Trade, if accompanied by suitable policies for the environment and society, can be the key driver of the transition to an inclusive green economy, and that is where the role of customs comes in.
The traditional role of customs officers as guardians of the trading system is evolving into a more diversified one encompassing different dimensions of sustainable development related to the well-being and protection of society.
Now, the customs officers are supposed to be at the frontline of not only of trade but also of environmental protection and to contribute to the greening of trade.
For this cause, the Green Customs Initiative was launched in 2001 after a series of collaborative activities carried out by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its partner organisations with the view to raising the awareness of customs and border control officers on several trade-related multilateral environmental agreements (MEA).
It is particularly targeted to prevent the illegal trade in environmentally-sensitive commodities such as ozone-depleting substances (ODS), toxic chemical products, hazardous wastes, endangered species and living-modified organisms and to promote trade in environmental goods (EG) and low carbon goods (LCG).
The World Customs Organisation (WCO) is one of the most important partners of the Green Customs Initiative.
The other partners of the Green Customs Initiative comprise secretariats of the relevant multilateral environmental agreements (Basel, Cartagena, CITES, Montreal, Rotterdam & Stockholm), Interpol, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, UNEP and also a number of other national, regional and international agencies.
In order to understand the purpose of the Green Customs initiative we need to know the idea and focus of these MEAs.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted on 22 March 1989 by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Basel, Switzerland in response to a public outcry following the discovery of toxic wastes being deposited in Africa and other developing countries from the developed world.
The main objective of the Basel Convention is to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) was adopted in 2001. It bans or severely restricts production, trade and use of 12 POPs known as the “dirty dozen” that are mostly used as insecticides and pesticides. As a quick reference, DDT is one of the most infamous and widely used POPs.
These POPs are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological and photolytic processes and hence poses significant threat on human health and the environment.
Rotterdam Convention promotes shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals in order to protect human health and the environment from potential harm.
The Montreal Protocol is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion.
Ozone-depleting substances (ODS) are chemical substances — basically chlorinated, fluorinated or brominated hydrocarbons — that have the potential to react with ozone molecules in the stratosphere.
In most developing countries like Bangladesh, the largest sector in which ODS are used is refrigeration and air conditioning.
The Cartagena Biosafety Protocol tries to fulfil the objectives of ensuring an adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology (Genetically Modified Organisms) that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
The CITES Convention is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals aimed at ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Bangladesh is also a party to CITES.
In addition to collecting revenue as import duties, the role of customs administration in facilitating trade while protecting the society has significantly increased over the past decade.
Protection and security has become key elements in the work of the customs administration and is certainly not related to only the domestic market or the health and safety of individuals.
Rather, the scope and application is very broad and wide. Customs officers ensure that any goods entering or leaving a country comply with the relevant national laws.
If any country is a party to one or more multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), then these agreements are likely to be included in the national laws and regulations.
The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda recognises international trade and investment as one of the key and cross-cutting means of imple¬mentation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Since 2002, the volume of international trade has more than tripled in monetary terms. Global trade in environmental goods is presently estimated at $1 trillion annually and is anticipated to grow to $2-3 trillion by 2020.
Hence, there lies huge export opportunity for Bangladeshi entrepreneurs to tap this global green market for environmental goods and services.
Although national territories must be protected and safeguarded, a balance between compliance and facilitation so as not to introduce costly and ineffective controls which could adversely affect trade flows, investment, employment and economic development should also be maintained.
To perform these multifaceted tasks and rise to these challenges, our customs administration needs to operate on an international basis and customs services need to develop their ability to exchange information and intelligence both nationally and globally.
Although Bangladesh is a signatory to a few MEAs described above, we are still not an active member of this green customs initiative, which may prove very costly for us in the future.
Hence, as part of our commitment of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, joining this initiative and accordingly building capacity of our administration could very well be the very first step towards shaping our green future and grabbing our share of the global green economy.