Helen Clark: Remarks to the WCO capacity building committee

28 Sep 2010

Helen Clark UNDP Administrator
Remarks at the World Customs Organization Capacity Building Committee Meeting
 - Brussels

Tuesday, 28 September 2010, 11:00am

Chairperson of the World Customs Organization Council, Mr Martyn Dunne,

Secretary General
of the World Customs Organization,Mr Kunio Mikuriya,

Directors General of Customs Administrations,

Helen Clark with the Secretary General
of World Customs Organization,
M. Kunio MIKURIYA.
(Photo: WCO)

Thank you for inviting me to address you today at this World Customs Organization Capacity Building Committee Meeting.

I come here fresh from the major Summit on the Millennium Development Goals held last week at the United Nations in New York. Its focus was on accelerating progress on the eight Goals, a decade after they were launched as a blueprint for improving the lives of billions of people in developing countries.

I was delighted to learn some months ago that the World Customs Organization was looking at how its work could help the achievement of the MDGs. In my view, it can help a great deal.

For the MDGs to be met, countries’ economies will need to grow sustainably and revenue will need to be collected from that for investments in services and infrastructure. A modern customs service can play a key role in both trade facilitation which is conducive to growth and revenue collection from it.

When the MDGs were agreed to at the beginning of the new millennium, it was a time of hope. Leaders from around the world came to the Millennium Summit united in their desire to build a better future for all the world’s peoples.

The eight MDGs are the most comprehensive and universally agreed development goals ever agreed to by the international community. They set out to tackle poverty across its many dimensions.

The Goals are about eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; empowering women; increasing access to the essential services of education, healthcare, clean water, and sanitation; reducing the incidence of specified deadly diseases; protecting the environment; and forging strong global partnerships for development.

For the poorest and most vulnerable of the world’s people, the significance of the MDGs was that they were not just another list of noble intentions loudly proclaimed by the international community – there’s been rather a lot of those before and since.

Rather, the MDGs represented time-bound and specific commitments to make a difference for the better for those denied the basics of a decent life.

Over the last decade, we have seen impressive progress on the MDGs, including in least developed countries.

The developing world is on track to meet the target of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty.

Advances have been made in getting children into school, and there has also been progress towards gender parity in education.

Yet significant challenges remain. Many countries have seen insufficient progress in reducing poverty. The rate of reduction in maternal mortality in particular is still well short of what is required to meet that MDG target.

The series of global crises, natural disasters, and ongoing conflicts of recent years have not made the task of achieving the MDGs any easier.

Even so, they can be achieved. That was the message the UN took to last week’s Summit.

That “can do” message was backed up by research on and evidence of what works, including through UNDP’s International Assessment of what it will take to reach the Goals by their 2015 deadline.

Central to that assessment is the finding that supporting country-led development processes, promoting more inclusive models of growth, and strengthening national and local institutions and the capacity for domestic resource mobilisation are critical for meeting the MDGs.

Development is more likely to thrive when a country’s institutions are responsive and accountable, and where the institutional capacity exists to deliver quality services.

In many of the countries in which UNDP works, there are often very good visions and plans, but not always the capacity to deliver on them.

That means that policies are not translated into action and systems are unable to deliver what is expected of them – whether that is ensuring that small farmers can get their goods to market, raising much needed revenue, or ensuring the safe management and smooth movement of goods through customs.

In this context, the work of the World Customs Organization is so important. It is the only intergovernmental organization exclusively focused on improving the effectiveness and the efficiency of its Member’s customs administrations.

Well-functioning national customs administrations :

  •  help protect society from a range of national security concerns, including organised crime and money laundering.

  •  help collect revenue, and

  • facilitate trade in goods and services, helping countries to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the global trading system.

Evidence suggests that reducing the time it takes to trade is of significant benefit to a country’s economic activity. There is a strong relationship between the time taken to trade across borders and trade volumes : findings suggest that a one-day time delay in moving goods can reduce, on average, the volume of a country’s trade by approximately one per cent .

UNDP is not a specialist agency in the area of customs or border management. The theme of this meeting, however, to “enhance existing capacity building resources and improve global co-ordination to deliver better regional trade facilitation and community protection”, relates to the core of the United Nations Development Programme’s work.

Whether it is helping to fight poverty, tackle climate change and protect the environment, prevent and recover from conflict, or promote democratic governance, UNDP helps develop the capacities countries need to transform their prospects.

