MASP-C: the steps (and delays) toward electronic Customs, Part 1

Foundations of MASP and the UCC 
Customs formalities, paperwork, and red tape. These are some of the things that many people associate with Customs. This negative connotation was noticed by the European Commission and its Member States, and they thought something had to be done to get rid of the old-fashioned outfit. This is why the customs authorities of the Customs Union, in cooperation with the European Commission, came up with a plan to modernise, streamline, and bring Customs back on the front lines. What is the background, how is this going, and what does the future of Customs look like? We will discuss these questions in our blog series: MASP-C, the steps toward electronic Customs. In this first instalment, we will cover how the journey toward electronic customs began and where we are now in the timeline.  

 Following the transition to e-customs 

The European Union Customs Union has been around since the sixties and has seen numerous changes over time. Albeit with the accession of new Member States or the exit of one, the Union has never really sat still. Over time, there have also been several attempts made to harmonise customs legislation, procedures, and documentation, with some successes but also some hurdles that still need to be overcome. One of the major developments over the last 25 odd years is the shift to a more electronic, paperless customs, where simplicity, service, and speed are the main driving factors.  

This shift kicked off with the introduction of NCTS, a supranational system to handle transit declarations. The first attempt was initiated in 1997 and was seen as a revolutionary change at that time, being the first EU system that handled customs transactions electronically. The NCTS system was quickly followed by the e-customs decision, pushing for paperless customs procedures and setting the scene for systems like AGS in the Netherlands and PLDA in Belgium.  

The e-customs decision did not fully do what was envisioned. Paper procedures were still around and there was no real harmonised exchange of information and data. Also, a single-window service was seen as an objective, but this was not realised in the timeframe set out in the e-customs decision. To be able to drive forward, new innovations were required. 

This innovation came in the form of the Union Customs Code, together with a new Multi-Annual-Strategic Plan for electronic customs (MASP-C) and the Work Programme setting out how the electronic systems should be implemented by approximately 2027. By means of simplicity, service, and speed, it envisioned a full electronic exchange of information. 


To achieve the goal of simplicity, rules were clarified and all relevant customs legislation was put in one single package. Furthermore, one dataset was defined for each type of declaration. These datasets follow the WCO model. 


A very important thing that was not forgotten during the implementation is that, in the end, e-customs should facilitate the everyday practice of trade. The idea was to serve the traders by making certain procedures easier and more straightforward, whilst at the same time introduce modern concepts and harmonised rules.  


To achieve the objective of speed, the introduction of the UCC and the accompanying MASP-C and Work Programme foresee further automation of all customs-related systems. This includes shared services to customs and harmonised interfaces, such as the single trade window.  

 Delays on the journey to e-customs 

The MASP-C and the Work Programme foresee that by 2027, all objectives set out in the UCC relating to electronic customs should be achieved. However, when comparing the planning of 2019 to the point where we are right now, we can see that we are no longer on the same timeline.  

According to the planning and the extended deadlines of the EU Commission, countries should soon be done with AES, NCTS phase 5, and updating their national import systems. Reality shows that  some countries may need until the end of next year for them to finish the transition.  









31/12/2024 (under revision) 





29/03/2024  (under revision) 

November 2023 

National Import System 



31/12/2023 (under revision) 



Judging from this table, some countries are still struggling with the implementation of their new systems and have moved back their deadlines several times. The question is, why are all these delays popping up and how are the customs authorities working together with the software providers and economic operators to ensure that transitioning is properly done and not rushed? We will give you an oversight on that in our next blog next week! 

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