The Importance of updating WCO’s Strategic Plan

It is essential that any organization, whether public or private, or national or international owns a Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan is the roadmap for achieving the objectives set by the organization. When organizations do not have a strategy, or have not updated it, each area or person that integrates it, will work at their own understanding and regardless of the goals they seek to achieve as an organization.

The World Customs Organization (WCO) is no exception and requires a Strategic Plan consistent with its objectives to help the Secretariat work in the right direction and align the work and effort of all staff to achieve their objectives. Among the main functions of WCO’s Deputy Secretary General (DSG) is precisely to determine the Organization’s Strategic Plan. When I became DSG, there was a Strategic Plan in place, which was approved by member countries for the period 2016-2019.

This plan was basically the same plan approved by the Council for the year 2012 (back then it was an annual strategic plan) and for the period 2013-2016. This implies that the strategy had not changed since 2012 and the roadmap needed to be updated and adapted to the new circumstances that impact the world’s customs administrations. A first draft of the Strategic Plan 2019-2022 was presented and discussed in December 2018 at the Policy Commission in India. To this end, a survey of WCO’s 183 member countries was conducted to establish common and regional priorities.

Also, for the first time in the process of defining the WCO strategy, during the months of September to November 2018, six regional working meetings were held in the six regions allowing member countries to discuss the results of this survey, determine the actions to be followed with their main priorities and strategic projects, as well as define the main deliverables and strategic indicators that would serve to measure the functioning of WCO.

Finally, the new Strategic Plan 2019-2022 was approved by the Council Session in 2019. Despite the limited time to discuss and determine the current strategy, the process and the results were a drastic change on the Organizations strategic planning. A monitoring tool was also developed for Members to track the progress on the implementation of the strategy ina transparent and periodical way. Still, some improvements are needed and frequent adjustments need to be done to adapt to an ever-changing global environment.

These regional meetings are of paramount importance as WCO member countries have repeatedly stressed the need to feel identified with the objectives of the Organization and emphasized the need to prioritize objectives and activities. That is why, the WCO Secretariat will continue assuming this responsibility and leadership to involve and take into account all member countries through regional working meetings that will enable us reach a new, updated, relevant strategic plan for the period 2022-2025.

This time, we will start earlier and we will incorporate a new link in the process of planning. We will start in the second half of 2020 with regional workshops on the environmental scan for customs. Considering the current COVID-19 crisis situation, these workshops will be held in a virtual manner, but the relevance of updating and taking into consideration in the strategy the results of the environmental scan is highly relevant.

The first step will be to determine where do we want to take WCO? What is the Vision of the Organization? It is important that the vision embodied in the Strategic Plan is motivating and that it represents an achievable challenge. After knowing where we want to take the WCO, an analysis should be done to find out what the current situation of the organization is and know its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

But any plan is insufficient or of little use if no concrete actions are taken to do so. Therefore, we must define the actions to be carried out, in sufficient detail, in order to be able to meet the defined goals. That is, the concrete actions that would lead us from the current situation to the situation that we have defined as a vision. Concrete deliverables exist during the implementation of these specific actions and the necessary indicators are established to monitor and visibility into the expected progress. In order to establish the actions to be taken in the WCO Strategic Plan, its main objectives should be considered.

These objectives are understood as being an organization that provides tools and other elements to help the world’s customs administrations achieve their own objectives and meet their own obligations. Of course, the objectives pursued by customs administrations often incorporate strategies and tasks on facilitation and simplification, control and compliance, combating insecurity, revenue collection and organizational development. The definition of priority and cost-benefit projects will need to be discussed at large.

During the regional meetings, progress in each of these priorities will be discussed and whether priority strategic projects need to be redefined, also taking into account new trends and threats, as well as budget and human resources constraints under the Organization. It will be necessary to consider, under current international circumstances, the desirability of replacing some priorities or complementing the list with such relevant initiatives as best practices in governance, the use of new technologies (Blockchain, the Internet of Things, Big Data, drones, artificial intelligence, among others), exchange of information between customs administrations, the role of customs in achieving sustainable goals, how to prepare for future global crisis , the need for the WCO to verify the correct implementation of its main tools, among other aspects that may arise in the development of these discussions.

Finally, all this work also implies that concrete commitments will need to be made to achieve the active participation of the 183 members in the achievement of the strategy 2022-2025 and above all, this new plan should aim to be a product that actually benefits and creates value to the international customs community.