As part of this work, we help countries to strengthen their capacity to raise domestic resources for development and to trade.

This work is critical, and, with respect to the MDGs, it is urgent. There are only five years left until the 2015 target date for achieving them.

Trade can and does play a big role in boosting growth and supporting human development. Those regions which have made the most progress in reducing poverty are also those which trade the most - look, for example, at the phenomenal progress in East Asia.

Global trade has been recovering from the economic crisis. Last week, WTO economists revised their projection for world trade growth in 2010 upwards, to 13.5 per cent. 

Unfortunately there was no significant reduction in the tariffs imposed by developed countries between 2007 and 2008, the latest year for which figures are available. The average tariffs imposed on key products from developing countries remain relatively high.

As well, agricultural subsidies in rich countries continue to undermine prices and income opportunities for farmers in developing countries.

Poor countries and poor people have the most to gain from accessing currently protected markets, but they have fewer cards to play in bilateral trade negotiations. It is therefore pressing that the WTO’s Doha Round is completed, and that it has a strong development component as was envisaged when it was launched in 2001.

In the area of trade facilitation, a new agreement under the WTO has almost been completed. This will be an important step forward, but developing countries will still need flexibility and added technical and financial support to meet obligations deriving from this potential agreement. 

The least developed countries’ share of world merchandise trade remains very small, at a little under one per cent of the total in 2009. To take advantage of more open markets, and to lower the transaction costs to trade, nations need to develop their capacities, infrastructure, and institutional frameworks. 

Countries which have clear, predictable, and transparent rules and and robust institutions have a greater chance of increasing their trade and attracting investment.

That is why customs reform and modernization as well as transparent border management are so important.

Good trade facilitation practices and standards can boost trade, supporting the safe passage of imports and exports across borders. Improving transport links, and simplifying customs and inspection procedures, have similar benefits.

When these systems and procedures function smoothly and with integrity, they help raise revenue and connect communities around the world to the global market place. When they do not, they become a barrier to development.

Eliminating these barriers is where the World Customs Organization’s efforts and those of UNDP come in. With our complementary strengths and areas of expertise, and those of our partners, we can help build the capacity of governments to engage in trade.

UNDP’s trade-related work is mainly done under the auspices of the Aid for Trade initiative, including its Enhanced Integrated Framework for the Least Developed Countries. It has three main components :

  • assistance to partner countries on mainstreaming trade in national development and poverty reduction strategies;

  • capacity support to negotiate trade agreements which prioritize human development outcomes; and

  • capacity support to enhance countries’ competitiveness and to ease supply side constraints.

Some examples of our work include :

  • In Lesotho we have helped to establish a mechanism for the government to share information on business regulation and customs requirements.

  • In Mongolia, we are helping the government to enhance and expedite customs procedures.

  • We also work with the Maldives and Vanuatu governments and development partners to strengthen their customs services’ automated clearance processes.

  • In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, UNDP has helped governments identify national priorities for aid for trade support. 

  • In response to demand from the Central Asian countries for a regional initiative, this support is now being extended to Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. A similar initiative is also being explored with the Southern African Customs Union and its member states.

  • We have supported countries with WTO accession processes.

  • UNDP also promotes South-South co-operation through trade, helping countries to share experiences and expertise on aid for trade. 

Our work is complementary to that of WCO, and there are not direct partnerships between our organizations in the areas I just mentioned. There are, however, instances where we have collaborated in support of border management programmes.

These include, for example, the Border Management Programme in Central Asia as well as the as well as the European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine.

These programmes, both implemented by UNDP and with funding from the EU, provide countries with policy, legal and technical expertise in the area of border management, with a focus on aligning their customs services with WCO and EU standards.

I encourage you, when working in countries where UNDP has programmes, to get in touch with our local offices and/or with our Regional Bureaux and Bureau of Development Policy. 

There is certainly scope for further exchanging information and strengthening linkages between our organizations, in particular on border management programmes.

And there is also scope for further collaboration between WCO and UNDP in supporting the implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption, which includes provisions for promoting integrity among public officials.

Developing countries have many needs for capacity building support. It is only by working together, each to our expertise and mandate, that we can help them grow through trade, meet their development goals, and promote sustainable development.

I commend the WCO and this Committee for taking its capacity building work seriously, and for developing a number of instruments, programmes and tools to enhance customs operations.

I wish you all a very productive discussion in the remaining sessions of this conference, and in your important work which lies ahead.