Working party on customs questions affecting transport
(One hundred-and-third session, 4-7 February 2003)
Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová,
Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to welcome you all to the one-hundred-and-third session of the Working Party on Customs Questions affecting Transport (WP.30).
The Provisional Agenda of your meeting shows the large number of Conventions that you are dealing with, including the Customs Convention on the Temporary Importation of Private and Commercial Road Vehicles, the International Convention on the Harmonization of Frontier Controls of Goods, the Draft Convention on International Customs Transit Procedures for the Carriage of Goods and, last but not least, the TIR Convention. For obvious reasons, I will focus on the TIR Convention.
The TIR Convention has for more than forty years greatly facilitated the development of international transport and trade in Europe, thereby providing a major contribution to the economic growth and prosperity of European countries, as well as to European integration.
This has been possible because the TIR Convention provides for an efficient and low-cost international transit transport of goods. Through carefully drafted regulations, the TIR Convention has set up, among other measures, extremely simplified, though efficient, border procedures and a low-cost guarantee system. This has also been possible because it has relied on a close cooperation between the Customs Authorities of the Contracting Parties and road transport operators, which is a unique example, and certainly a pioneering one, of what we call today Public-Private-Partnership.
Today, while remaining useful for all Contracting Parties, the TIR Convention is particularly important, and I would dare to say, absolutely indispensable, for Central, Eastern and South-Eastern European countries with economies in transition as well as to Caucasus countries and the landlocked countries in Central Asia.
However, as recent events have shown, the TIR Convention is under a major threat, namely the misuse of its facilities by organized crime. Indeed, well-organized international mafias are taking illegal advantage of the easy and low-cost border crossing possibilities offered by the Convention and are committing a disproportionately high number of Customs irregularities, precisely in those countries which need the TIR system the most, and which, at the same time, are the most vulnerable to such misuse, due to the difficulties associated with the transition process under way in those countries, their technological and organizational backlog and the existence of black markets where goods can be easily traded.
As reported by the IRU and reflected in the report of your October 2002 meeting, the IRU had received over 3500 claims for payment in 2002 up to the date of the meeting, while the total number of claims was below 600 in 1994 when the previous insurance pool decided to withdraw its coverage. The IRU also reported that 80% of all pending claims for payment originated from two Contracting Parties. This is indeed a dramatic increase in the number of irregularities and a disproportionate number, particularly in one of these countries, the Russian Federation. This state of affairs explains the recent events, together with the new approach adopted by the Russian authorities in 2002, requesting payment for all individual claims instead of the previous practice of reaching negotiated lump sum settlements.
Against this background, claiming or lending support to the "automatic and incontestable" payment of claims was, at best, most unreasonable. Had this view prevailed, we would have no more TIR system in the Russian Federation and perhaps also everywhere else. Indeed, no guarantee system and no insurance company would have been ready to assume the dramatic risk increase derived from the new approach adopted by the Russian Federation on the basis of that principle.
In this respect, while I have to recognize a part of responsibility of the secretariat, I hope you can admit that the positions held by certain members of the TIRExB and delegates to this Working Party may have lent support to this new approach. I would also like to invite you to reflect what might have happened if the management of the guarantee chain had complied with the request of the TIRExB to re-introduce sensitive goods in the TIR system, with complete disregard to the risk for the guarantee chain.
These proposals have over the years undermined the relationships among the various players of the TIR system and led to mistrust and lack of confidence among them. This explains that this Working Party, at its sessions in June and October 2002, did not take sufficiently into account the above figures and the serious concerns reported by the IRU at those sessions.
We should be pleased that, thanks to the responsiveness of both the Russian Customs authorities and the IRU, we were able to avoid a crisis. I would therefore like to express once again my appreciation to both the Russian Customs authorities and the IRU for their efforts to find a solution.
However, we must now look into the future and do our utmost to avoid the repetition of a situation similar to the one that has occurred last December. For this to happen, we must understand that the international guarantee system is not prepared and was not established to cover the unprecedented large scale of the irregularities committed by organized crime in some countries.
If we do nothing or if we do not act in a more responsible way, we will have to face the prospect that the TIR system may cease to exist in the near future. To prevent this prospect from taking place, I believe that this Working Party should recommend to the Administrative Committee to focus its work and that of the TIRExB on how best to prevent Customs irregularities in the countries that are or could become the targets of organized crime. In addition, I believe that this Working Party should promote a climate of trust and confidence among the various players, in particular between the Contracting Parties and the private sector. For this to happen, it is important that the IRU make an effort towards communication and information. It is also important that the bodies concerned create a working environment and a regulatory framework that allows the private sector to perform its commercial functions with the necessary room for manoeuvre and without unnecessary interference. Furthermore, it is important to avoid initiatives that represent a dramatic and unforeseen increase in risk for the guarantee system.
More specifically, I welcome and fully support the three-stage approach proposed by the Group of the Friends of the Chairman and strongly encourage this Working Party to recommend to the Administrative Committee the adoption and immediate implementation of such an approach.
I also welcome and fully support the presentation by the Government of Latvia for consideration at this session of a proposal for the introduction of a control system in the Convention in order to allow the IRU and guaranteeing associations to better manage the risk for the guarantee system. I invite you to finalize the relevant amendment proposal as soon as possible.
Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is vital for the economies of the Contracting Parties and the well-being of their citizens that the TIR Convention can continue to facilitate the development of international transport and trade. I call upon you, Governmental delegates, representatives of the EC and the IRU, to do your utmost in order to achieve this strategic objective of the Contracting Parties to the TIR Convention.
I wish this Working Party the greatest success in its work and thank you for your attention.