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The History of the Customs Authorities. The mission of the Customs: the future and its age-old spirit

The Customs is an age-old institution whose mission has been subject to numerous changes over time. At its outset, the pivotal role of its mission was to levy Customs duties, which in other words meant collecting resources for the benefit of local authorities. Subsequently, and at different moments throughout its history, these duties became a key way of shaping the State´s economic policies which were designed to protect domestic goods.

The increasingly widespread perception of these duties as a key way of implementing protectionist economic policies led to the assumption that the Customs would inevitably disappear as economic policies underpinned by free trade principles gained precedence. In actual fact, we are not currently witnessing a decline, but rather, the growth in the Customs importance, as features of its institutional mission which previously received less exposure than conventional and traditional role of the Customs as a duties´ collector have gradually come to the surface.

Policy in the Customs area for countries within the EU is no longer exclusively in the hands of the individual countries, but it is implemented by them, and with the following important goals: firstly it makes the assessment of customs taxes more effective and uniform in all Member States. Secondly, it guarantees the safety and environmental compatibility of goods, counteracts the sale of counterfeit goods, the circulation of protected species and of illegal substances. This not only involves safeguarding assets of incommensurate value such as health and safety. It also entails overseeing from an economic point of view the enforcement of rules which guarantee a well planned and secure development of international trade.

There has been an enormous growth of exchanges in international trade in recent years with third world countries which are recording rates of growth and expansion that would have been considered inconceivable only a few years ago. On account of such a rapid growth in trade the most critical concerns of EU Member States have assumed upmost importance which customs offices contribute to safeguarding. The need for Italy to step up the fight against counterfeit goods has arisen as such goods pose a real threat to the growth of the leading companies producing made in Italy goods. In more general terms, however, the safeguarding of health and the environment have become important priorities for all countries and are considered also from new perspectives. On the whole, the sweeping changes underway in the world´s economic markets, which could have put a question mark over the future role of the Customs, have actually re-shaped its importance, by renewing the terms and conditions of the age-old challenge of this area of the public administration. This involves protecting goods through the development of a well balanced national economy, security, health, focusing constant attention on the factors which have impacts on trade flows, and the freedom and ease of movement.

Within the framework of the European programme, the Italian Customs Authorities have risen to this challenge by investing resources in ICT innovation and organisation. The Customs Agency has adopted cutting edge solutions to provide a wide range of services in order to streamline obligations and enhance the quality of its service delivery. The tag line of the Customs mission is: the future and its age-old spirit. These solutions make it possible to pursue a path of ICT excellence of which the Customs Chemical Labs are a prime example. These labs currently have an outstanding proven experience in conducting analysis on all types of goods and products, from foods to hydrocarbons, from pharmaceutical drugs to fabrics, from jewels to transgenetic products.

Looking towards the future, the Agency has decided to adopt a solution to coordinate all administrations which play a role in authorising import and export transactions. The introduction of "the Customs one stop counter", envisaged by Law 350 of 2003, will enable the Customs Agency to coordinate the on line flow of provisions towards the formulation of a clear and converging plan regarding the time required by the various administrations to issue authorisations. The Agency has made important investments in redesigning its organisation and its ICT hardware and software. It is obvious that such investments would not have been imaginable without the support of a pool of sharp minds and high levels of professional expertise.

The quality and commitment of the Agency´s personnel have been the key factors which have driven forward the attainment of the results that are outlined in this blue paper. The filing of Customs declarations through its on line system A.I.D.A. (the integrated automation of Customs´ excises) has made the fulfilment of declaration obligations efficient and in full alignment with the principles of the "electronic Customs" introduced at both national and European level.

Customs operations have also been facilitated by the introduction of the Customs Company Certification which is a preventive control methodology which has the aim of certifying the level of a company´s reliability. The role of ICT is, however, even more important particularly when it makes it possible to raise the quality of controls without creating delays in procedures.

An example of such a solution is the Falstaff system (Fully Automated Logical System Against Forgery & Fraud) which enables Customs officials to compare in real time the features of goods which are suspected of being counterfeit with genuine ones. This solution is based on scanners, whose adoption in airports and ports meets the twofold need of security and efficiency. The use of a Matrix database makes it possible to compare in real time the compatibility between the image coming from the material being scanned and the images stored in the data bases of the declared goods.