Customs Consultative Committees: What’s in it for business?

Small group of business people sitting at table and having meeting. Multi cultural group.

Customs Consultative Committees: What’s in it for business?

Customs Consultative Committees (CCCs) or similar bodies have been set up in EU Member States, the UK, and other countries to bring business and customs together to discuss issues, share knowledge, and improve the business environment. With what questions or problems can businesses turn to the CCC and what results can be expected? How can this be done? Do businesses actively make use of this tool? We thank Anthony Buckley, Chair of the CCC in Ireland for a number of years during the Brexit preparations, for kindly accepting the invitation to share his experiences and views.

Introduction – about the CCCs in general

Customs Consultative Committees are not mandatory, but highly recommended bodies. Membership of the CCCs consists of Customs, other government institutions, and business organisations whose members have regular and direct dealings with Customs. The Chair of the CCC is the Director General of Customs or Deputy Director. The main form of activity of the CCC is regular meetings (two or more times a year). The rules governing the work of CCCs are not identical from country to country, but they are similar in essence.

Objectives of the CCC in Ireland
CCC provides a two-way forum for Revenue and representative Organisations:

  • To consult and exchange views on issues affecting the Customs treatment of imports and exports; 
  • To review developments and proposals in the Customs area, especially at the EU level; 
  • To support Ireland’s competitiveness by advising on the design of Customs regimes in Ireland that will facilitate legitimate trade to the greatest extent possible consistent with legislative and compliance requirements.

Some of the functions of the CCC in Lithuania:

  • To encourage cooperation between customs and other public authorities with business associations, and disseminate good practices to improve cooperation and information exchange;
  • To examine existing, to be amended, and new legislation in development to assess the implications for business;
  • To discuss customs performance-related questions and possible ways of improving it;
  • To disseminate relevant customs information to the business community.

As we can see from the objectives and functions, the CCCs are primarily there for cooperation between customs and businesses to improve the business environment. So, they can play an important role in business if they are used effectively. How does it work in practice?

Interview – about the work in practice

Enrika Naujoke, director of the Lithuanian Customs Practitioners Association, which is a member of the national CCC: This topic caught my attention when I received a question from a logistics company on certain issues related to customs control procedures here in Lithuania. The company asked whether these issues could be raised with the CCC because their other efforts did not bring any results. We discussed different aspects, e.g., the question of whether the CCC is the most efficient way to solve this particular case. would you advise you to consider it?

Anthony: My most active years on the CCC were 2016-2018. There were many changes in preparation for Brexit and it was very useful that businesses brought concerns, asked questions and we dealt with them as best we could. Quite obviously, it is not possible for this committee to deal with the specific situation of a particular transaction or a particular company. If the issue is of more general importance, the committee will address it at the meeting. New questions or concerns raised during the meeting will be entered into the minutes by the Secretary. The Customs authority will respond after the meeting explaining what the situation is and answering the particular query. The benefit from the point of view of those who ask the questions is that the customs authority is then obliged to respond to them. So, it’s a very powerful way to bring an issue formally at the highest level of Customs.

It’s a very powerful way to bring an issue formally at the highest level of Customs.

And if a company that is not itself a member of the committee wants to raise a particular point, it should be able to do so with the representative association that should be a member of the committee. When I was Chair, I extended the membership to companies and not only to associations.

Also, many companies think that life is easier if Customs do not know who is asking the question. That is one of the great advantages of a mechanism like the Committee, that you can ask a question to the representative association as an individual company, and the representative association can then ask the question to Customs, and the company remains anonymous.

Enrika: Please tell us more about the meetings, how they work in practice, and what current developments you see.

Anthony: The agenda of a meeting consists largely of the information sessions of the customs authorities. That is presentations on current and planned developments. For example, when the declaration system is changed, there is a presentation explaining the change, and there are also updates on important legislation, initiatives, etc.

Unfortunately, these days at many of these meetings there is very little participation by the general membership, so it is an extended PowerPoint presentation by the customs authorities. And when the meeting consists only of this kind of activity, the practice has developed that the advisory committee only meets a couple of times a year, which I personally think is unfortunate. It becomes a one-way flow of information, which is not what the committee is supposed to be because it is also supposed to involve the active participation of the business community.

The Committee is supposed to involve the active participation of the business community.

In my time, I usually held a meeting once a month, with a break in the summer. I felt that the committee should meet once a month because it was important that the participants took an active part in the meeting. In other words, the general members, and the non-customs members, brought issues to the committee to discuss, explain, and so on. In my time, it was particularly appropriate that we met frequently because it was the time of Brexit preparations.

Enrika: What are the reasons for the low participation of the general membership in the CCC these days?

Anthony: I would say most companies don’t even know that this committee exists. You can see that from the fact that the representatives of the associations who attend the meetings often come without asking questions because they don’t get questions from the members. And this is of course because their members don’t know that this facility is open to them.

I think this has to do with the fact that Customs is generally perceived in society as a very specific and particular area that is not widely discussed in the media. So, there is no awareness of how to deal with it. This is quite different from taxation. There, there is a forum that is very active at every meeting and members bring in lists of questions, problems, and complaints for the Tax Department. This is not the case on the Customs side. I would put that down to a certain lack of information, a lack of understanding that this possibility exists.

Enrika: Another reason for the active or less active business engagement in the work of CCCs (not only in Ireland but also in other countries) could be the nature of the relationship between business and customs.

Anthony: Indeed, the level of interaction in CCCs or similar bodies varies from one Member State to another. In some countries, the relationship between the authorities and business can be relatively hostile and interaction can be quite formal. In Ireland, there is a more open and free exchange of views, but it is not common, for example, to include representatives of business in the policy-making bodies where new policies are discussed. In other countries I know, this is the practice. However, when problems and proposals are raised in the CCC, they contribute to shaping opinions for policy-making.

Enrika: Has the business community the possibility to initiate the CCC meeting? 

Anthony: Of course, yes. The members are in constant contact with Customs, and the members can request it. And in fact, in every meeting discussion takes place about when the next meeting should be held. So, if the members want to have a meeting on a certain topic at a certain time, it will be taken into account.

Enrika: And, finally, what could be the major development in the future? The harmonisation of customs formalities in the EU is a very important issue. The report of Wise Persons Group contains the recommendation to establish an EU Customs Agency. What would you think of a CCC at the EU level?

Anthony: Absolutely. The European Commission makes efforts to consult with businesses on specific topics. If there will be an EU Customs Agency, there will almost certainly be an EU Customs Consultative Committee. 

Enrika: Thank you.

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