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International Customs Day

19 January 2009


Following is the speech by the Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr Richard Yuen, on 2009 International Customs Day today (January 19):

The Honourable Financial Secretary, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Hong Kong Customs, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to you for being here with us this evening. This year we are most honoured to have the Financial Secretary, Mr John C Tsang, to be our guest of honour for the celebration of International Customs Day. As many of you know, Mr Tsang was one of my predecessors. During his term of office as the Commissioner between March 1999 and July 2001, he did a great job in extending Hong Kong Customs' international presence. Under Mr Tsang's leadership, in the year 2000, Hong Kong was for the first time elected Vice-Chair for the Asia Pacific Region of the World Customs Organisation (WCO). Mr Tsang was subsequently elected among all the vice-chairs to chair the WCO Council Session Meetings in June 2001. As the Chair of the Council Session, Hong Kong Customs made valuable contributions to the overall policy direction of the WCO.

I would also like to thank the Director-General of the Macao Customs Service, Mr Choi Lai Hang; the Deputy Director-General of the Anti-smuggling Bureau of the General Administration of Customs, Mr Wang Zhi, and the Deputy Director-General of the Guangdong Sub-Customs Administration, Mr Liu Guangping, who have come all the way from Macao, Beijing and Guangzhou with their senior colleagues to join our celebration this evening. A very warm welcome and big thank you to you all!

Each year, the World Customs Organisation dedicates International Customs Day to a special theme to promote international Customs co-operation to tackle an issue of common concern. This year, the theme is "Customs and the Environment: Protecting our Natural Heritage".

I think this is a very meaningful theme, that not only reflects the growing concern of the international community about protecting our environment and our natural heritage, but that also helps to highlight the increasingly diverse roles and responsibilities of customs officers today. Traditionally, the main role of Customs is the collection of import and excise duties and the prevention of smuggling and trafficking in drugs. Since the 911 events, Customs administrations around the world have assumed an increasing role in the fight against terrorism. At the same time, the fact that Customs is often seen by bona fide traders as a stumbling block to doing business means that we have to play a key role in promoting economic growth through trade facilitation.

In Hong Kong, the versatility and resourcefulness of Customs officers are taken to such extremes that we are not only responsible for performing our traditional duties as tax collector and smuggling and drug buster, but we are also responsible for enforcement of intellectual property rights, consumer products safety and acting as a tourist policeman to protect our Mainland tourists and local consumers alike from being ripped off by unscrupulous traders.

The earth is the most valuable common asset that we have as human beings. We owe our future generations a duty to protect the environment and our natural heritage. Globalisation of trade and convenience of travel means customs officers have to play a key role in stopping the smuggling of endangered fauna and flora and the illegal trade in "environmentally sensitive" commodities such as ozone depleting substances, hazardous and other waste, and chemical weapons.

Since September 2006, Hong Kong Customs has participated in the "Sky-Hole-Patching" project organised by the WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for Asia Pacific (or the RILO office in short). The project aimed at combating the illegal trade on ozone depleting substances and hazardous waste. From March 2007 to December 2008, Hong Kong Customs had reported a total of 222 cases of hazardous waste shipments and four cases of suspicious shipments of ozone depleting substances to other Customs administrations for taking enforcement action. Our contribution to the "Sky-Hole-Patching" project is duly recognised through the award of the 2007 Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award to the RILO office by the Environmental Protection Agency of the US Government.

Locally, we have joined hands with the Environmental Protection Department in running a Strategic Control Scheme on Hazardous Waste which has led to the detection and return of 271 containers of hazardous wastes to the exporting countries since the scheme started in 2007. We also worked very closely with the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department and successfully intercepted 391 smuggling cases of ivory tusks, frozen shark's fin, rhino horns, red sandalwood and other endangered species, with a total seizure value of $29 million between 2006 and 2008.

It is the collective responsibility of the world community to protect the environment and our natural heritage. Hong Kong Customs will continue to play its part and our success in doing so would not have been possible without the help and co-operation given to us by our local and international counterparts, other government departments and the business community, many of which are represented here this evening. On behalf of Hong Kong Customs, I would like to thank you again and look forward to your continued support and assistance in future.

Talking about heritage, Hong Kong Customs will celebrate its centenary this year. We plan to organise a series of activities to mark the occasion and reflect on our milestones of development and achievements over the past 100 years. We will let you know the detailed programme when available and I hope you will find time from your busy schedule to join some if not all of our celebration activities and share our joy and the reminiscences of our "collective memories". With your support, I am sure we will not only be able to fulfil our tasks and missions but will also ensure our success in the next 100 years to come.

Thank you very much.

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