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Commission proposes new ‘single window' to modernise customs controls

On 28 October, the European Commission proposed a new initiative that will make it easier for authorities involved in goods clearance to exchange electronic information submitted by traders. Traders will only be able to submit the information required for importing and exporting goods once. The so-called ‘EU Single Window Environment for Customs' aims to enhance cooperation and coordination between different authorities, to facilitate the automatic verification of non-customs formalities for goods entering or leaving the EU.

The single window aims to digitalise and streamline processes, so that businesses will no longer have to submit documents to several authorities through different portals. The proposal is the first concrete deliverable of the recently adopted action plan on taking the Customs Union to the next level. It launches an ambitious project to modernise border controls over the coming decade to facilitate trade, improve safety and compliance checks, and reduce the administrative burden for companies.

Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for Economy, said: “Digitalisation, globalisation and the changing nature of trade present both risks and opportunities when it comes to goods crossing the EU's borders. To rise to these challenges, customs and other competent authorities must act as one, with a more holistic approach to the many checks and procedures needed for smooth and safe trade. The proposal is the first step towards a fully paperless and integrated customs environment and better cooperation between all authorities at our external borders. I urge all Member States to play their part in making it a true success story.”

Each year, the Customs Union facilitates the trade of more than €3.5 trillion worth of goods. Efficient customs clearance and controls are essential to allow trade to flow smoothly while also protecting EU citizens, businesses and the environment. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of having agile yet robust customs processes, and this will become more important as trade volumes continue to increase and new digitalisation and e-commerce challenges, such as new forms of fraud, emerge.

The current formalities required at the EU's external borders often involve many different authorities in charge of different policy areas. This includes areas such as health and safety, the environment, agriculture, fisheries, cultural heritage and market surveillance and product compliance. As a result, businesses have to submit information to several different authorities, each with their own portal and procedures. This is time-consuming for traders and reduces the capacity of authorities to work together to combat risks.

The proposal is the first step in creating a digital framework for enhanced cooperation between all border authorities, through one single window. The single window will enable businesses and traders to provide data in one single portal in each individual Member State, reducing duplication, time and costs. Customs and other authorities will then be able to collectively use this data, allowing for a fully coordinated approach to goods clearance, and a clearer overview at EU level of goods entering or leaving the EU. 

This is an ambitious project that will entail significant investment at both EU and Member State level, in order to be fully implemented over the next decade. The Commission will support Member States in preparation, where possible, including through funding from the Recovery and Resilience Facility, to enable them to reap the long-term benefits of the single window. 

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