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Fighting customs fraud: JRC research leads to new legislation

A new regulation adopted by the European Parliament and the Council will allow customs to access information to track the origins and routes of cargo containers arriving in the EU. This new capability will support the fight against customs fraud both at EU and national level. The JRC has been instrumental in the conception and adoption of this legislation by providing the scientific evidence on the importance of analysing electronic records on cargo container traffic.

Customs fraudThe EU customs authorities have been long aware that information on the logistics and actual routes of cargo containers arriving in Europe is valuable for the fight against customs fraud. However, they had very limited ways to obtain such information and no means to systematically analyse cargo container traffic. On the other hand, the ocean carriers that transport the cargo containers, as well as their partners and clients, have easy on-line access to the so-called Container Status Messages (CSM): electronic records which describe the logistics and the routes followed by cargo containers.

In collaboration with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the JRC has worked extensively on how to exploit CSM data for customs anti-fraud purposes. The JRC proposed techniques, developed the necessary technology, and ran long-term experiments involving hundreds of EU customs officers to validate the usefulness of using CSM data. The results of this research led the Commission to bring forward a legislative proposal that would enable Member States and OLAF to systematically use CSM data. It also served to convince Member States of the value of the proposed provisions.

The financial gains from the avoidance of duties, taxes, rates and quantitative limits constitute an incentive to commit fraud, such as mis-declaration of the origin of imported goods. The information extracted from the CSM data can facilitate the detection of some types of false origin-declarations. With the new legislation an importer will no longer be able to declare – without raising suspicions – country X as the dispatch/origin of the goods if these were transported in a cargo container that started in country Z (as indicated by the CSM data). Such cases can be automatically detected using the CSM data, saving precious human resources for document controls and random manual inspections.

The technologies, know-how and experience in handling CSM data, developed by the JRC through its experimental ConTraffic platform, will be used by OLAF to set up the operational system needed to implement this new legislation applicable as from 1 September 2016. The JRC will continue to analyse large datasets of CSM records (hundreds of millions per year) as these are expected to be made available through the new legislation. Its focus will be on data mining, new automated analysis techniques and domain-specific visual analytics methods.

2 thoughts on “Fighting customs fraud: JRC research leads to new legislation

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