How EU implements eCustoms and what Ukraine should take into account in this regard

The Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine states that the creation of an eCustoms system is one of its priorities.

EU announces similar plans, too. The Union Customs Code and the Electronic Customs Initiative contain a clearly defined list of 17 IT systems and a strict timetable for their implementation, which is mandatory for each EU member state.

Vytenis Ališauskas,
International Key Expert on custom reforms, EU4PFM

Formally, Ukraine is not bound to implement the same systems as EU member states. However, if it plans to join the European Union, this issue will definitely arise before the start of the relevant negotiations.

Implementation of identical customs procedures will be ‘homework’ for Ukraine, and if we start from scratch, the process will be quite long and very expensive.

Why now?

International trade makes it possible for the countries to expand their markets and get access to more goods and services.

In the process of international trade, the market becomes more competitive, which, in the end, will bring cheaper products home to a customer. International trade is the moving force of the world economy.

In light of the above, the EU revise roles of the customs services. Those are assigned a leading role in the supply chain, as well as in its monitoring, and in management of international trade.

It makes customs not only a ‘collector of customs duties’ but also, a catalyst for the competitiveness of countries and companies.

Such revision of the roles became possible (and was essentially provoked) by the development of IT.

The use of information and communication technologies is a key element in facilitating trade ensuring, at the same time, the effectiveness of customs control, which leads to reduced costs and risks for businesses and the public.

The main objectives of the Electronic Customs Initiative are to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of customs procedures and processes or otherwise by simplifying them while ensuring interoperable customs systems available to economic operators throughout the EU. The new system is planned to be implemented in three stages by the end of 2025.

Legal structure

One should not think that the EU eCustoms is a kind of a separate project that can be changed, postponed, or even canceled if desired.

This is not about the tactical improvement of individual customs processes, but rather about a strategic approach to both the development and digitalization of customs. The planned changes are enshrined in many multi-level documents, which ensures the sustainability of the eCustoms process.

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 also adopted the Electronic Customs Decision, Union Customs Code (UCC with other name being Regulation (EU) No. 952/2013) and its UCC Work Programme.

These documents ensure a strong legal basis for the above initiative.

Having adopted it, the EU member states undertook to achieve the goals of the Electronic Customs Initiative.

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

In addition, the EU has a multi-annual strategic plan for customs (MASP-C), a planning document that covers all IT-related customs projects.

On the one hand, it is the basis for the above list of 17 systems, which lays down the framework for the development of electronic customs systems. On the other hand, it is a ‘flexible plan’ for the implementation of the UCC Work Programme.

Why does the EU need eCustoms?

The EU eCustoms must ensure the information exchange between economic operators and customs authorities, cooperation between customs authorities, and operations associated with data storage.

To build such a system, the European Commission and member states agreed that they wished the system to provide for the following:

  • electronic data exchange between customs authorities throughout the EU (if required) — for any customs procedure or any other purpose related to the movement of goods across EU borders;
  • submission by the entrepreneurs of their consolidated and/or customs declarations in electronic format from their offices, regardless of the member state through which the goods are imported into, or exported from, the EU;
  • collection and refund/write-off of customs duties by the customs authority having jurisdiction over the importer/exporter and keeping their customs records;
  • selection of goods for customs control at the border and internal customs offices on the basis of automated risk analysis using international, general, and national criteria;
  • registration of traders for customs purposes in only one EU member state, even if they carry out customs operations in other EU countries;
  • possibility for traders to access information portals and single electronic access points for import/export operations and security-related customs procedures, regardless of in which EU member state operation begins or ends;
  • interaction (if necessary) between computerized customs systems with existing and future systems in areas other than customs (for example, the Excise Movement and Control System for monitoring the movement of excise goods within the EU);
  • the possibility of exchanging electronic information for all bodies and agencies involved in import and export operations, including with third countries, if provided by an international agreement. At the same time, the customs plays a leading role in the creation of a single window for those bodies and agencies;
  • carrying out (ideally) all physical checks in a ‘single window’ (in one place and at the same time).

17 IT systems mentioned above are intended for the achievement of those objectives.

Depending on the degree of legal, business, and technical coordination between EU member states, these systems are divided into four groups:

  • European customs information systems, under which all EU member states have agreed on the scope of changes and the timetable for their achievement;
  • European customs initiatives requiring further study and coordination;
  • international customs information systems (projects led by international organisations where EU and its member states play an active role while not being project initiators and owners);
  • customs cooperation initiatives and technological developments that promote the development of electronic customs systems — they describe the direction in which EU member states will develop technology, perspective functionality of electronic customs information systems for the development of cooperation in the customs sphere.

Projects can be moved from one group to another as a result of the revision of the multi-annual strategic plan for customs.

Vytenis Ališauskas,

international key expert on custom reform, EU Public Finance Management Support Programme for Ukraine (EU4PFM) especially for “European Pravda”

Let’s implement changes together!