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Customs report increased illegal HFC seizures

BELGIUM: Customs authorities have reported an increase in illegal refrigerant seizures as it clamps down on shipments which contravene Montreal Protocol and European F-gas regulations.

Latest figures from the World Customs Organisation (WCO) reveal that its members carried out 40 seizures of ODS and HFCs in 2022 involving 28,927kg of material. 

In addition, this year’s Operation DEMETER lX, which specifically  targets illicit wastes and took place this year from 1 to 31 October 2023, uncovered 70 tonnes of HFCs and 6,046 pieces of pre-charged equipment.

It is unclear to what extent, or whether, these figures represent an increased illegal trade or increased customs’ vigilance. This year’s Operation DEMETER lX, for instance, saw the participation of a record number of 106 customs administrations. 

It should also be noted that in terms of the 2022 figures, the vast majority of the illegal material was seized during the month long DEMETER operation.

2022 figures

The 2022 report based on data collected from the WCO Customs Enforcement Network, and including DEMETER VIII data, show an increase in the number of seizures of controlled substances from 10 in 2021 to 40 seizures in 2022. This was mainly due to the seizures reported by Croatia. All but one of the seizures reported in 2022 involved HFCs. 

In contrast, the quantities seized increased by only 2.3 % from 28,264kg in 2021 to 28,927kg in 2022. 

EU members accounted for 85% of the seizures and 80% of the seized quantity.

According to the reported seizures to CEN, there were 12 departures for ODS and HFCs In 2022, most of them were from Europe region. Lithuania was top in terms of the quantity with more than 19.3 tonnes, then China with 5 tonnes. Serbia, Croatia and North Macedonia were in the top five departures list as well. 

The DEMETER VIII operation, which took place during October 2022, resulted in the seizure of 24,997kg of HFCs. Bulgaria was the destination for most of the seizures which departed from Turkey and Serbia. In terms of quantity, Uzbekistan was the destination for a large seizure intercepted in transit by Polish customs (over 19 tonnes) while another large seizure was destined for Argentina (5 tonnes).

Most illegal HFC refrigerant shipments to the EU were from China and Turkey. Other routes included Ukraine, Belarus, Tunisia, South Korea, Switzerland and the USA. 

The main infringements involved imports by ineligible importers or by importers who do not have enough quota, mis-declaration (eg empty tanks, non-ODS and HFCs substances); and smuggling, in particular of banned non-refillable cylinders. 

The trend involving smuggling of non-refillable cylinders of small consignments in vans, cars and buses travelling from Eastern Europe to Western Europe were said to have been replaced by shipments of F-gases in trucks in commercial transports. 

Indonesia reported an increase in the volume of ODS and HFC seizures after shipping services resumed to normal after the pandemic subsided. Infringements involved mis-declaration of origin, and HS codes, as well as entry of ODS and HFCs from free trade zone areas without customs documents.

Operation DEMETER Xl October 2023

In addition to general illicit waste, Operation DEMETER, which took place this year from 1 to 31 October 2023, uncovered a significant increase in illegal trade in ODS and HFCs. This resulted in a surge of over 250% in the number of seizures compared to the previous edition.

Bulgarian customs authorities seized 2,380 kg of HFCs in a single seizure

Most of the seizures were made in Gambia and Bulgaria. The biggest seizure was reported by Italy. Most of the seizures originated from Europe and were destined for Europe and Africa.

Some shipments lacked the required licences, while others contained prohibited commodities, such as non-refillable cylinders.

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