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Algirdas Šemeta
EU Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and AntiFraud
"EU-China – Modern Customs Building
Bridges to Facilitate Legitimate Trade
and Protecting Citizens"
International Customs Conference
China (Shanghai), 1 September 2010
Mr Vice Minister,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be at the World Expo in Shanghai today to open this International
Customs Conference.
I can hardly think of a better place to hold this event. Shanghai is the main
economic, trading and financial centre of China. It boasts the world's busiest
seaport by cargo traffic; it is a major aviation hub in Asia and connects the vast and
thriving Yangtze River Delta with the rest of the world. I have been struck by the
extraordinary dynamism and constant development that is so evident in this city.
The World Expo is about learning and influencing one another; with ideas about
science, art and design, architecture and urban development, food and rural
development, education and social development, about trade, about all aspects of
human life. It is a unique opportunity to focus world attention on China’s
extraordinary achievements and immense potential in improving living standards,
and its will and capacity to address the economic, social and environmental
challenges in a harmonious way. Conversely, it is a unique opportunity for the rest
of the world to try to understand contemporary China much better. The Expo is, par
excellence, the place we can build such bridges.
The EU and China are strategic partners, both committed to promoting reform and
openness thereby increasing trust and confidence in one another, especially in
economic and trade cooperation. We have become economically interdependent
and the threats and challenges we face transcend borders and continental
boundaries. The future of international trade lies in good relationships: building
bridges today is vital for keeping tomorrow's trade flowing and generating new
sources of wealth. It is also vital for promoting mutual understanding, which is at the
core of lasting peace and stability, regionally and worldwide.
Coming to the specific topic of this conference, about EU-China customs
cooperation, I wish to focus, briefly, on three main points:
Firstly, the importance of EU-China customs cooperation.
The days when customs' primary role was to collect import duties are long gone.
Modern customs has a much widened role. It must ensure the smooth flow of
legitimate trade and, at the same time, protect citizens from risks posed by
international trade: fraud, terrorism, organised crime, and IPR infringements. By
stopping the illegal traffic of goods, customs contributes to the healthy functioning of
the global economy and to citizens’ welfare.
Carrying out this mission would be impossible without close international
cooperation between customs administrations; national policies alone are ineffective
unless they are supported by enhanced international cooperation to promote
coherence and economise on administrative resources.
Our efforts in the European Union to develop cooperation with our trading partners
should be seen in this context, both bilaterally and multilaterally, for instance in the
World Customs Organisation.
If only by sheer volumes, China and the EU have a major stake in ensuring
uninterrupted flows of legitimate merchandise across borders. China is our second
largest trading partner and first source of import. The EU is China's number one
trading partner and largest export market, with almost 20% of Chinese export
destined for Europe. In 2009, EU-China trade totalled about 300 billion Euros; latest
data show a 20% increase in EU-China trade in the first quarter of 2010 compared
to the same period in 2009. As world players we also have world responsibilities.
This is as true for China as it is for the EU.
Increased trade brings serious challenges: China remains the main source of
counterfeited and pirated goods in the world; in 2009, 64% of goods detained in
Europe for IPR violations came from China. In addition to the grave consequences
for innovation and legitimate jobs, illegitimate trade threatens the safety and health
of citizens; it fosters protectionism, because it undermines trust in trade and in the
rule of law. In this context specific mention should be made to the tobacco sector.
China is the main source of counterfeit cigarettes in the EU, where the illicit tobacco
market results in tax and duty losses of 10 billion Euros annually and impacts
significantly on legitimate business interests.
Fighting illegitimate trade more effectively, while promoting legitimate trade is in our
mutual interest. The benefits of trade facilitation will depend crucially on how
effectively we combat illicit trade. It is against this background that EU-China
customs cooperation is particularly important.
My second point is that the EU is prepared to strengthen customs cooperation with
The recognition of increasing interaction and mutual interest is the driving force of
the cooperation we established in 2005, when we signed our bilateral EU-China
Customs Cooperation Agreement, and which we have developed since.
