Phill Norley (United kingdom)

Double Masters – International Customs Law and Administration, and International Revenue Administration – September 2013

Current Job Position: Customs Risk Analysis and Policy Advisor to the Albanian Customs Assistance Programme (ACAP) delivered by Crown Agents.

My decision to commit to four years of intensive study to achieve the CCES Double Masters was one of the most important I’ve ever made. The return on investment for the time and effort has been evident in the day to day activities I undertake as a full time Customs Consultant for Crown Agents. Whether it is delivering technical capacity building, designing training products or input into technical proposals for project tenders, I find myself continually tapping into the knowledge gained through these studies.

Customs consultancy is now a very dynamic and competitive area, ‘competitive’ in the sense that there are plenty of highly experienced customs consultants vying for the work and ‘dynamic’ meaning that over recent years a great deal of emphasis has been given to the economic growth and trade agenda (and where the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement looks set to up-the-ante even further in the coming years).

However, where access to project opportunities is the lifeblood of the consultant, increasingly more attention is being given by donor and beneficiary organisations alike to the scrutiny of professional credentials. Not only is it now essential for the consultant to have years of on-the-job experience in the customs field but it has become a distinct advantage if they can also demonstrate a proven 360 degree perspective of the many interconnected layers of the international supply chain as well as a deep knowledge of the key initiatives that are making the regulation of trade more effective.

In offering opportunities to gain customs and trade facilitation specific degree level qualifications, academic institutions such as the CCES have provided a pathway to further professionalising the consultancy industry in much the same way as it is doing for managers and staff still serving in their national customs administration.

For me, the significance of studying for the Masters was more than just about having the chance to become familiar with the various legal instruments and best practice trade facilitation initiatives of key organisations such as the WCO. I also count myself very fortunate to have been able to engage with the CCES’ excellent tutorial team and other fellow students from a wide range of sectors in developed and developing countries. Through the online course forums I gained valuable insights into the various on-going challenges (which were often similar but always nuanced by the particular national context) and the phased approaches adopted to help implement the best practice theory about which we were being taught.

In summing up, the discipline of academic study has helped me to make the important connection between the value of thorough analytical research and the design of successful technical capacity building strategies. This ensures that focus remains on delivering assistance that aligns with the needs and expectations of the beneficiary organisation. It has also reinforced my belief that ‘quick fix’ and ‘one size fits all’ approaches do not translate to sustainable outcomes recognising that each project environment is, to a lesser or greater degree, as unique as a fingerprint.

Crown Agents has for many years been involved in supporting customs and trade related modernisation in many countries around the world and our aim is to continually build on that experience. To illustrate the point about the increasing academic professionalisation of Customs & Trade Facilitation consultancy, of the 2 large Crown Agents projects I have worked on in the last ten years, Bulgaria and Angola, I know of at least 9 other fellow international consultants who like myself have since gone on to gain their Masters Degree through CCES….and the list keeps growing!