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How customs keep the world safe

The international definition of customs boils down to a government office established at  a country’s entry points, land border crossings, sea ports, or airports. Their main objective is to control the flow of goods that enter and exit the country, while charging the appropriate fees for their import or export. Some might say that customs activities focus on one primary purpose: collecting tariffs and imposing taxes on all international commerce in which a country is involved. However, arguably, the most vital task is the regulation of merchandise that, by nature, could negatively impact public health, economic production, public peace, or security.

This crucial function makes customs an essential regulatory institution. So let’s talk about them, their specific features, how those functions benefit the population when they are executed with efficacy, and how we can modernize them to help satisfy global needs post-COVID-19.

The Purpose of Customs  

Collecting tariffs constitutes one of the main missions of customs, the financial one,  whereby merchants are charged the appropriate amount of export and import duties. The second objective focuses on security, or fighting against customs fraud or contraband, which in itself relates to the third objective. This is concerned with the detection and restriction of the entry of wildlife, food, toxic residue, or any other product that may be hazardous to public health. Finally, customs offices are responsible for gathering and periodically presenting statistics that government analysts can use to measure foreign trade.

How does each customs office manage to achieve its objectives? Through the dedicated work of customs agents, who are in charge of verifying the legality of all merchandise that enters and exits a country and charging the appropriate tariffs.

Although these activities are easy to describe, the benefits they bring and the wide array of problems that are avoided thanks to their timely execution are discussed less often.

  1. Preventing money laundering: in most countries, by law an individual is required to declare if a certain amount of national or international cash is carried upon entering or exiting the country, which helps restrict the free circulation of money obtained from illicit activities.
  2. Protecting the environment: stopping the illegal movement of substances that might be hazardous to the environment, as well as avoiding the introduction of plants or animals that might disrupt local ecosystems is one of the essential duties of a customs agent, particularly nowadays considering the current global ecological crisis.
  3. Averting contraband: be it of trafficked persons, endangered species, drugs, weapons, stolen works of art, jewelry, etc. This prevents the violation of human rights, the extinction and abuse of protected wildlife, reduces the firearms accessible to organized crime, and stops the sale of stolen goods, among many other benefits.
  4. Verifying that exports and imports are in order according to national law: stopping goods that are not in line with regulations and sanctioning the owner helps prevent the sale of fake merchandise or products that don’t uphold health and quality standards.

In places like the European Union, where physical borders between countries with membership often don’t exist, customs are focused on foreign trade and entry. This demonstrates the importance of useful and timely control because once inside the country, any merchandise can move freely. If appropriate inspections are not completed upon entry, this could severely impact ecology, economy, or even contribute to the rise of crime.

The need to modernize 

At the start of this millennium and with the opening to foreign trade in the 90s, Mexico delegated the responsibility of classifying, as well as determining the value and origin of all merchandise, to customs agents. These agents utilize video equipment, X-ray machines, and other detection technologies that are constantly updated, in order to keep customs offices in top shape. Recently, the “fiscal traffic light” was replaced with an automatic mechanism that determines whether or not luggage needs to be checked by agents, improving the detection of non-declared goods.

The next step in modernizing customs offices brought forth recently by social distancing must be the implementation of the United Nation’s recommended measures published in April of this year, which call for ending paperwork formalities and implementing a completely digital system in order to minimize physical contact among people and promote health and well-being in populations. Additionally, introducing global positioning technology as a means to monitor the import and export of crucial goods and services along with humanitarian relief are recommended.

Customs procedures are essential to control points. Although formalities can be confusing or overwhelming, they are necessary to avoid a multitude of risks to crucial aspects of any country, such as ecology, security, and economy, that all require constant attention and care.

The experience and expertise of our team at Woodward Logistics will allow you to navigate necessary customs procedures to ensure that your shipping is within regulation and that your goods are delivered safely and efficiently. We offer top-quality support and dedicated customer service that maps requirements for each client individually, regularly monitoring shipments every step of the way.

Now more than ever, in a post-COVID-19 world, our expertise is one of our most valuable assets that we contribute to international logistics on a global scale, helping to keep the global economy moving forward.



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