Article 12: Customs Cooperation


Members shall improve cooperation among customs services of Members to foster compliance by businesses and enable freer trade

What is covered?

Core obligation

This Measure aims to improve cooperation among the customs organisations of the Members for improving enforcement and voluntary compliance to promote fair and freer trade. The Measure sets out the scope of the cooperation and the principles on which such cooperation shall be provided. The principle of reciprocity is of prime importance. If any Member is of the view that in case it would be unable to provide similar information, if approached by the requested Member, or has yet to implement Article 12 of the TFA, the requested Member shall be informed. In this situation requested Member shall not be legally bound to give the requested information.

Article 12.1 Compliance and cooperation

This Measure provides for raising trader awareness on the rules and regulations pertaining to trade transactions so that businesses become more compliant through self-correction. It is intended that strict enforcement measures are applied only in cases of strong non-compliance.
This Measure also sets out the need for cooperation among customs organizations, to share information on best practices in managing customs compliance and to cooperate in technical guidance or assistance in building capacity.

Article 12.2 Exchange of information and documents

Members shall notify the WTO Committee on Trade Facilitation the details of their respective contact points for exchange of information. When there are reasonable grounds to doubt the truth or accuracy of the declaration, the Member would make a request through the contact points. The requested Member shall exchange the information, subject to other provision of Article 12. Members’ obligation is limited to provide specific information, to the extent it is available, as set out in declarations filed with customs including invoice, packing list, certificate of origin and bill of lading.
Members shall carry out as appropriate internal verification procedures for declarations and other relevant documents before making the request to ensure that the information being requested is not already available with the requesting customs administration.

Article 12.4 Request

This part of the Measure specifies the request to be made by a Member. Each Member aiming to seek information will submit a written request in one of the official WTO languages (English, French or Spanish) or a mutually acceptable language to both countries with the following information:

  • Matter at issue and reasons for the request
  • Specific information and/or documents requested
  • Purposes of information requested
  • Identity and the legal mandate of the official making the request
  • Applicable legal provisions in its domestic law, including provisions relating to confidentiality

This part of the Measure is mandatory and has to be implemented as described in the text.

Article 12.5 Protection and confidentiality

Each Member is required to treat any received information as confidential:

  • Providing at least the same level of protection provided in the Requested Member,
  • And not disclosing it to third parties without the specific permission of the requested country.

The Requesting Member shall use the information received in reply solely for the requested purposes unless mutually agreed otherwise and only share information with the authority concerned.
This is a mandatory provision and is required to be implemented as described in the text.

Article 12.6 Provision of information

This Measure deals with the expectations of the Requested Member.
The Requested Member shall provide a response in writing, on paper or electronically.
Provide information contained in the import or export. The Measure sets out the following documents which can be provided in original or provide copy of the documents to the extent available to the Requested Country:

  • Declaration
  • Commercial invoice
  • Packing list
  • Certificate of origin, and
  • Bill of lading.

The Requested Member shall confirm that the documents provided are true copies of the documents.
The Requested Member shall, to the extent possible, respond to the request within a reasonable period of time (possibly 90 days) from the date of receipt of the request.
The Requested Member shall ensure that the information is provided subject to the fact that the same will not be used as evidence in criminal investigations, judicial proceedings, or in non-customs proceedings without the specific written permission of the requested Member. If such use is expected then the Requesting Country shall set this out in the request.

Article 12.7 Postponement or refusal of a request

The Requested Member may postpone or refuse part or all of decline the request in the following cases:

  • If its domestic law and legal system prevents release of the information or legislation (e.g. on information confidentiality);
  • If contrary to the public interest as reflected in domestic law or legislation;
  • If it impedes law enforcement or otherwise interferes with an on-going administrative/judicial proceeding, prosecution or proceedings;
  • If the consent of the importer or exporter is required for waiver of confidentiality, the Requesting Member would be unable to comply with a similar request;
  • If the request is submitted after expiration of the legal requirement for the retention of documents.

Article 12.8 Reciprocity

The Requesting Member shall only submit requests it would be able to comply with if similarly requested. If not, the Requesting Member should inform the Requested Member that will then respond to the request at its discretion.
This is a mandatory provision and should be implemented as described in the legal text.

Article 12.9 Administrative burden

When submitting a request, the Requesting Member should balance its fiscal interest and the effort to be made by the Requested Member to gather relevant information.

If a Member receives an unmanageable number of requests for information or requests for unmanageable scope from one or more requesting Members, and the requested Member cannot meet such requests within a reasonable time, the Requested Member may request requesting Members to prioritize requests. In the absence of an agreement, the executions of requests shall be in the discretion of the Requested Member.
This is a mandatory provision and should be implemented as described in the legal text.

Article 12.10 Limitations

The Requested Member shall not be required to entertain the following requests:

  • Modify the format of their declarations or procedures
  • Call for documents other than those submitted with the declaration
  • Initiate inquiries to obtain the information
  • Modify the period of retention of such information
  • Introduce paper documentation where electronic format has already been introduced
  • Provide any information for which disclosure is not permissible under their domestic laws and regulations; or
  • Translate the information and/ or documents.

Article 12.11 Unauthorized disclosure

In the event of any breach of the condition of use or of disclosure of information exchanged, the Requesting Member shall:

  • Inform the requested country about the breach in detail;
  • Take necessary measures to remedy the breach; and
  • Take measures necessary to prevent any future breach.

The Requested Member may suspend its obligation to the requesting Member until the remedy/prevention measures are in place.
This is a mandatory measure.

Article 12.12 Bilateral and regional agreements

Members retain the possibility to enter or maintain bilateral, plurilateral or regional agreements for sharing or exchange of customs information. These agreements can cover sharing or exchange of customs information and data, in a secure manner on a rapid basis such as on an automatic basis or in advance of the arrival of the consignment.

The TFA cannot alter or affect the Members’ rights and obligations under these bilateral, plurilateral or regional agreements. This is a mandatory measure and has to be implemented as described in the text.