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SCED's speech at International Customs Day reception (English only)

     Following is a speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the 2012 International Customs Day reception today (January 17):

Commissioner Cheung, President Tsang, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good evening.  It gives me great pleasure to join you all to celebrate the 2012 International Customs Day.

     I understand that it has been a long tradition for the international customs community to celebrate International Customs Day (ICD) in January each year to commemorate the founding of the World Customs Organisation (WCO) in 1953.  On this very important occasion for the Customs, I consider it necessary first to highlight Hong Kong Customs' contributions to Hong Kong's success in becoming a dynamic city with vibrant activities in trade, finance, business, tourism and communications.

     Hong Kong has been rated as the world's freest economy for 18 years consecutively.  It has also been ranked second globally in the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business Report" for the past two years.  All these remarkable results are attributable to our world-class infrastructure, strong fiscal discipline, low taxes, open market, free flow of information, goods and capital, clean government and a level playing field for businesses.  It is also due to our efficient and business-friendly Customs service.  Our Customs staff work tirelessly round the clock to provide a timely and reliable clearance service and to carry out rigorous enforcement actions.

     This year, the WCO has chosen "Borders Divide, Customs Connects" as the theme.  In my view, the theme could not have come at a more opportune moment.  In recent months, downside risks to the global economy have increased substantially. The sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone remains a severe threat to economic growth and financial stability in Europe and beyond.  At times of volatile economic conditions, the role of Customs in facilitating trade while ensuring supply chain security is becoming more important than ever.

     In balancing trade facilitation and supply chain security, the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards, which was adopted in 2005, has shifted the attention of Customs from traditional controls at import to the entire trade supply chain.  Customs is now expected to build up a global security network through advance electronic information.  This network requires standardised cargo data elements and effective risk management to facilitate Customs-to-Customs and Customs-to-business co-operation.  In support of this network, it is logical for the WCO to dedicate the theme this year to "connectivity", which aims at prompting Customs administrations to find the best way to increase collaboration, in terms of people, institutions and information, that underpin and facilitate the achievement of Customs' main goals: ensuring the smooth and lawful flow of cargo and passengers as well as fighting all types of fraud and crime that affect society and its economy.

     With regard to "information connectivity", Hong Kong Customs has devoted a great deal of effort in meeting the objective.  For instance, in the development of the Road Cargo System, which was launched mandatorily in November last year, and the enhancement of the Air Cargo Clearance System, they have applied the standards of the WCO Data Model and put in place the important element of "advance electronic cargo information" for risk assessment.  This new connectivity approach has provided the framework of business-to-Customs sharing of advance cargo information, thereby improving the overall Customs clearance efficiency and facilitating trade.

     I must supplement that connectivity embodied in the said projects is not only limited to "information".  The regular exchanges with the industry during the system development stage have enabled Customs to better understand how the market operates and to bring about the necessary changes and improvement in meeting the needs of the logistics industry and the community.  This people-to-people partnership has contributed to the development of effective cargo clearance systems that help expedite the cargo flow between Hong Kong and other economies.

     On Customs-to-business co-operation, I am also pleased to learn that Hong Kong Customs will soon formally launch the Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) programme.  Implementation of the AEO programme is a major standard as required under the Customs-to-business pillar of the SAFE Framework, which encourages Customs and the business sector to build up partnership, so that Customs can focus on high risk cargoes and minimise unnecessary delay to the trade.  Once a fully-fledged AEO programme is in place, Hong Kong Customs will explore the possibility of entering AEO mutual recognition arrangement (MRA) with other Customs administrations, in particular Hong Kong's principal trading partners, including Mainland China, the United States, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.  The MRA would be a great incentive for local traders to join the Hong Kong AEO programme as it would facilitate their importation of goods into Hong Kong, as well as their exportation of goods to the said trading partners. This institutional linkage will contribute further to the global effort to facilitate trade and enhance the supply chain security.

     As the Policy Secretary looking after the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights in Hong Kong, I am particularly mindful of the effectiveness of Customs enforcement strategies in fighting transnational organised IP crime.  On this front, our Customs has been taking persistent and rigorous enforcement action in combating counterfeits and piracy.  They also attach great importance to transnational collaborative actions in counteracting organised IP crime.  I am particularly appreciative of Hong Kong Customs' efforts in organising with Interpol the International Law Enforcement Intellectual Property Crime Conference in October 2010, when some 430 law specialist IP crime investigators, prosecutors and private sector investigators from 28 countries gathered in Hong Kong to discuss strategies and tactics to combat transnational organised IP crime.  It is also encouraging that our Customs has been maintaining close co-operation with stakeholders, including proprietors of copyright or trademark, their authorised agents and legal representatives, in tackling the problem of counterfeits and piracy.  This is a strong testimony to the significance of people-to-people linkage on IP rights protection.

     Taking this opportunity, I would like to thank Customs for their dedication to the control of counterfeiting and pirating activities.  I am of course mindful that these enforcement actions would not have been as swift and effective without the sterling support of Customs counterparts and industry partners here.

     Ladies and gentlemen, in a moment I will present, on behalf of the WCO, Certificates of Merit to members of the Hong Kong Customs and representatives of the business sector who have made exceptional contributions to Customs' projects and initiatives which bear relation to the theme of this year's ICD.  I would like to congratulate the Certificate recipients and to thank all of you for supporting the work of our Customs and in maintaining Hong Kong's continued success and competitiveness.

     Thank you.

Ends/Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Issued at HKT 19:34


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