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Barker Speech World Customs Org Conference


Rick Barker Speech: Opening Address to the 10th World Customs Organisation Asia-Pacific Heads of Administration Conference

Opening Address to the 10th World Customs Organisation Asia-Pacific Heads of Administration Conference

Increased cooperation between Asia-Pacific Customs organisations is a key theme of this year's conference

Mr Kunio Mikuriya, Deputy Secretary General of the World Customs Organisation; Heads of Customs administrations from the Asia Pacific region and other delegates; John Secker and staff of the New Zealand Customs Service; Ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted that New Zealand has the opportunity to host this important meeting.

It will be one of the final responsibilities of our two-year term as World Customs Organisation Vice Chair for the Asia Pacific region. We considered it an honour to have been chosen for this role, and we have worked hard to make it a success.

Not long ago, we all marked International Customs Day, the anniversary of the day in 1953 when the Customs Co-operation Council first met.

In those days the Council was very much a European creation, reflecting European interests. But over the years it evolved into the World Customs Organisation.

Our Asia Pacific group spans the largest geographical area within it.

Each year our friends in the WCO nominate a theme for the commemoration of International Customs Day. This year the theme was the role of Customs administrations in the protection of society. When you think about it, that is perhaps the most fundamental reason why we are here today.

Governments invest in Customs because Customs officers provide that vital front line in protecting the borders of our societies. The quest for safety and security are basic human instincts. They are essential to our sense of wellbeing. That is true of individuals and for nations alike.

What goes towards making us feel safe? Should you live in a lawless suburb, with mayhem on the streets and a culture of crime in neighbouring households, your family would not get a sense of security from having a high fence.

Similarly it does not make much sense for a nation to seek security for itself in isolation. Fortresses may have had some value in the Middle Ages, when kingdoms faced threats from bands of outlaws or invading armies.

Even so, a sustained attack usually brought the fort to its knees. But in modern times the threats that nations face each day do not often come from invading armies.

The dangers that we must grapple with in the twenty-first century come from terrorism, from international organised crime, from drug traffickers, money launderers and people smugglers.

Some of these threats can be subtle and well concealed. Not at all like an invading army.

In combating them we face a particular difficulty. On the one hand, we want to protect our societies from cross-border threats.

But on the other, we want our borders to be open to visitors and business people, to our own returning citizens, to foreign tourists, importers and exporters.

Our challenge is to distinguish between the lawful and the illicit in terms of people and cargoes. This means being both welcoming and vigilant at the same time.

The events of 11 September 2001 in the United States reminded us dramatically, if we needed reminding, that terrorism must come high on any list of threats to the safety of our nations. A year after the collapse of the twin towers, the nightclub bombings in Bali showed us that terrorist attacks were no longer a remote or distant phenomenon.

And this month, the attack on the passenger train network in Spain has demonstrated the resolve of terrorists to target major infrastructure as a way of instilling fear into the hearts of local populations.

Here in New Zealand, and perhaps in the Pacific Island countries too, we have tended to think of ourselves as being remote from the world's trouble spots.

We regarded ourselves as being protected by the vast expanses of ocean that separate us from other states. Because we threatened no one, then no one should threaten us. The peaceful people of Bali, busy providing pleasant holiday experiences for Western tourists, probably thought the same way.

The Bali bombings, the subsequent explosions in Jakarta, and now the bombing in Madrid, show us that terrorism is a very mobile threat. Attacks can occur anywhere.

While homegrown terrorism is a matter for internal security authorities, action to block opportunities for cross-border terrorism is a major part of Customs business.

At the level of the individual state, we can try to ensure that the various specialist agencies of government work co-operatively to promote border security. Let me give you a couple of examples from our own experience.

In New Zealand we have a small population, a long coastline, no land borders, and a very large Exclusive Economic Zone.

So we need to pay close attention to the protection of our maritime environment. The Customs Service is host to what we call the National Maritime Co-ordination Centre.

It is a co-operative venture involving the Defence Force, Fisheries, Customs, Police and the Maritime Safety Authority.

It aims to make the most efficient and cost-effective use of limited assets, such as patrol vessels and aircraft.

Similarly we want to hinder the development of a hard drugs market in New Zealand. So we have a National Drug Intelligence Bureau, which brings together specialists from Customs, Police and Health.

