(Source: European Commission)


Electronic Customs Vision
– Decision No 70/2008/EC –

EU Website – Electronic Customs  … click here

A paperless environment for Customs and Trade

The Commission intends to create a paperless environment for customs and trade in the European Community (EC). The proposed decision will give the go-ahead for the simultaneous development of interoperable customs systems. This will enable customs administrations to exchange information about the movement of goods entering or leaving the EC.

Decision No 70/2008/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 15 January 2008 on a paperless environment for customs and trade [Official Journal L 23/21 of 26.1.2008].

This decision is intended to promote electronic customs in the EC.


Following the Commission’s 2003 communication on creating a simple and paperless environment for customs and trade, the Commission is proposing to set up secure, integrated, interoperable and accessible electronic customs systems. Customs systems supply pan-European e-government services which facilitate imports and exports, by reducing costs and coordinating procedures. They also provide for the exchange of data between the customs administrations of the Member States, traders and the Commission. Supply chain logistics and customs processes are thereby improved and facilitated.


If the objectives set out in the decision are to be met, it will be necessary to:
harmonise the exchange of information;

  • review customs processes with a view to optimising their efficiency and effectiveness;
  • offer traders a wide range of electronic customs services.

The Commission’s role

The Commission will coordinate:

  • the setting-up, testing, operation, and maintenance of the Community components of the computerised systems;
  • the systems and services set out in this proposal with other projects concerning e-government services;
  • the parallel development of national and Community elements;
  • automatic customs services and single window services at a Community level;
  • the completion of the tasks allocated to it under the multiannual strategic plan;
  • training needs.

The Commission will monitor progress with regard to the Customs Policy Group. In addition, the Commission will initiate regular consultations with the economic stakeholders concerned.

Role of the Member States

The Member States will ensure the following:

  • the setting-up, testing, operation, and maintenance of the national components of the computerised systems;
  • the coordination of the systems and services provided for in this decision with other relevant projects relating to e-government at national level;
  • the completion of the tasks allocated to them under the multiannual strategic plan;
  • the promotion and implementation at national level of electronic customs services and single window services;
  • training for officials.

Timetable for automated customs services

The decision contains a list of systems and databases and sets out the timetable for their implementation. It makes provision for single window services within six years.


(Source: Descartes Business White Paper 2012)

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The European Union (EU) has made significant strides in streamlining customs processes. In its drive to increase efficiencies, it has established a number of mandates relating to security and customs declarations that are changing the future of inbound and outbound shipment activities, from information sharing and filing processes, to warehousing and distribution.

The EU’s multi-annual strategic plan, for example, which is a unifying document that impacts all of the 27 EU member states and other para-states (e.g. Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Iceland, Norway), now serves as a guide of the new measures these states are required to put in place over time. The intent of the strategic plan is to create a single window to view all security and customs functions under one interface. This is very similar in concept to the ACE (Automated Commercial Environment) initiative in the US, in which security and customs are combined into one interface.

The ability to use a single interface, however, requires specific technology infrastructure elements in order to allow participating European countries to work together. This includes the formation of a New Computerised Transit System (NCTS), which is an inter-state communications system that allows for standardized data to be relayed between countries on inbound movements from one country to another. This is supported by the Economic Operator Reference ID (EORI identification) which uses unique identifiers for the different parties involved in the movement of goods, including the shipper/consignee, carrier and forwarder. Another important infrastructure element is the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO), a preferred importer program where specific status is given to importers who have merited the ability to self-regulate their compliance which is similar to the Importer Self-Assessment (ISA) program in the US.

The EU’s multi-annual strategic plan has many elements adopted from the World Customs Organization’s Safe Framework of Standards which called on all United Nations-affiliated nations to develop a common approach to border security for verification of security for outbound and inbound cargo. In building on the data elements published by the Safe Framework of Standards, the EU had to modify them to accommodate the requirements of different legacy systems in various countries. This disparity in standards has made harmonizing the individual approaches to import and export security challenging.

The European Commission’s TAXUD (Taxation and Customs Union Directorate-General) set a deadline of January 1, 2011 for an ICS (Import Control System) for goods coming into Europe and the ECS (Export Control System) for goods leaving Europe. Given that goods within the EU and para-states can move from country to country – and therefore require multiple customs filings – the interdependencies are significant, further adding to the complexity of ECS/ICS compliance. While most participating states have adopted a common specification for receiving data, a few are not as advanced in externalizing their systems to ensure interoperability. In addition, there is still a considerable reliance on paper-based processes, and automation can vary dramatically by country.

With the NCTS ICS and ECS, in place, there is yet another component to EU customs that must be addressed: the customs declarations themselves. While each participating state has its own processes relating to duty and taxes, the projected date for “single window” access to customs declarations is 2015.

In light of the components involved, and the disparity between countries, single mode, regional roll-outs that were initiated in the US are simply not a feasible option. Rather, meeting EU deadlines for advanced security and targeting will require a multi-modal, multi-directional, multistate security initiative, the likes of which have not been seen anywhere else in the world. As mentioned, standards acceptance, participation and testing can vary significantly from country to country. In addition, security enforcement is a concern during test periods.