Suva, Fiji, November 03, 2020– Customs administrations in the region are faced with similar challenges due to COVID-19 but have agreed to work together and collaborate more to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the conclusion of the OCO Heads Annual Conference on October 20, themed “Working together to build a safer Blue Pacific”, leaders of Customs administrations in the region stated the loss in revenue collection for their governments due to the closure of borders as their biggest cost of COVID-19. However, in addition to generating revenue for their governments, Customs administrations are increasingly being presented with other challenges such as the rise of illicit drugs, contraband goods and having to crew quarantine centers.
“COVID-19 forcefully teaches us to change our course and our ways rapidly and immediately,” OCO Chairman Mr. Xavier Mitchell said. “It has caused major impacts on our economies and Customs in the Pacific region; it is however still critical that we continue to facilitate trade and earn revenue that is needed now more than ever for our governments.” Recognizing that their challenges are similar, but solutions cannot be “one size fits all”, customs leaders decided at the meeting that collaborations with each other and with key agencies was vital.
Most of the 23 member countries of OCO reported a drop in their revenue due largely to the closure of borders that has crippled their tourism industries. “We need to “continue to strengthen collective actions to effectively manage the regional security environment,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Not only do nations have to protect themselves from COVID-19, there are emerging threats within the Customs environment such as the trade of counterfeit goods, illicit financial flows, trafficking of people, drugs and weapons, and money laundering that require strong focus.”
The OCO Annual Conference was scheduled to take place in Cook Islands in July but was cancelled due to COVID-19 and was instead held virtually.
The meeting was attended by 19 Heads of Customs Administrations from member Governments, or their respective nominees, from Australia, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Guam, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Timor Leste. New Caledonia in attending represented French Polynesia and Wallis & Futuna as members whereas American Samoa and Kiribati were not able to attend.
The 22nd OCO Heads Annual Meeting Communique can be found here.
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About OCO: OCO is a grouping of 23 customs administrations in the Pacific region. It facilitates regional cooperation, information sharing and capacity building of its members with the overall target of supporting economic growth and improved border security in the Pacific.