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‘Customs on the look out for drones that pose a security risk to country’

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The 80th policy commission session of the World Customs Organisation (WCO) concluded last week. Major issues faced by Customs Departments globally, including trade facilitation, controlling the illicit flow of finance, and the challenges presented by drones and other digital products were discussed in detail at the meet.

As the host country, the Chairman of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), S Ramesh, led the Indian delegation at the policy sessions. In an interview with BusinessLine, Ramesh stressed on the fact that the Customs Department should be prepared for the challenges posed by new-age technologies such as drones and the Dark net. Excerpts from an interview:

Today, drones are imported into the country, but there is a WTO moratorium on levying any customs duty on drones till 2019. How does the Customs Department view such new and disruptive products?

We need to look beyond the moratorium, therefore, the Customs is always looking out for drones that pose a risk to the safety and security of the country. The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence has detected several cases of drones that have been brought into the country illegally and such drones have been confiscated. They are constantly on the lookout for such potentially disruptive products. The officers are also undergoing knowledge upgradation for effective management of such problems.

Customs also needs to look at products such as 3D-printing generated in the digital space, where there are no borders. Customs is the border agency, but the borders are invisible as far as these technologies are concerned.

How do you view developments in e-commerce and the Dark net space?

As e-commerce grows, so also will the threats emanating from the Dark net. People would use the Dark net to send contraband consignments by courier or the postal route. CBIC is working with Customs from other countries to work out methodologies to curb such transactions.

The supply route for narcotics as well as their suppliers is well-known. Therefore, the utilisation of the Dark net for such transactions has to be figured out.

The policy session was also used for forging partnerships and understanding with Custom chiefs from other countries for fighting this menace. Customs Mutual Assistance Agreements were also signed with other countries, which will help in sharing information and intelligence.

How is the persistent threat of terror finance being handled by the Customs Department?

The illicit movement of money happens when there is a requirement for funds by criminals, terrorists and money launderers. Customs is uniquely placed because it tracks the movement of people and goods. Therefore, trade-based over-invoicing and under-invoicing are always on the radar. Since the Customs also has a huge repository of human and trade data, therefore Artificial Intelligence tools, Social Network Analysis and the available data is used for detecting new threats to the safety and security of the country.

What is the key takeaway from the policy session?

The most pressing issue faced by all the Customs department is trade facilitation, given that global trade is growing by leaps and bounds. If global trade needs to grow, then trade barriers need to be less stringent, where Customs can play a big role.

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