Our Wildlife Enforcement Group does the same for endangered species, bringing together officials of Customs, Conservation and Agriculture.

As well as fostering co-operation among New Zealand Government agencies, we believe in the importance of building up relations with Customs administrations in neighbouring countries.

The Oceania Customs Organisation brings together the Customs agencies of 23 countries and dependent territories. It fosters networks among senior officials, it shares intelligence and discusses common problems.

This process helps the Customs organisations of the region to do their work more effectively. In our region, the leading political body is the Pacific Islands Forum.

It holds a heads of government meeting once a year, and many groups operate under its guidance. One of them is the Regional Security Committee, which has been taking initiatives in areas like training in law enforcement.

It draws up models for security laws and codes of conduct. It sponsors a Combined Law Agency Group, which has a valuable co-ordinating function.

I mentioned the sharing of intelligence within the Pacific region. Of course, we do this throughout the WCO family as well. The intelligence links among our Customs agencies provide a web of information that can be used to hinder illegal activities endangering our citizens.

China has just taken over the hosting of the Regional Intelligence Liaison Office on behalf of the World Customs Organisation.

I wish the Chinese delegation well in meeting the challenges of this new responsibility.

Counterbalancing our concern about security is the need for Customs administrations to facilitate trade.

People who are involved in trade naturally want their goods to move across borders quickly with minimum hindrance. We can understand that impetus, because time is money. But does that principle remain feasible at times when border security is under threat? Is it possible to have a high standard of border security while facilitating trade at the same time?

I recognise that moving quickly on trade facilitation can come into conflict with the need to observe higher standards of security in the post-11 September era we live in.

Many countries have applied more stringent provisions to the certification of export consignments, especially those destined for the United States.

New Zealand has been among the countries introducing new measures. In a sense these measures are the new face of trade facilitation.

We must implement them because the alternative - the risk of being shut out of the world's most affluent market for goods and services - is so unacceptable to trading nations.

We must also acknowledge that many countries are following the lead of the United States and tightening their border controls.

We need to ensure that we make intelligent assessments of what the requirements are likely to be and position ourselves to meet them.

I noted earlier that the terrorist threat is a very mobile one.

So the actions we take to put in place counter-terrorism measures enhance our own security. They also contribute to avoiding large-scale disruption of trade. And of course the best time to implement measures like this is ahead of time, rather than in reaction to an actual terrorist incident.

What governments need to do is find a balance.

Before September 2001, threats to border security seemed manageable, and the emphasis tended to be on trade facilitation. Since then, security requirements have assumed a higher profile. But neither should exclude the other. Adequate risk management, good intelligence, and also timely information about the precise contents of containers, are the factors that will allow the great majority of cargoes to continue moving easily across the borders of our member countries.

Among the topics for discussion at your conference will be the issue of "building capacity" in the Customs administrations of developing country members.

It is an important issue. Within the Oceania group we recognise that some members need a helping hand. Some may seek assistance in developing their ability to deal with security challenges. Some would like help with trade facilitation processes.

The more developed countries can make a difference through training and technical assistance.

But there is a growing recognition nowadays that we need to move beyond training.

What we are looking for is a broader kind of support, or capacity building. Some countries have set up regional training centres that are making a major contribution in turning out competent young Customs officers.

This is part of the process of giving attention to the whole organisation and its resource and infrastructure needs. During your meeting you will be considering concrete proposals to make capacity building a permanent feature of the way we interact with one another.

All these examples serve to reinforce my main message to you today.

It is that real security comes only when the whole neighbourhood of states is safe. Nations need to agree among themselves on the threats they face and how best to combat them.

That is why a meeting like this one is so important. It can make a reality out of the theme set by the World Customs Organisation for International Customs Day.

You are the Heads of Customs Administration from the major countries of the Asia Pacific. It will be your role to work together in building up the border security of the geographically huge region that you represent.

I hope that you will enjoy your visit to New Zealand. You have a busy round of meetings and social functions here in Auckland.

But you will also have time to take part in a little relaxation and see something of our countryside. This will be equally worthwhile, as there is scope for informal networking on these excursions.

I look forward to spending some more time with you all this evening when I will be your host on board the boat that will take us out on Auckland harbour.

In the meantime I wish you well in your discussions today and over the days to follow.

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