On October 17, 2023, the Honorable Minister of State, Gustav Aitaro signed the accession to the Convention Establishing a Customs Co-operation Council that already exists. Over the past few months, Palau expressed the interest in potentially becoming a member of the World Customs Organisation (WCO). This symbolic signing of the convention will allow the Republic of Palau to become members of the WCO and, as a small pacific island country, Minister Aitaro highlighted the importance and benefits by joining the WCO especially in terms of technical assistance, training/capacity building and in developing standards to enhance efficiency and security in trade and tourism. According to the Director, BCBP John Tarkong Jr., he mentioned that the Bureau values its membership with the WCO and have a keen interest to working closely with the WCO so they may be able to help support, strengthen and allow our customs administration to enhance its overall effectiveness and efficiency in all areas related to security, trade, economic and social well being of our country.
According to Director Tarkong, at this stage, the WCO currently has 185 members with the Solomon Islands being the 185th member on 26 January 2023. Once the Ministry of State notifies the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through diplomatic channels and the date of accession recorded by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then the WCO Council, at its next session will recommend Palau to become a member of the WCO. For the amendment to enter into force, they have to officially be accepted by all contracting parties to the convention. Prior to the signing of the Accession, according to Mr. Michelle Millan, Executive Officer, member Relations from the WCO in a correspondence to Director Tarkong, the WCO would very much welcome the accession of Palau to join the WCO members in the Asia / Pacific Region.
According to Director Tarkong, being members of the WCO is a major step and opportunity for Palau to realize our trading potential and for Palau to improve on our customs processing, inefficient ports, limited or poor infrastructure and other obstacles at the border that are costly and sometimes complex. Among the Pacific Island countries, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands are currently WCO members.
While there have been delays in the passage of the Customs Act, we are hoping that OEK will take this opportunity to bring change and pass the Customs Act before the end of the year so that Customs will be able to implement and go live with the ASYCUDA Customs-Trade Automated System before the end of this year.
Such initiatives are important because of other related projects that are also helping our border and other relevant agencies to bring change through our management structure, services, practices and policies. This includes the Integrated Border management Project that is being supported through our international organizations and funded through donor countries such as Japan. There is also the 11th EDF for the ‘Pacific Regional Integration Support’ Programme (PRISE) to help develop the ASYCUDA Customs-Trade Automated System.