Speech by Aukje de Vries, State Secretary for Benefits and Customs at WCO Maastricht, 18 October 2022

Speech by State Secretary de Vries at WCO Maastricht

Thank you, Nanette.

Ladies and gentlemen, everyone involved with customs and, in particular, our Customs officials.

It is an honour for me to address you all on this moment and at this place.

My thanks go to the World Customs Organisation, and especially to Secretary General Mr. Kunio,  for the trust it has placed in Dutch Customs to act as host.

My thanks go to Dutch Customs as well, which has organised this special event in collaboration with the WCO.

I address the customs officials present here, today. You represent your fellow customs officials all around the world.

And through you, I wish to express my appreciation to all your colleagues.

You effectively serve as the gatekeepers of our countries.

You make sure we have as much control as is possible on what enters our country.

In so doing, you protect our health and safety and keep our economy as fair as possible. And that is incredibly important.

Our border crossings are so much more than just a frontier post with a barrier.

Just like the Port of Rotterdam is so much more than just a harbour to sail into.

The gateway into our country is the gateway to the open economy behind it, which is so characteristic of our country.

Which has us earn our keep and which keeps our economy strong.

In this way, every border crossing into our country forms a gateway into the economic infrastructure of the Netherlands.

And, in fact, of the entirety of Europe.

A gateway that is protected by you, Customs officers.

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is necessary.

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 massively their work has changed over the past few years, with the increase of global trade and e-commerce and the geopolitical developments.

How the amount of goods entering and exiting our country has increased.

This provides plenty of reason to look for smart methods for controlling large quantities of goods.

It is a good thing that we exchange our knowledge and expertise on this subject here, today, ensuring we don’t all reinvent the wheel.

It is impressive to see how much is already going on in this field.

Dutch Customs is using drones for its monitoring duties, for example.

I understand that multiple innovations can be admired here, at this conference.

However, ladies and gentlemen, the downside of the Dutch sound infrastructure, of our open economy, is that they are also used by individuals who do not have our best interests at heart.

Who enter our country illegally.

Or who abuse our infrastructure for the trade in illegal products.

And this is a major problem. A problem that starts here, because in the Netherlands, like in several other countries, there is a demand for these illegal products. For drugs.

A few months ago, a well-known talk show on Dutch television recorded a thematic broadcast in the Port of Rotterdam.

For once, the subject was not the operations of the largest container port in Europe.

Or the way our chemical industry is ahead of the pack.

No, this broadcast showed a shocking picture of a completely different world.

Our port is the site where, every single day, a battle is fought against the illegal import of drugs.

The site where packages enter the country, destroying a great many people’s lives.

Not just the lives of the users. Far from it.

Behind drug use is an international business that is a match for an average multinational.

The supply from, predominantly, South America 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.

Of journalists, lawyers, and politicians being threatened, just over here.

And of an underworld that becomes ever more closely interconnected with the world in which we live.

This serious crime is not something that’s miles away from us.

Far from it. It is taking place right around the corner in this country, where a young father is accidentally shot because he looks like a specific criminal.

Where a lawyer doing his job, has to pay for it with his very life.

Where Dutch children are recruited to work for the drugcriminals.

Where farmers are extorted to have their empty barn be set up as a drug lab.

With this in mind, you will realise that Customs no longer is just a frontier post with a barrier. Far from it.

It is a place where trained professionals separate the good from the bad.

Where they make sure illegal goods do not enter our country.

And where, if such goods do come in, they constantly make sure           the so-called rip-off crews that bring the goods more deeply into the country, are arrested.

They do so using new technologies, from drones to scanning equipment.

By cooperation, with the public prosecution service and the police, but also with postal services, in order to intercept banned parcels, often containing synthetic drugs.

And they do so successfully. Up through June of this year, no less than 13 thousand letter mail shipments of, primarily, synthetic drugs alone have been seized. In the Port of Rotterdam, information is exchanged between terminals and shipping companies for the targeted detection of drugs. With great success.

Close to 22,000 kilos of cocaine have been intercepted in the first six months of this year.

More recently, two rip-off crew members have been caught in the act by Dutch Customs. This year close to 150 such crew members have been apprehended.

These are important steps in tackling subversive crime.

In thwarting the trade of major drug criminals.

With each gram of drugs we find, criminals have less money to spend on weapons, to build new drugs labs or to launder.

With each gram of drugs detected by Customs, society becomes that much safer.

And we do not act on the national stage alone.

We ever more frequently cooperate 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. We will step up this cooperation. By exchanging more sophisticated data and x-ray images.

We exchange data and in this way intercept drugs smuggled to the Netherlands, to Europe.

Here, too, our efforts are paying off.

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.

We can all be very proud of this.

Because it is our people who get this done.

It is you, here, in this room.

Day in, day out, you work to counter this serious crime.

Cooperation is in the DNA of all customs organisations, throughout the world. We work together, we share knowledge, and we learn from each other.

This conference plays an important role in this respect.

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

For this helps us, customs services from around the globe, to continue doing our job in a world that is demanding ever more from us.

So we can continue doing what we’re good at and what we’re expected to do.

A task shared no matter the country: keeping the country safe. This is what binds us and what brings us together.

And we can be proud of this.

Thank you.