Suva, Fiji, August 26, 2021– The Heads of Customs administrations in the region are holding their annual conference virtually today to discuss challenges in the region and possible solutions as well as adopt the Pacific Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System (PACHS) 2022, which comes into effect from January 1 next year.
“COVID-19 is continuing to disrupt our daily lives and if we thought 2020 was bad, 2021 has been worse for some of our members, if we look at how the virus is impacting countries such as Fiji”, OCO chairperson and Federated States of Micronesia Head of Customs and Tax Division, Mr. Salvador Jacob said. “Even with the closure of borders in most countries, with limited incoming flights or movement of vessels, it has not changed the significance of our roles in our economies. In fact, it has become more critical in terms of border security – we are the front liners in fighting illicit drugs, transnational crimes, and the spread of COVID-19 into our countries, and we must balance that role with facilitating trade and keeping our economies moving.”
Mr. Jacob also emphasised the need for administrations to continue their Customs reforms and continue on their automation journey.
The OCO Head of Secretariat, Richard Brennan echoed the same sentiments saying that amidst the core functions of Customs, which is to facilitate trade and keep borders secure, they must also keep abreast with developments.
“Some members like Palau are undergoing modernisation reforms to be more effective. Further some need to upgrade their trade systems and fully reap the benefits of automation. That is why the role of the OCO Secretariat has become more important than ever in being the conduit for these reforms in the region,” Mr. Brennan said.
“The last financial year was challenging for the OCO, but there is a silver lining to these border closures caused by COVID-19 – our virtual training has meant that we have included many more participants than we usually can. We have been able to provide training on Rules of Origin (RoO), PACER Plus, Digital and E-Commerce, Anti-Money laundering, HS 2022, the Kigali Amendment. In addition we received support from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in conducting training and webinars. Along with our law enforcement partners, we even conducted a multi-agency multinational law enforcement exercise to combat transnational crime.
“This year we had our biggest training cohorts ever, with more than 80 Customs officers from 17 countries undergoing a 10-month online training to equip them with skills to address daily challenges.”
One of the highlights of 2020/21 was the development and roll out of the OCO Pacific Small Craft Application (OPSCA) mobile app, developed by our partner and member Australia, to assist in the collection of data on the movement of small craft.
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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.