trade sphere.
“In a nutshell it looked at whether the one-size-fits-all approach is still applicable,” said the managing director of Global Trade Solution.
Wiggett explained that whereas previously small, medium and micro enterprises (SMME), national companies and multinational corporations all had to comply with the same rules of AEO engagement, discussion at the conference prioritised the need for case-by-case flexibility.
“You cannot expect an SMME to comply with the same level of requirements expected of a multinational corporation like Procter & Gamble for example.”
In other words, AEO 2.0 will focus on fairness and flexibility by allowing working method variation according to scale, but without forsaking its core objective of global customs alignment.
Before the May conference, there had been good adoption of AEO in certain regions, Wiggett said, “but it’s not a de-facto standard yet.
“Now there’s a big drive for AEO to become a core minimum standard across the world, achieving greater incorporation by allowing customised adoption within different frameworks.”
The rise of e-commerce and the massive growth spurt it had received because of Covid-19 had served as an impetus for more leniency, Wiggett explained.
“The supply-chain variables of e-commerce concerns created the necessity for AEO flexibility.”
For the new give-and-take approach to work though, Wiggett added, it was generally agreed that increased AEO participation should be encouraged through engendering good faith practice.
“The necessity to build better trust between customs authorities and trade is an underlying principle of the programme - and that trust, such as it is, is not at a desired level at the moment.”
Wiggett referred to an interesting analogy drawn by Carol West of the Canadian Society of Customs Brokers who said it was a bit like going for a vaccination – the point being that you need to implicitly trust your doctor so that you can be safe and secure in the knowledge about being jabbed against contracting the coronavirus.
“If there’s something we’ve learned from the virus it’s that we have to trust one another and that trust must be reciprocal. If we can cultivate such a level of trust as part of our AEO journey, it will be beneficial for all concerned.
The event was attended by 3 917 registered participants from 158 WCO member administrations, and Wiggett said it was encouraging that both locally and regionally, the SA Revenue Service and Southern African Customs Union had adopted AEO compliance as one of the main deliverables.
Now in its 10th year, AEO and its increased incorporation across the world had received the necessary nudge in the right direction at the WCO conference, she added.