Agreement on Customs Facilitation in Humanitarian Assistance

 On 26 February, 2016, the United Nations in Armenia and the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Armenia signed the Customs Facilitation Agreement, a bilateral agreement allowing the expedition of the import, export and transit of relief consignments and possessions of relief personnel in the event of disasters and emergencies. This marks a major step forward in strengthening preparedness and a pioneering initiative for others in the region.

Armenia’s vulnerability to natural disasters led the Government to prioritize the rapid deployment of international aid in emergency situations by lowering customs barriers. The negotiations between the UN and the Government of Armenia started in 2013. To date, similar agreements have been signed with the governments of Belarus, Bhutan, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Liberia, Mali, Moldova, Nepal and Uzbekistan.

Developed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in 1994 and approved by the World Customs Organization in 1996, the Model Customs Agreement between the UN and member states includes recommended measures to expedite customs clearance procedures, including simplified documentation and inspection procedures, the temporary or permanent waiving of duties and taxes on imports, as well as clearance arrangements outside official working hours and locations.

Bradley Busetto, UN Resident Coordinator in Armenia welcomed the positive step taken by the Government in improving customs facilitation in humanitarian assistance. Head of OCHA’s Regional Office for the Caucasus, Central Asia and Ukraine, Marcel Vaessen, noted when attending the signing ceremony: “It is great to see Armenia making so much progress on its emergency response readiness in such short time. The customs agreement signed today is a major achievement for the country and serves as an inspiring example for the wider region.”

The agreement signed today will allow aid consignments, including search and rescue teams, search dog teams and mobile medical units, high technology emergency communication equipment and other emergency relief items a speedy import / export and transit into the country in the event of a disaster requiring external assistance.

Such agreements along with vital information shared by natural authorities enable UN agencies, intergovernmental, governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as other humanitarian actors to quickly contact appropriate National Customs Authorities to bring in relief consignments for saving lives and reducing the suffering of the affected people.