Over the past few months, Customs authorities in Latin America and the Caribbean have had to work hard and think outside the box in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tons of personal protective equipment, including masks, gowns, medical devices, medicines, and disinfectant products, as well as food and other necessities, have passed through these agencies.
Those shipments had to be prioritized and dispatched quickly and safely, without neglecting the regular flows of trade.
The risks associated with this pandemic have required Customs authorities to implement safe and streamlined procedures, make effective use of new technologies, and engage in enormous coordination efforts with other government authorities and the private sector. In other words, these risks have required the maximum level of automation and the implementation of contingency plans. This new normal for health logistics has been a transformational experience from which the Customs authorities have derived valuable lessons.
10 lessons Customs authorities have learned from COVID-19
The sessions led to the following conclusions regarding how Customs authorities in the region can respond to the challenges brought by the pandemic:
Customs administrations’ ability to adapt and change to modify regulations and implement simplified, agile procedures during the crisis.
The value of high levels of automation and digitization in managing operations in a way that reduces paperwork and human intervention by strengthening Customs management systems and platforms such as Single Windows for Foreign Trade or Port Community Systems.
The usefulness of applying and improving risk management to facilitate legal trade, encourage Customs compliance, and successfully detect and interdict illegal operations.
There is a need to implement coordinated contingency plans with other border management authorities, the private sector, and Customs authorities from neighboring countries.
The importance of establishing or expanding programs in partnership with the private sector, such as the Authorized Economic Operator programs, which help segregate risk and streamline cross-border trade.
The priority to establish policies and capacities for the management of Customs personnel that guarantee their health protection at the ports of entry. And to promote flexible telework systems, which are essential to build resilience during crises and to keep in step with trends in virtualization of economic activities.
The role of infrastructure and technological inspection equipment at ports of entry to guarantee the flow of goods and safeguard the working conditions and health of public and private users, such as carriers.
The benefits of cooperating beyond their own borders through harmonization and data exchange between Customs authorities, which promote collaboration during crises and emergencies, encourage compliance, contribute to trade facilitation, and enable regional integration and trade.
Taking advantage of this turning point to adopt new technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and big data, which transform and streamline Customs procedures and contribute to reviving the countries’ economies through foreign trade.
The importance of establishing communication protocols within the Customs agencies and with other border authorities, users, border communities, and the Customs authorities of neighboring countries to ensure that clear, appropriate information is shared in a timely fashion.