THE HAGUE – The Dutch government, on behalf of the entire Dutch Kingdom, is seeking approval of the treaty to establish the Caribbean Customs Organization (CCO). The treaty, signed in Havana in May 2019, seeks to further strengthen the cooperation between Customs organizations operating in the Caribbean region.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok, on behalf of the Kingdom, in October this year informed the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament that approval is sought of the treaty for the entire Kingdom. The documents have also been sent to the Parliaments of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten.
The new CCO is the legal successor of the Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council (CCLEC), an organization that was established in the 1970’s on the initiative of the United States (US) in an effort to combat the transport of illegal drugs, mostly cocaine, via the Caribbean to North America and Europe.
Almost all Caribbean countries are a member of the CCLEC, of which the secretariat is based in St. Lucia. Countries with strong ties to the region such as the US, Canada, Spain, France, the United Kingdom (UK), France and the Netherlands are also a member.
Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten are a member of the CCLEC. Since October 2010, the interest of the Netherlands in the CCLEC has increased because of the active role of the Dutch Tax Office and Customs in the public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.
In 2014, during the annual CCLEC conference in the Dominican Republic, it was decided to arrive at a treaty that would lift the organization to an international level and that would remove legal obstacles for the sharing of information between Customs authorities of partner countries.
Minister Blok explained that the Netherlands took a leading role in the drafting of the treaty for which approval of the Dutch Parliament is now sought. The treaty was drafted in close consultation with the UK, and in May 2017, negotiations were concluded regarding the treaty to establish the successor of the CCLEC, the CCO.
The CCO will have a treaty basis that will better position the organization between other international organizations and in its relations with international financial institutions. Further strengthening of the cooperation between the Customs administrations in the region is deemed necessary to secure effective work by the Customs organizations and to combat international fraud.
“The treaty especially creates the opportunity for Customs administrations within the Kingdom to exchange essential information with Customs administrations of other countries and territories that become signatory to the treaty,” stated Minister Blok.
The main focus of the increased organizations are goods and data relating to border-transgressing goods within the region, but also to and from the region. But more cooperation between the Customs administrations is also a means to increase the effectiveness of combating illegal drug smuggling and organized crime.
Even though the combating of drug smuggling and fiscal and other financial frauds remain the focal points in the region, the CCO will also assist in fighting the illegal trade in small firearms of fake goods. International actions by the World Customs Organization and Interpol will be supported.
The Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Finance in November submitted several questions to Undersecretary of Finance Menno Snel in relation to the treaty to establish the CCO. The undersecretary recently replied to the Committee.
The Committee Members asked for specifics of the treaty, the financing of the CCO, which European countries were part of the CCO, the existence of organizations similar to the CCO and the effect of the treaty and the CCO on the combating of the smuggling of narcotics via the Caribbean.
The Undersecretary explained that the CCO will be financed by the member states. The annual contribution of the Dutch government will be about US $10,000. The CCO is currently in the process of being established and the involved countries are working on the approval procedures.
The CCO can only start when it has 10 members. With the ratification of the treaty, the Netherlands, also on behalf of Bonaire, Statia and Saba, as well as Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten will become a member of the CCO. Cuba was the first country to ratify the treaty. The organization that bears most similarities is the Oceania Customs Organization which has 23 members in the Pacific Ocean.