Implementation of an Electronic Pre-Arrival Customs Clearance System

  • Alliance Project

  • Status: Completed

This pre-arrival customs clearance system enables Serbian customs to clear express goods prior to arrival.

At a Glance

On September 13, 2018, Serbia introduced a pre-arrival processing (PAP) procedure to facilitate customs clearance. This sister project of the customs reform in Montenegro was carried out by the German Alliance for Trade Facilitation with the Serbian authorities and companies in Serbia. PAP makes it possible to transmit customs declarations and import documents to customs authorities electronically before the goods arrive in the destination country. With the new system, almost twice as many express goods as before can be cleared within an hour of arrival. Inspired by the successes in Serbia and in Montenegro, a further four countries in the Western Balkans and the Republic of Moldova are planning further customs reforms based on this model.

The Challenge

Serbia has been striving to become a member of WTO since 2004. Accession negotiations are well underway, and a series of legal and structural reforms has already been undertaken in order to meet the criteria for full WTO membership.

Serbian trade policy is primarily determined by the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between Serbia and the EU and by the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). This links Serbia to its neighbors in the West Balkans and is in accordance with the rules and regulations of the WTO.

Until now, imports to Serbia have been characterized by manual controls and the associated lengthy waiting times and high costs. Therefore, the Serbian government prioritized reform measures for expediting customs processes, one of which was the PAP procedure.

The receipt and processing of advance notifications requires an electronic customs clearance system. The PAP procedure helps classify consignments according to their risk level and facilitates decisions as to which goods have to be controlled by the customs authority.

Project Approach

The project of the German Alliance for Trade Facilitation in Serbia is a cooperation between DHL Express, the Serbian customs administration, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, GIZ and a number of logistics companies. The aim of the project was to implement PAP in Serbia, thereby expediting the release of time-sensitive goods.

The Alliance created a partnership of equals: all activities were planned and implemented jointly by the project partners. This guaranteed the right balance between the interests of businesses and of the customs authorities. An initial fact-finding trip to Budapest enabled the partners to develop a shared vision and approach for the project. In workshops, the project partners discussed all the steps in the process.

A jointly developed project plan determined the measures necessary to implement and use PAP. The Alliance’s approach encompassed three levels:

  1. establishment of the legal and regulatory framework for customs PAP of express consignments;
  2. development of procedural practices and functionalities in the customs IT system;
  3. capacity-building for customs officials and the private sector.


The project increases the rate of express consignments cleared within one hour of arrival from 43% to around 80%.

The project partners reviewed the legal framework and initiated legislative changes where necessary. They also developed an IT system that enables PAP.

During internal tests, the project partners familiarized themselves with the system’s functionality and the electronic interaction between the customs authority and express service providers. Thereafter, the partners discussed proposals for improvement and implemented them within the system.

The PAP system was officially implemented on September 13, 2018, marking a successful conclusion to the project. Companies can now register for the new electronic customs system for express consignments and thereby save time as well as money. The effects of the measures will be tracked during the sustainability phase of the project.

Serbia as a Role Model for Further PAP Projects

As a member of CEFTA, Serbia is in close contact with its neighbors in the Western Balkans. In Montenegro, a sister project was set up in parallel to the PAP reform in Serbia. As the first successes became visible, several other neighboring countries expressed a keen interest in similar projects.

Early in 2018, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and North Macedonia decided to implement PAP based on the Alliance’s approach in Serbia and in Montenegro. GIZ supports these reforms via the Open Regional Fund for South-East Europe. A further PAP project is planned for Moldova.

These countries are drawing on the approach tried and tested in Serbia and in Montenegro. Therefore, only small adjustments have to be made, and PAP can be implemented rapidly and efficiently.


“The Trade Facilitation Agreement allows the creation of a more favorable environment for the business of economic operators. In this sense, this agreement does not only apply to the implementation of customs procedures, but also integrates all other institutions that together with customs participate in the foreign trade process. A simplified customs procedure for express consignments in accordance with that agreement is of great importance to both citizens and economic operators, and we are very satisfied that it is being successfully implemented.”

Snezana Karanovic, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Serbia

“We were walking forward and backward, left and right, looking for a solution. It is therefore a great pleasure to note that we found it. What is accomplished now, we wanted for a long time.”

Nebojsa Ristic, Sales Director, FedEx

“Improving the process of customs clearance of express consignments is a topic we have been talking about for years, it can be said even for decades, but we really started talking only when GIZ was involved.”

Boris Petković, Area Serbia Manager, DHL International Belgrade


Report on the completion workshop

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