Trade and Transport Single Windows

EU Customs Single Windows

In the absence of an EU specific definition of the concept of SW, the UNECE Recommendation No. 33 of July 2005 has been taken, for all purposes, including Decision No 70/2008/EC ('e-customs decision'), as valid:
UNECE: “Single Window is a facility which allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardised information and documents with a single entry point to fulfil all import, export and transit-related regulatory requirements. If information is electronic, then individual data elements should be submitted once.”
There is currently no explicit obligation in the customs legislation to establish an EU customs SW but Article 4 (6) of the e-customs decision requires Member States ('MS') and Commission ('COM') to endeavour to establish and make operational a framework of SW services.

Such establishment was announced in a number of COM communications as one of the major benefits which may result from the modernisation of the customs legislation and the move to a paperless environment for customs and trade. 

'Customs' SW

'Customs' SW aims at facilitating the fulfilment of the requirements for cross-border movement of goods as opposed to movement of pea and means of transport. In the latter two areas, other actors – administrations/authorities are involved. Hence, the administrations/agencies involved in a 'customs' SW will be primarily those related to the movement of goods.

Whilst not directly connected to customs clearance, 'non-customs' SW are already established such as port authority systems enabling operators to submit all data required upon arrival of a vessel for non-customs purposes (i.e. not necessarily handling all or only customs data). Time-wise the 'non-customs' SW usually precedes the 'customs' SW which might be interconnected with the 'non-customs' ones, might be integrated into them or might even encompass them. However, customs authorities do not compulsorily need to take the leading role in establishing this 'non-customs' SW or even participate in it.

Coordinated Border Management (CBM)

CBM in principle deals with all 'subjects' being moved/moving across the border (people – personnel and passengers, goods and means of transport) and has a more organisational and physical nature – such as coordinated border offices and one-stop-shop aspect – than the exclusive 'seamless flow of data' role of a SW.
Any kind of SW is intimately related and complementary to the CBM concept, for which it ensures data provision/exchange. However, CBM is more concentrated on a better collaboration of administrations/agencies active at the border where (electronic) exchange of information represents only a supporting tool to achieve proper national and international cooperation and coordination. 'Customs' as well as any other kind of SW might in this respect serve as an information backbone for border activities coordination, depending on the time perspective.

National vs. EU 'customs' SW

Given the unique structure of the EU, where both national and EU legislation is applicable to cross-border movements of goods, connections of different kinds of systems at different levels will be needed:

 EU systems implementing EU legislation (TRACES in veterinary area, database for licences for importation and exportation of ozone depleting substances, EDEXIM database for the exportation of dangerous chemicals);
•  National systems implementing EU legislation (customs systems, agricultural certificates; implementation of maritime security rules);
•  National systems implementing national legislation (national restrictions in accordance with Article 36 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

Given the general decentralisation of the IT systems in the 27 MS and the fact that there are still difficulties linked to the lodgement of declarations or request for other documents with a single point (e.g. electronic signature), it is unrealistic to envisage the establishment of a solitary (single) EU customs SW at this point in time.

The MS should thus establish national customs SW, connecting the national and EU authorities/agencies with traders.

Nevertheless, in order to achieve the final objective of establishing and making operational a framework of SW services there is a need of interoperability between the national SW in view of the fact that an important number of documents, although issued by a national administration, are valid throughout the Community.