As for controls on the goods themselves, and avoiding being excessively specific in this respect, the following controls are currently carried out in every country of the EU by the different competent authorities:
- Health Inspection: on products of animal or plant origin intended for human consumption, medicines, cosmetic products, medical devices and insecticides.
- Veterinary Inspection: on live animals, products of animal or plant origin not intended for human use or consumption, and veterinary medicinal products.
- Phytosanitary Inspection: on organisms harmful to plants, on certain plants that may contain them and fertilisers of plant origin.
- Commercial Quality Inspection: on certain agricultural products including poultry meat, fishery products, eggs, cut flowers, fruit and vegetables and canned fish, and on certain electronic products.
- CITES inspection: on the import and export of certain endangered species of flora and fauna, in order to obtain a CITES Certificate.
- Product safety: new control measures on the import of certain goods regarding the applicable product safety standards. Goods subject to conformity checks include textiles, footwear, electrical equipment and toys.
- Pharmaceutical controls: controls on the import of medicines for human use, medical devices, personal hygiene products, cosmetics and biocides for personal use.
- Controls on imports of timber and timber products from countries with a Voluntary Partnership Agreement in force (currently Indonesia): The FLEGT competent authority will verify the validity of the FLEGT licence in accordance with the applicable legal requirements.
Carrying out these controls entails administrative tasks and costs. This is also a very important differentiating factor, since the countries of the northern front are subject to the same regime.
On the other hand, initiatives are being taken within the EU that will make EU Customs more competitive, such as the creation of a Customs Single Window, which will enable the exchange of information in real time between the different Customs offices, and will serve to make processes more efficient. It should be borne in mind that carrying out customs controls involves a cost, not only derived from the payment of the corresponding fees, but also from the payment of fees to the service provider: the stay of the goods in the customs facilities -which, in the case of blockade of the goods due to discrepancies in the valuation of the documentation, raises the cost to thousands of euros-, payment of fees to the port terminal, port taxes… not to mention the possible destruction of the goods in the case of perishable goods.
Moreover, EU membership generates a regulatory stability that allows investments in subjects like training, both from the Administration and the economic operators’ side.
In consequence, the main conclusion that can easily be drawn is that trade transactions among actors on the northern Mediterranean coast (more specifically, among CTU actors) are free and agile, as opposed to operations where one of the participants (or none of them) is not part of the EU, in which, although many facilities are approved in free trade treaties, are subject to controls and red tape.
Clearly, each territory has the obligation to defend its sovereignty and protect its citizens, so a Mediterranean customs union seems almost impossible to envisage, but there are alternatives that would improve the current situation. One of these possibilities would be the setting up of a forum aimed at harmonising existing regulations and procedures, since regulatory convergence would generate legal certainty throughout the area and would allow the reinforcement of internal logistical processes.
Another of the existing barriers to the fluid movement of goods is the requirement for economic operators, or their customs representatives, to work with transport and customs printed documentation, which triggers costs, risks of loss and consequent blockades of goods at border control posts, and problems in the analysis of documentation by the official at the border post, due to the multitude of formats and regulations for filling in the existing documents.
It also seems clear that it is necessary to work on the promotion of digitalisation in two areas: firstly, to put an end to the need to hand over printed documentation to counterparts and authorities and, secondly, to implement computer tools that permit the possibility to work with authentic documentation at any time and, to permanently control the stats of the goods. A successful example would be the use of blockchain technology, for example, by the Egyptian authorities. In a market with different counterparts, tools that provide security and immediacy are necessary.