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Balancing Facilitation & Control To Combat Illicit Trade In Free Trade Zones

A 2020 update of the ICC BASCAP report assessing the environment and highlighting trends in counterfeiting and other forms of illicit trade facilitated within free trade zones.


What’s at risk?

Free Trade Zones (FTZs) provide significant opportunities for legitimate business and play a critical role in global trade as well as economic growth for the host nation. However, our updated research has continued to confirm that insufficient oversight remains a major enabler of illicit activities. Since the publication of our previous 2013 report, there have not been vast improvements in limiting criminal activities within FTZs. In fact, the Covid-19 pandemic has increased vulnerability for abuses by criminal actors who take advantage of supply chain shortages and increased demands as well as relaxed oversight often because of such things as quarantines that have softened Customs control.


Counterfeiters use transit or transhipment of goods, through multiple, geographically diverse FTZs for no other purpose than to disguise the illicit nature of the products. Once introduced into an FTZ, counterfeit goods may undergo a series of economic operations, including assembly, manufacturing, processing, warehousing, re-packaging, and re-labelling. Once completed, the goods can be imported directly to the national territory of the hosting state or re-exported to another country for distribution or to another FTZ, where the process is repeated.


Key recommendations:

Our 2020 report promotes a set of specific policy and legislative recommendations on how to preserve and expand the benefits of FTZs for legitimate traders and protect the public and honest businesses from predatory practices. These recommendations are based on a review of the international and national legal frameworks governing FTZs, including how they are implemented and enforced.

Suggested recommendations include:

  • empowering Customs with jurisdiction over day-to-day operations within FTZs

  • strengthening relationship between Customs and FTZs

  • clarifying and declaring that FTZs remain under the jurisdiction of the national Customs authority

  • enhancing data sharing between Customs and the private sector

  • strengthening national government adherence to international conventions and implementation of international standards

  • legislatively ensuring that strict penalties are in place, including criminal sanctions where appropriate, against perpetrators of illegal activities in FTZs

  • that manufacturers and shippers recognize and use the ICC World Chambers Foundation’s International Certificates of Origin (COs) Accreditation Chain which is a program that accredits chambers of commerce issuing COs wishing to guarantee their commitment to the highest level of quality, implementing transparent and accountable issuance and verification procedures. Accredited chambers will receive a distinctive internationally recognized quality classification, reinforcing their integrity and credibility as competent trusted third parties in the issuance of COs.

Additionally, the new document also provides specific recommendations such as drawing on international agreements, lessons learned from effective and ineffective national legislation, the experience of IP rights holders, and legislative and regulatory measures to enforce intellectual property right protection in FTZs. These specific recommendations are delineated in the report for action by the World Customs Organization, World Trade Organization, national governments, and FTZ operators. Effective implementation of the measures delineated for each of these bodies will go a long way in securing FTZs from illicit traders.

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