In the light of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of countries designated priority lanes and introduced facilitative measures with regard to the cross-border movement of essential goods. However, there is no internationally recognized definition of essential goods to support those countries that are yet to consider providing priority treatment and facilitative measures to such goods.
Generally, the list of essential goods, equipment and services is established by the national disaster management authority (NDMA) or a similar national authority in charge of the response to the specific disaster. In the context of coordinated border management, the role of Customs in disaster relief should be recognized and the Customs administration should be adequately integrated as part of the preparedness and response mechanisms. A list of essential goods, equipment and services can serve multiple purposes. A list of essential goods can:
- Provide clarity to the assisting international actors as to the needs of the disaster affected country. Thus it can contribute to avoiding the so called unsolicited bilateral donations that often cause issues such as blocking of much needed storage space, storage costs and disruption to the humanitarian supply chain.
- Serve as a tool to prioritize the Customs clearance of the items on the list and accord to them facilitative treatment, such as clearance outside the designated hours of business or away from Customs offices. The prioritization can be done based on the HS codes of the goods, based on Customs Procedure Codes or based on approved organizations importing the goods. After setting up the list by the government, it is recommendable that the Customs administration supplements the list with information on the Customs tariff codes of the goods on the list.
- Serve as a basis for decisions to waive import duties and taxes and economic import prohibitions or restrictions with respect to the goods on the list.
- Serve any combination of the above purposes.
Making the list of essential goods, equipment and services publicly available is of paramount importance and of benefit to all supply chain actors.
To remedy the lack of a uniform interpretation and harmonized guidance on the matter, the WCO Secretariat developed a document aimed at highlighting certain provisions of existing WCO instruments and tools, other reference material and Members’ practices. The document can be consulted on the dedicated COVID-19 section of the WCO website.
If devised and implemented in practice in a coordinated manner, a list of essential goods, equipment and services can be a major measure to facilitate the cross-border movement of relief and essential supplies and to sustain supply chain continuity. However, if interpreted inappropriately, such lists can create bottlenecks and hinder the smooth movement of goods and conveyances.
The WCO hopes that these guidelines will support governments in their efforts to facilitate trade and mitigate the effects of the current crisis on national economies and societies