Strengthening inter-regional practical cooperation to identify and suppress high-risk consignments under the Inter-Regional Network of Customs Authorities and the Port Control Units in Afghanistan, Black Sea, Central Asia and Pakistan

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Office for Central Asia organized an Inter-Regional Expert-Level Meeting on the Inter-Regional Network of Customs Authorities and the Port Control Units (IREN Network) under the UNODC-WCO Global Container Control Programme (CCP) in a hybrid format in partnership with Georgia Revenue Service in Tbilisi on 28-29 July 2021. More than 60 experts from Customs Administrations and other competent authorities, members of Port Control Units/Air Cargo Control Units (PCUs/ACCU) of CCP participating countries, including Afghanistan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, CCP donors and partner organizations participated at the event. The meeting aimed at reviewing the IREN Network`s progress, priorities and needs as well as discussing major accomplishments and results of recently held Inter-Regional Operation.

Welcoming the participants of the meeting, Mr. Samson Uridia, Head of International Relations Department of Georgia Revenue Service thanked UNODC and WCO for organizing this important event as well as his colleagues from Customs Administrations and other competent authorities, members of the Port Control Units of CCP participating countries for their efforts since the security and safety of entire region depends on their successful work and the results.

During the opening ceremony, Ms. Ashita Mittal, UNODC Regional Representative for Central Asia stated that – although COVID-19 global pandemic has begun right after the establishment of IREN Network in 2019 and continues affecting all areas of life, including law-enforcement – the Network managed to become fully operational, with a number of significant seizures made based on information sharing, increased data exchange among the Customs authorities of participating countries, as well as successful conduction of the Inter-Regional Operation.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Ketil Ottersen, UNODC Senior Programme Coordinator stressed that 2020 and 2021 was a period of challenges with logistical and operational limitations due to COVID-19, on the one hand, and new forms and adaptations of organized crime which have emerged in the containerized trade supply chain, on the other. Despite these limitations, the CCP was able to sustain, and even improve in terms of capacity building measures by promoting the network of Port Control Units and Air Cargo Control Units across five continents in 70 countries. Mr. Ottersen expressed CCP`s commitment to further support cross-border practical cooperation activities and IREN Network by strengthening its partnerships with CCP participating countries in these important areas.

Addressing the participants, Mr. Norbert Steilen, WCO Senior Programme Coordinator stated that IREN Network proved to produce tangible results and has great potential for further development. This cooperation network established is a unique mechanism globally and has enormous potential not only when it comes to sharing information and making seizures but also when comes to trade facilitation. CCP has gone through a challenging period due to COVID-19 pandemic, however, in 2020 the programme managed to deliver more than 300 online training events globally. He expressed his hope that the meeting will discuss the results achieved and ways to improve cooperation under IREN Network.

In line with the meeting objectives, experts from nine CCP participating countries have discussed in detail the current state of the operation of the Interregional Network, the results of the Interregional Operation, as well as the priorities and needs within the Interregional Network. As an outcome of the meeting, a list of recommendations and future actions to guide CCP’s further support to the Interregional Network in the region was developed and adopted by the experts CCP participating countries.

The CCP Regional Segment for Central Asia is funded by the Government of Japan and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), and the Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) Programme.