Last reviewed 10 July 2014

The EU and China are to recognise each other’s trusted traders following an agreement signed in May 2014, as Henrietta Clarke reports.

These trusted traders, or Authorised Economic Operators (AEOs), will benefit from faster controls and reduced administration for customs clearance and, therefore, lower costs in their operations. There are currently around 15,000 companies approved as AEOs in the EU and the number continues to rise.

As well as making life easier, cheaper and faster for traders, mutual recognition of trusted traders also allows customs to focus resources on real risk areas and thus improve supply chain security. The EU has already signed similar deals with the USA in 2012 and Japan in 2011, but is the first trading partner to enter into such an agreement with China. This agreement with China makes the EU certified trader system the most widely accepted in the world.

Two other initiatives were signed at the same time, being:

  • a new Strategic Framework for customs co-operation with ambitious priorities and objectives for EU–China collaboration on trade facilitation, supply chain security, and fighting counterfeit and illicit trade — an important new priority is tackling illegal waste shipments

  • a new EU–China Action Plan on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to improve the clampdown on counterfeit goods by intensifying EU–China co-operation, communication and co-ordination in this field.

Authorised Economic Operators

The EU AEO status was launched in 2008 offering simplified customs procedures to companies that prove to be safe, reliable and compliant with security standards. Certified AEOs have fewer inspections on goods, and speedier customs procedures and formalities. The goods, therefore, travel faster, lowering transport costs and facilitating more efficient trade. It also prevents a proliferation of incompatible standards among international trade partners and helps promote a more harmonised approach to customs practices worldwide.

Trade with China

China is the EU’s biggest source of imports and has also become one of the EU’s fastest growing export markets. China and Europe now trade well over €1 billion a day, making it the second largest economic co-operation in the world. EU imports from China are dominated by industrial and consumer goods, with bilateral trade in services amounting to just one tenth of total trade in goods.

Customs plays a vital role in this trade relationship, ensuring that goods flow smoothly while also protecting citizens against security threats and unsafe or illegal goods. It also protects the Single Market from other illicit goods, such as those infringing on IPR. EU customs have information on every single import and export that crosses EU borders. It is important that there is a common understanding on the controls needed, as well as good co-operation and information exchange.

Intellectual Property Rights

In 2012, more than 64% of all articles detained by customs on suspicion of violating IPR came from China. It remains the main source of goods suspected of infringing an IPR entering the EU. The main product categories include cigarettes, clothing and accessories, packaging materials, toys, labels, tags and stickers, machines and tools, office stationery, perfumes and cosmetics.

The new Action Plan on EU–China customs co-operation on IPR enforcement will expand on the previous 2009 plan and consist of:

  • exchange and joint analysis of seizure statistics to detect general trends and risks

  • exchange of case-specific information on detentions through a network of customs officers in seaports and airports in the EU and in China to better dismantle production and distribution networks of IPR-infringing goods

  • a joint partnership between the customs authorities and the business communities in China and the EU to enable right-holders to understand how best to enforce their rights and how to assist customs in better targeting controls

  • exchange of knowledge and experience of each other’s IPR enforcement policies and practices.