Following the success of an innovative Customs project in the port of Antwerp for smoother imports of bio-bananas, i.e. bananas grown organically without the use of pesticides or other chemicals, a digital "bio-certificate" will be introduced EU-wide as of April 2017.
A highly advanced EU pilot project was recently rolled out in the port of Antwerp, more specifically in the BNFW fruit terminal, in which the Customs service played a prominent role. In this leading fruit port the possibilities were trialled for replacing the paper bio-certificate with a more reliable and above all faster digital version. The pilot project was carried out for the banana importer Dole, long a faithful customer of the port which imports organic bananas from Lima (Peru) via Antwerp.
Strict controls on bio-certificates
In order to offer European consumers the guarantee that the bio-bananas they buy in the shop are actually grown organically, the production of such bananas is subject to very strict controls. For this purpose Dole and its Antwerp customs agent Belfruco must submit a bio-inspection certificate to the Customs department when the goods are imported into Antwerp. However, on some occasions this led to consignments being destroyed unnecessarily, for example if the certificate had been lost, and so the European Commission (DG Agri) decided to carry out a pilot project to prevent this happening. This led to very successful collaboration between the banana company Dole, its customs agent Belfruco, the Customs authority in Lima, the Customs authority in Antwerp and the Flemish ministry of agriculture.
Digital added value
In this pilot project the inspecting body in Peru connects to the European Commission's secure software and sends the data concerning the consignment of bio-bananas being sent to Antwerp. When the consignment actually arrives in Antwerp several weeks later the Customs service in Antwerp in turn connects to the European Commission's system to validate the importation. This results in huge time savings compared with the five days that it took previously for a courier service to deliver the paper certificate from Lima to Antwerp.
Flexible Customs formalities
In this way the port of Antwerp has once more demonstrated its commitment to trade facilitation by making the required Customs procedures as fast as possible. The European Commission too considers this pilot project to have been very successful and has published the necessary legislation so that the concept can be applied throughout the EU as of April 2017. As the same time the project has paved the way for similar electronic documents to be used in other industries.