The Ukrainian government has adopted new legislation to strengthen customs cooperation with the European Union in order to better combat corruption and smuggling, including tobacco products, the Mission of Ukraine to the EU has told EURACTIV.

At the 21st EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on 8 July, EU Council chief Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The leaders discussed, among others, the implementation of the association agreement as well as the anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine.

An EU Council official confirmed that the issue of tobacco smuggling was raised during the talks.

According to a joint statement, the leaders agreed on the “urgent need to re-criminalise illicit enrichment and to ensure the necessary independence and effective functioning of all anti-corruption institutions”.“This is an extremely important priority for the EU and is much broader than the issue of tobacco smuggling,” the same source added.

Since an EU-Ukraine visa-free regime took effect in June 2017, smuggling of goods from Ukraine into the EU has increased. Oleksiy Honcharuk, deputy head of the office of the president, has recently said the country has become a “global hub” for supplies of illegal cigarettes.

“Ukraine has become a world hub for the supply of illegal cigarettes to Europe. From China, the United Arab Emirates through Odesa, Belarus, Moldova, from uncontrolled territories [of Donbas] through Ukraine, as a kind of a ‘wild land’, illegal cigarettes go to Europe,” the Ukraine news agency Interfax quoted Honcharuk as saying earlier this month.

Contacted by EURACTIV, the Mission of Ukraine to the EU said President Volodymyr Zelensky has recently signed a decree on measures to counter smuggling and corruption.

According to the Mission, the decree aims to establish an information portal for the voluntary public declaration of goods, with freely accessible information on the customs value of goods, to ensure the application of single rules for all and exclude corruption, as well as ensure the exchange of customs information with customs agencies of other countries.

“It also aims to establish an interagency commission to develop the action plan on counter-smuggling and corruption at customs and launch a hotline to report cases of smuggling and corruption,” it added.

“Besides, customs divisions of Ukraine have intensified cooperation with OLAF [the EU’s anti-fraud office] in the fight against the illegal movement of tobacco products, in particular, to block the channels for the illegal movement of tobacco products by air transport,” said the Mission of Ukraine to the EU.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]