WCO and China Customs carry out debriefing of Operation Demeter IV

WCO Deputy Secretary General Ricardo Treviño Chapa attended the debriefing of Operation Demeter IV, held in Shanghai, China on 20 November 2018. This event, organized and hosted by the General Administration of China Customs (GACC), was also attended, among others, by Mr. Carlos Martín-Novellas, Secretary of the Basel Convention, Mr. Umberto de Pretto, Secretary General of International Road Transport Union, and Mr. Erik Solheim, Under Secretary General of United Nations. 

During his opening address, GACC Minister NI Yuefeng expressed his thanks to the WCO for organizing this joint Operation, adding that China will continue to work on the mitigation of environmental risks and looks forward to further cooperation with the WCO. 

The WCO set up the first Operation Demeter in 2009 in order to capture data and intelligence on illegal waste trafficking, as no accurate reports on the issue had yet been compiled at that time. The operational mechanisms of Operation Demeter involve intensified controls based on a set of risk indicators, monitoring, notification, feedback and seizure.

Operation Demeter IV was launched in June 2018 for five weeks at the request of the GACC, in order to obtain updated data and intelligence on emerging trends and gauge the impact of China’s waste ban since January 2018. The objective of Demeter IV was to enhance information exchange and cooperative enforcement efforts among Customs administrations in order to prevent and intercept illegal cross-border movements of hazardous and other wastes.

When the WCO Deputy Secretary General addressed the participants, he emphasized that combating the illicit trafficking of solid waste and protecting the environment is an important concern not only for the WCO and Customs administrations, but also for humanity. He added that in the last decade, millions of people in the world have moved from poverty to middle-class levels; as the size of the middle class increases, consumption also increases, resulting in a greater need to find ways of disposing of solid wastes. 

One of the conclusions drawn from Operation Demeter IV was that now that China has banned imports of different types of solid wastes, including plastics, efforts against the illegal trafficking of waste will be increasingly important, not only because of a higher risk of illegal trafficking in China (because of the broadening of the scope of illicit goods), but also because waste will presumably proliferate in other destination countries, usually developing countries. 

Operation Demeter IV helped identify a number of modus operandi and smuggling schemes that can be generally categorized into 3 types: misdeclaration and misdescription, circumvention of Customs checkpoints, and diversion of waste shipments.

Deputy Secretary General Treviño Chapa concluded by indicating that Operation Demeter IV had confirmed that the approach adopted was correct, and that cooperation among WCO Member Customs administrations and with other competent authorities remains critically important.  As part of this approach, in 2018 the UNEP in partnership with WCO updated the Green Customs Guide, which presents the different Multilateral Environmental Agreements that regulate the transboundary movement of a variety of environment-sensitive items that Customs and border control officers may encounter in their work, explaining the protocols to follow and sharing best practices.

By these actions, the WCO is assuming a leading role in supporting the Green Customs Initiative established in 2004 as a collaborative effort between eleven international organizations and Conventions, including the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movements of Waste. Through this partnership the WCO, representing the international Customs community, commits to ensuring the legal transboundary movement of waste and tackling illegal waste trafficking.