Why should Ukraine use the European MASP-C plan as a guide for the development of e-Customs?

Ukraine has a unique chance to launch a programme for rapid synchronisation of its customs system with the EU customs system right now. In order to do this, it must decide that the development of its customs IT systems will necessarily include the plan according to which all EU countries develop their customs IT systems.

Vytenis Ališauskas,
International Key Expert on custom reforms, EU4PFM

It is called MASP-C, a multi-annual strategic plan for customs which is a working document for EU countries. This plan includes the IT systems the customs of the European Union countries should implement, and the time frames during which they should do it. Why is it important for Ukraine to take note of this plan and are there alternative options for the development of customs IT systems?

From “wish” to “obligations”

Ukraine has taken an important step towards EU membership. It has sent to Brussels questionnaires and a statement documenting the country’s intentions to become a member of the European Union. This means that Ukraine wants and is ready to synchronize the principles of work in most industries with EU countries. Moreover: now it not just “wants”, but “has to”.

The European Union is primarily a customs union. That is why customs is one of the priority sectors, taking into account the prospects of joining the EU. In order to synchronize with other EU countries you need to know what they do in order to have common customs rules and procedures.

Currently, the EU’s priority is continuing the introduction of paperless procedures, conversion of all procedures to electronic form. To this end, the EU member states implement the Electronic Customs Initiative programme. It is provided for by the EU Customs Code. E-Customs is supposed to ensure: (1) exchange of information between economic operators and customs administrations of the EU countries, (2) interaction between customs authorities of the EU countries and (3) operations related to storage of information.

MASP-C (multi-annual strategic plan for customs) was developed with a view to implement it. MASP-C regulates everything related to the development of electronic systems for customs. It currently covers 17 such systems.

It is logical that Ukraine, which has applied for EU membership, should act synchronously with the EU.

Will the plan change?

This plan does not exist as a separate document and did not appear as a result of “brainstorming” of some group of people. It is based on a number of documents that were adopted successively – starting from the formulation of goals and ending with the development of tools for their achievement and a plan for its implementation.

Thus, “The Electronic Customs Initiative is based on the Commission Communication on e-Government and Council Resolution on a paperless environment for customs and trade.The EU member states adopted the Electronic Customs Decision, Union Customs Code (UCC with other name being Regulation (EU) No. 952/2013) and its UCC Work Programme (UCC Work Programme  https://taxation-customs.ec.europa.eu/customs-4/union-customs-code/ucc-work-programme_en 2019/2151/EU). Having adopted it, the EU member states undertook to achieve the goals of the Electronic Customs Initiative.

The Work Programme contains a list of 17 electronic systems to be developed either by the member states themselves (national systems) or in cooperation with the European Commission (trans-European systems).

Finally, there is a multi-annual strategic plan for customs (MASP-C), a planning document that covers all IT-related customs projects. It is an overview and background information on projects and key issues related to the development of the e-Customs initiative and the current state of affairs. Its components include an IT strategy, consolidated project documentation, and a detailed schedule of their implementation. That is, it simultaneously establishes the framework for the development of electronic customs systems and is a “flexible plan” for the implementation of the Work Programme of the EU Customs Code.

The fact that this plan is based on such a strong legislative basis ensures the stability of the development of IT systems of customs and guarantees there will be no sudden changes in the course and pace of development – neither for political nor personal reasons. Ukraine should also remember that everything starts with legislation.

Can Ukraine have its own development plan for customs IT systems?

It can, and it should, but MASP-C must be an integral part of it. This is a mandatory part, the minimum expected. But the ultimate goal is determined by the customs of the country itself. How?

Firstly, in order to join the European Union countries usually have several more systems that are not on the MASP-C list. However, they remain unchanged and mandatory. And Ukraine should have them. Secondly, the country may need some kind of system of its own that will allow its customs to work with programmes from the MASP-C list. 

What will happen if Ukraine does not include MASP-C in its plans now? This would mean that the time and money spent on developing an alternative plan would not bring it any closer to joining the EU. I think that such a decision is impossible now, because it does not meet the tasks of joining the EU.

What comes first: MASP or legislation?

In order to ensure rapid integration in the customs industry Ukraine now needs to move in two directions.

Tactical: to include MASP-C in its plans. This process has already started. During the discussion of the Recovery Plan of Ukraine representatives of the State Customs Service stressed this need. Thanks to the analytical and organisational support RST provided for the Ministry of Finance during the development of the draft Recovery Plan of Ukraine, MASP-C was noted as one of its components in the customs sphere.

Strategic: legislation. Any plan in the customs industry (even the most advanced plan) is worthless without its legal justification. Taking into account the experience of the EU, the main legal basis for the development of customs IT systems is, first and foremost, the Customs Code. MASP-C is a plan for the practical implementation of the provisions of the EU Customs Code. That is, legislative framework comes first. Without it, it is impossible to implement MASP-C.

The new Customs Code fully compatible with the EU Customs Code should become such a legal basis for Ukraine. After submitting the application for joining the EU, it became obvious that the way Ukraine has been moving until now — making minor changes to the Customs Code and dozens of other legal acts that gradually allow the introduction of procedures that correspond to European ones — is difficult and not always productive. And most importantly, it will not lead to the creation of a coherent document which Ukraine can use to comfortably cooperate with EU countries in the customs sector.

Working on European integration changes in its customs sector, Ukraine can count on EU assistance, in particular within the framework of the EU Public Finance Management Support Programme (EU4PFM).