A simple and paperless environment for customs and trade

A simple and paperless environment for customs and trade

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about A simple and paperless environment for customs and trade


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.


A simple and paperless environment for customs and trade

Document or Iniciative

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee of 24 April 2003 – A simple and paperless environment for Customs and Trade [COM(2003) 452 final – Official Journal C 96 of 21.04.2004].


The e-Europe action plan sets the Member States a priority: to work online and be accessible electronically in order to improve the efficiency of customs procedures and controls. The aim of the customs union is to ensure a simplified and paperless environment for trade.

Member States currently use different IT solutions and have different approaches to the implementation of customs rules and procedures. Traders operating in more than one Member State have to comply with different conditions for electronic access to customs, which is costly and could jeopardise the functioning of the internal market. There is also a lack of common data requirements and differences in electronic communication between customs administrations. This situation is no longer tenable in an enlarged EU.

Using printed documents in customs procedures is not cost-effective and movements of goods across several Member States require common interfaces and databases. The Commission can act to ensure that the means for creating a simplified and paperless environment are provided and that interoperability between existing IT systems is achieved.

Customs authorities nowadays have to face additional challenges in carrying out their tasks, due to conflicting new requirements by traders and society. They have to manage a greater volume of goods crossing borders while bearing in mind the need to reduce costs and time limits. The authorities are also subject to more constraints concerning serious controls issues involving the environment, health and security.

Traditionally, the role of customs authorities is to collect customs and agricultural duties to contribute to the Community budget and to collect VAT and excise duties for Member States’ budgets. But customs plays a key role in monitoring and managing international trade, screening passengers and freight and guarding against dangerous and illegal activities.

Business expects more efficiency, better services and higher productivity from customs. Since customs administrations should facilitate trade transactions, business has an interest in forming a partnership with customs. Simple, predictable and uniform customs controls will ensure rapid deliveries. Traders also need a uniform Community regulatory framework and similar customs practices, thus putting economic operators on an equal footing. So that business can avoid losing time when launching products on the single market, a single point of entry is needed for customs declarations and other formalities for all requirements related to imports and exports. Lastly, there is a need for the burden of controls to be reduced and for legislation to be more coherent in order to facilitate trade, reduce errors and increase compliance.

The Communication therefore proposes to make procedures and controls more efficient by simplifying customs legislation and making better use of electronic tools in customs procedures.

Ensuring security in the movement of goods requires that risk-related data be shared in real time between the customs administrations of the Member States and between the administrations and other bodies such as the police and the veterinary authorities. This will enable customs authorities to decide on which consignments they will carry out physical checks at the border. To achieve this, the legislation must be simplified at Community level and information technology must be used to overcome the problems linked to differences in national laws. As regards simplifying legislation, the Communication stresses the following objectives:

  • to make electronic declarations and electronic exchange of data the rule;
  • to reduce and simplify customs procedures and regimes;
  • to align and adjust procedures to the needs of electronic processing, and extend their scope and use;
  • to redefine the role of inland and frontier customs offices;
  • to redefine the rights and responsibilities of trade and freight forwarders;
  • to introduce new tools and methods.

Such modernisation and simplification of customs legislation would reduce the cost for business and increase legal certainty for citizens.

In order to rationalise business processes, once the information requirements have been harmonised and standardised, the customs interface should be presented to the trader in each Member State in the same form. Customs authorities should be inter-linked so as to be able to act as if they were a single customs authority. Traders should be able to lodge their declarations and notifications directly with customs from their own IT system using a standard interface. Customs declarations and notifications should be made available to small and medium-sized traders on the internet. There will also be a need for solutions to ensure secure internet payment systems. It is important for traders to have a single access point for customs clearance and information systems. They will have to provide the data only once.

Related Acts

Implementing the Community Lisbon programme – Proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on a paperless environment for customs and trade [COM(2005) 609 final – Official Journal].

Council Resolution of 5 December 2003 on the creation of a simple and paperless environment for customs and trade [Official Journal C 305 of 16.12.2003].

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