Toespraak staatssecretaris De Vries - bijeenkomst met douaneattachés

Toespraak van staatssecretaris De Vries (Financiën) bij de bijeenkomst met douaneattachés op 9 mei 2023 te Rotterdam. De toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Het gesproken woord geldt.

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

A very warm welcome on my behalf as well. I am honored to share a few words with you at the end of this day. First of all, I would like to express my words of appreciation.

You represent fellow customs organisations all around the world with whom Dutch Customs is working closely together.

As the Director-General mentioned, the Netherlands is a major transit port. Import and export is very important for our economy.

You all effectively serve as the gatekeepers of our countries. You make sure we have as much control as possible on what enters our country. In doing so, you protect our health and safety and keep our economy as fair as possible. Thank you very much for that!

And you are also relevant ambassadors of facilitating trade between our countries. It is you as custom officers, as customs attachés, who make it possible that legitimate trade can easily cross borders. A very important task of an attaché is providing the private sector with relevant information on trade and customs rules, thereby facilitating trade.

And at the same time providing other customs authorities with relevant data in order to clear legitimate trade as quickly as possible. This counts specifically for the Dutch attachés abroad, but I am sure it counts for all of you.

Your work is so important because our open economy is attractive to a lot of people. People who, for various reasons and with different intent, cross our national borders. Or import or export products.

Ever since I have become responsible for Dutch Customs as State Secretary, I have heard many impressive stories from people in the field. People who work for Customs with their very heart and soul. They told me how their work has changed over the past few years, with the increase of global trade and e-commerce and the geopolitical developments.

However, ladies and gentlemen, the downside of our open economy, is that it also attracts individuals who do not have our best interests at heart.

They abuse our infrastructure for the trade in illegal products. And this is a major problem for all of us. A problem that starts here, because in the Netherlands, like in several other countries, there is a demand for these illegal products. For drugs.

Drugs that are destroying many people’s lives. Not just the lives of the users. Far from it.

The supply from different regions in the world and the illegal import into the Netherlands forms the start of a logistics process resulting in extortion, murders, and other serious crime here in the Netherlands.

The consequences of drug trafficking are disruptive to society and affect the functioning of our democracy. I find that totally unacceptable.

And this is not just one way traffic: it’s not just the drugs entering The Netherlands; unfortunately our country is also an exporter of drugs – mainly synthetic drugs, which find their way via mail and postal parcels to other countries.

With this in mind, you will realise that Customs is no longer just a frontier post with a barrier. Far from it. It is a place where trained professionals separate the good from the bad.

Cooperation is needed, with the public prosecution service, the tax administration, the fiscal investigation office, the police, the migration services, the food and consumer safety administration. But also with the private sector, with the postal services, with shipping companies, with terminals, with the logistical sector, in order to intercept the illegal drugs.

With the biggest shipping companies for example we recently signed a Convenant together with the Belgium Government. In the convenant we described from both sides, public and private, steps we want to take, to make this sector stronger and more incorruptible. We work on this, amongst others, by promoting security-tags on containers and by training shipping-staff in how to become more resilient.

These are important steps in tackling subversive crime. But we should not act on the national stage alone. On the contrary.

We cooperate ever more frequently with foreign customs organisations. In other words, with you, here, in this room. This cooperation and information exchange, all over the globe, is going very well. But we need to expand our cooperation, to step up this cooperation beyond “simple” intell, like container numbers or modus operandi.

For example by exchanging more sophisticated data about criminal patterns and so called phenomenon’s, and on x-ray images. Data exchange is key in the fight against international crime. At the same time, I am aware that the legal framework in this is of relevance. But we should think more in possibilities and not only in terms of borders when it comes to data-exchange.

And let us not forget, drugs are often already seized in the production countries or countries of transit. Transit countries are by now intercepting greater quantities than those seized in the Netherlands. Let me sincerely thank you for those involved!

We can all be very proud of this. Because it is our people, it is you, who get this done. Day in, day out, you work to counter this serious crime and at the same time facilitate reliable international trade.

Cooperation is in the DNA of all customs organisations, throughout the world. In a few months I hope to visit several countries in Latin America to confirm our friendship and cooperation.

We work together, we share knowledge, and we learn from each other. This meeting today here plays an important role in this respect.

Let us seize this opportunity to talk to each other, exchange experiences, and strengthen ties.

Thank you for your attention, and I am happy to answer your questions now and to hear your reflections about the subjects I mentioned.