Starting with mutual administrative assistance and the launching, in 2006, of a pilot
project to test the World Customs Organisation’s Safe Framework of Standards, we
further extended our cooperation in 2009 with the signature of the Action Plan on
IPR enforcement. In this way we have gradually developed a dense network of
contacts and activities. EU experts from the European Commission and EU Member
States, and Chinese experts now hold regular contacts and work closely to
implement the mutual commitments we have entered into under each of those
My political message today is unequivocal: in the EU we are prepared to continue
and further enhance customs cooperation with China. We greatly value the
openness and interest of China Customs in organising joint activities. We expect
that together we can produce practical results: consumers, employees and
businesses must be reassured that the expansion of trade is indeed good for jobs
and for productivity growth, and that consumer safety, investments in innovation
and jobs are not compromised by illegitimate trade.
For this we have developed tools and activities – principally the IPR Action Plan and
the Smart and Secure Trade Lanes Pilot Project. A lot of preparatory work has been
put into these exercises. We now need to make the best use of these tools to
deliver practical results for security, safety and IPR enforcement.
With this in mind we are strongly interested in establishing a more ambitious and
dynamic cooperation strategy, one where progress in supply chain security, IPR
enforcement and in the fight against fraud proceeds in a balanced way through
mutual recognition of controls, mutual exchange of information and mutual
administrative assistance in support of the facilitation of legitimate trade. We
understand Minister Sheng's recent initiative, the so-called 3M initiative, in this way
and we welcome it as a way to provide a coherent strategic framework for our future
joint work. Unfortunately, Minister Sheng could not be present here today, but given
his strong personal interest in furthering this initiative, I hope to have an opportunity
in the near future to explore the prospects further with him.
This brings me to my third and last point, our expectations from this Conference.
The future development of EU-China customs cooperation will significantly influence
the future of supply chain management world-wide. We have shared interests and a
great responsibility in developing this cooperation and shaping the future of
I expect this Conference to contribute to this important work. More specifically, the
discussions today and tomorrow should generate ideas and proposals regarding the
role of customs in the face of the modern challenges and the future of EU-China
customs cooperation. In particular, the discussions should debate the essential
components of a balanced EU-China customs cooperation strategy and ways to
implement them effectively. The issue of forging strong partnerships between
business and customs is a crucial element in this debate.
There are many specific questions to be answered: How should customs evolve to
successfully manage the international supply chain? How can customs, in
cooperation with other stakeholders, protect the supply chain from terrorism and
organised crime? What can European and Chinese customs do to eradicate the
trade in goods that violate intellectual property rights and to stop fraudulent
Having looked at the list of participants, I am convinced that these questions can be
properly answered. In keeping with the ethos of this World Expo, the speakers,
panellists and the audience at this Conference are truly international and have a
wide-range of backgrounds; policy makers, public sector employees, business
representatives and representatives from trade associations.
This is a guarantee for open and result-oriented expert discussions, where we can
learn from each other's experience to achieve results that make a real difference for
traders and citizens alike. Let me highlight the importance of the active participation
of business in the conference; their contribution is vital in the process of
strengthening EU-China customs cooperation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At the end of this week, the 5th meeting of the EU-China Joint Customs Cooperation
Committee will take place, to discuss our joint work under the bilateral Customs
Agreement. I believe that your discussions, views and ideas can provide an
important feedback to the work of the Joint Customs Cooperation Committee.
Finally, let me congratulate China for the excellent organisation of the World Expo.
This event is as impressive as the economic achievements China made in the past
years. I am looking forward to visiting at least a small part of the EXPO and I hope
you all will have the opportunity to do the same in the coming days.
Preparing this conference at this venue, in the EU-Belgian pavillion, has required a
lot of effort, and I am grateful to all those who made it possible. I wish you all a
productive and successful conference.
Thank you for your attention.