EU ministers yesterday signed their agreement to the European Commission proposal to create a pan-European electronic customs.
Member state representatives also agreed on the next steps towards a paper free process for customs clearance. They agreed with a Commission proposal to implement the electronic system over several phases.
László Kovács, the commissioner responsible for taxation and customs, called on the European Parliament to confirm the agreement as soon as possible. The decision would pave the way for a paper free customs process and allow for better communications between traders and officals, he said.
"A pan-European electronic customs will increase the competitiveness of companies doing business in Europe, reduce compliance costs and improve security at the EU borders," he said.
Currently all member states have electronic customs systems, but these are mostly not inter-connected. The Commission plan, once approved, would require governments to make their electronic customs systems compatible with each other.
A single, shared computer portal would be created for the bloc. Electronic declarations would become compulsory, with paper-based declarations becoming the exception.
The new Automated Import System and Automated Export System as it is being called would be linked with the EU's existing computerised transit system. The network would ease the customs procedures relating to export, import and transport, avoiding duplication at the EU level, the Commission stated.
The systems would ensure that import and export operations started in one EU member could be completed in another without companies having to re-submit the same information.
Through a new EU customs portal, traders would deal with one regulatory body instead of several frontier control authorities, as happens at present.
The system would then allow goods to be controlled by customs and other authorities - including veterinary, sanitary, food safety and environmental inspectors - at the same time and at the same place.
Business would also be assigned a unique identification for customs purposes.
In 2005, the EU exported €47.6 billion worth of food and drink products to non-EU countries, while importing €43.1 billion. The EU registered a positivebalance of €4.5 billion.
In 2005, exports inside the EU reached €146.4 billion.This amount is considerably higher than the extra-EU sales.
The intra-EU exports account for 17.5 per cent of the turnover in 2005. At the same time, trade to non-EU countries accounted for 5.7 per cent of the turnover.