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Customs At The Forefront Of Facilitating COVID-19 Vaccines And Essential Goods

Customs officials from APEC member economies joined forces to support the region’s recovery effort by developing a set of best practice guidelines to support the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines in the APEC region.

The Best Practice Guidelines for APEC Customs Administrations were endorsed by the APEC SubCommittee on Customs Procedures (SCCP) ahead of the 2021 APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting.

The guidelines were developed following the 2020 APEC Leaders’ Meeting, where the APEC Leaders highlighted the importance of ensuring easy access to COVID-19 vaccines, which is vital to safeguard people’s health and well-being.

“Customs is one of the critical players in the global supply chain process,” said Rebecca Jonassen, who chairs the sub-committee. “As the key gatekeepers protecting our borders, we need to ensure that essential goods like the vaccines can flow through easily without any hold ups.”

“Member economies may encounter numerous challenges in the supply chain, including counterfeit and illegal movement of vaccines,” added Jonassen, who is also with the New Zealand Customs Service, the agency that proposed the initiative. “Therefore, the rollout across borders of COVID-19 vaccines and related goods, such as test kits, syringes and dry ice, while supporting the rules-based trading system is a relevant and real-time challenge.”

The guidelines are comprised of a set of operational and practical measures to ensure the region’s supply chains are equipped to facilitate the flow of COVID-19 vaccines and related goods.

Examples of best practice include establishing a 24-hour contact point to help with questions and responses to delays, ensuring that the vaccine supply chain is uninterrupted while in transit and fast-tracking border clearance for hazardous substances.

“Member economies are coming together with an urgent need to defeat the pandemic,” said Dr Rebecca Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat. “These guidelines will complement the wider ongoing vaccine supply chain commitment and assist economies to consider all available measures to manage the complex and sensitive nature of the vaccine supply chain.”

Where possible, the guidelines recommend that customs administrations in the region should simplify procedures, utilize online forms and digitalize documents to ensure timely movement and clearance of the vaccines.

Another recommendation is to carry out regular border testing, including surface swab testing and testing of border officials involved in the clearance process to ensure the safe transfer of vaccines and related goods and to protect officials and others involved in their distribution.

“By implementing these measures, APEC economies will benefit from simpler border processes and help COVID-19 vaccines to reach where they are needed more quickly and efficiently,” said Jonassen. “The guidelines will also build supply chain resilience and connectivity, securing against any future supply chain disruptions.”

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