Customs Services in the interception of embargoed goods

The effective implementation of UN sanctions depends in large measure on national customs agencies to exercise their absolute prerogatives to control goods and commodities traveling across international borders. An overwhelming percentage of goods and commodities travel by sea, rail, and air:

  • in containerized or bulk form;
  • through a comparatively small number of the world’s major ports or megaports; and
For customs and border control the challenge to successful interdiction of

embargo violations comes down to a basic decision: which container should

be referred to secondary inspection and its contents made subject to possible


are not subject to information exchanges, high-tech scanning and surveillance.

The World Customs Organization answers this call with its Customs Enforcement Network as the backbone of intelligence collection and investigations, as well as with its SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade which by the end of July 2013, was formally adopted by 168 States. The framework is built around customs-to-customs and customs-to-business partnerships to enable four key requirements:

  1. Harmonization of advanced electronic information requirements on inbound, outbound and transit shipments;
  2. Commitment to a consistent risk management approach by each country participating in the SAFE Framework;
  3. Commitment to undertake outbound inspections of high-risk shipments with large-scale X-ray machines or radiation detectors on reasonable requests of receiving ports/states;
  4. Enjoyment of preferences by private sector parties who meet minimal supply chain security standards and best practices.

To assist the international community’s compliance requirements, the WCO has made a significant contribution by publishing a comprehensive Strategic Trade Control Enforcement Implementation Guide (STCE). Among other helpful elements, the STCE also offers a self-diagnostic tool for governments’ institutional readiness to enforce strategic trade controls. Because of close correlations, it is useful to also review the WCO concept for UN sanctions implementation.

An additional mechanism to intervene against the smuggling of embargoed goods is legal interception on the High Seas as prescribed in the Proliferation Security Initiative. The Initiative includes today 102 countries that have endorsed the core document, the Statement of Interdiction Principles. The four principles also build the basis for the mandate to conduct inspections on the high seas provided by resolution 2094 (2013), paragraph 16 for the DPRK.