Kunio Mikuriya has been Secretary-General of the World Customs Organization (WCO) since 1st January 2009. The WCO provides leadership, guidance and support to Customs administrations to secure and facilitate legitimate trade, realise revenues, protect society and build capacity.
What would you consider your greatest achievement to-date as Secretary-General of the WCO?
Upon my nomination as Secretary-General of the WCO, I encouraged Members -180 Customs administrations as of today– to embark on a journey to achieve a new vision: Borders Divide, Customs Connects. Enhancing connectivity would lead to a significant improvement in the Customs service, in close partnership with trade, and thereby improve economic competitiveness. This is what is meant by trade facilitation’, and it is something that I continue to promote through the development of standards and sharing best practices, leading to the acceptance by the international community in the form of the World Trade Organization's Trade Facilitation Agreement, adopted in 2013.
Now the WCO is recognised as the major implementation agency of this WTO Agreement through its capacity building initiative, launched in 2014, known as the Mercator Programme. Of course, Customs facilitates only legitimate trade, the protection of society from illicit trade including narcotics, fake medicines, and wildlife trade is another core mission of Customs. Security of the supply chain is an integral part of economic competitiveness.I guided the WCO toward the development of risk management tools, communication platforms and coordinated global operations to build Customs capacity and enhance collaboration with other law enforcement agencies. Now the WCO is recognised as the major player in coordinating Customs around the world in protecting society and security at borders.
How has your experience prepared you for your role?
The role of Secretary-General of the World Customs Organization is to inspire Members and execute the vision of the Organization. It therefore demands constant efforts in understanding what is happening in the world, what Customs can do in response, and what are the needs and priorities of Members. It then requires the capability to create an enabling environment for the Secretariat but also for Members. I was lucky to be given the opportunity to develop these skills at the Ministry of Finance of Japan, with a broad portfolio including research, policy-making and its implementation. The Ministry sent me to France to embark on a study programme in order to broaden my perspective through encountering a different way of thinking. My stint as a trade negotiator in Geneva at the then GATT (now evolved to the WTO) stimulated my interest in trade and international relations. This led to my specialising in the Customs and trade back in the Ministry of Finance as well as acquiring a PhD in international relations in a UK university. My experience both at home and abroad served me well. Since the time I was elected WCO Secretary-General, my experience has further expanded particularly by regularly conferring with Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, CEOs, and Ambassadors alike on a wide range of international trade topics.
Please describe the key values of your organization:
The key values of the WCO are incorporated in its mission statement:
1. We are a knowledge-based and action-oriented organization.
2. We believe in transparent, honest, and auditable governance procedures.
3. We are responsive to our Members, stakeholders in trade, and society.
4. We capitalise on technology and innovation.
I would also like to reiterate that one of the core values that all personnel adhere to, and that imbues each of us with a sense of purpose, is responsiveness to our Members. We are a Member-based and driven Organization, and as a result, our focus is 100% on the needs and requirements expressed by them during the many Committee meetings covering a range of Customs-related topics and annual Council sessions.
What are your main objectives for 2016?
Each year on 26th January, Customs administrations around the world celebrate International Customs Day, and I announce the WCO theme for the year in question. The objective is to choose one unifying, overarching concept in accordance with which Customs can easily benchmark and communicate their progress, and identify areas for improvement. This year’s theme is Digital Customs - Progressive Engagement, and we have received many contributions from Members outlining their efforts to move toward a fully digital ecosystem and to progressively engage business and other government agencies. Digital Customs is a concept whereby Administrations are encouraged to take advantage of the software and ICT solutions available to improve their external output e.g. clearance times, Single Window environments, but also the internal processes at the heart of a Customs administration; everything from automated human resources solutions to the creation of a paperless environment. I would like to see the objective of tangible and measurable progress in this domain by the end of 2016 amongst all Members fulfilled.
What challenges does the WCO have in the current international customs layout?
One of the key challenges faced by the WCO is the rapid expansion of e-commerce whereby a large amount of small packages arrive at borders on account of online shopping. As e-commerce represents empowerment for consumers and Micro Small And Medium-Sized Enterprises, Customs should support its development, but these new participants to trade are usually unknown to Customs, which poses a challenge from a risk management perspective. Moreover, organised crime and terrorist groups could exploit e-commerce and occupy the supply chain to send illicit goods and security-sensitive goods. We often hear the expression ‘dark net’, which has arisen as a direct result of threats to cyber security.
How does the WCO facilitate international shipping trade?
The WCO works with our Members towards the realisation of a number of programmes and tools which, once implemented, can lead to an improved facilitation of international shipping trade. Chief amongst these is one of our most renowned Conventions - the Revised Kyoto Convention - which has become the blueprint of a modern and streamlined Customs administration. To date, 103 Members have deposited their instruments of accession and consequently made significant strides towards improved facilitation of international shipping trade.
Your memorable shipping experience:
There are too many to choose from, but I always appreciate trips on Customs boats. They give me an opportunity to appreciate Customs in action on the sea. When I was given the responsibility of overseeing Japan Customs' enforcement activities in the Ministry of Finance, I had to develop a policy on how to use a large-sized Customs boat that was introduced for the first time for the use on high sea. I had experience of small Customs boats for costal watch, but this was a new task for Japan Customs. I embarked on a three-day journey on the new boat from the southern port of Kyushu towards Okinawa. I was able to observe the beautiful nature apparent on the islands and the hospitality of inhabitants, but I also had a chance to share the experience with Customs officers on board.
Your favourite ship:
I should mention a small sailing boat that I used to enjoy with my friends over many weekends in my youth. On a professional note, my favorite ship is the Mercator, which was named after Gerardus Mercator, the Belgian cartographer and eponym of the WCO Mercator Programme. The Mercator was a barquentine built for the Belgian merchant fleet. It is now converted into an ocean museum at the pier of Ostend in Northern Belgium. It is my fervent wish that the WCO Mercator Programme provides direction and inspiration to Customs and business for future modernisation of border procedures.
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