On 24 June 2023, the World Customs Organization (WCO) customs directors general, representing the 185 members, elected Ian Saunders as its new secretary general (SG) for a five-year term as of 01 January 2024. The WCO SG is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day activities of the WCO Secretariat. The election, which saw two candidates vying for this top position, took place during the annual Council Sessions in Brussels from 22 to 24 June 2023.
Saunders, nominated by United States (US) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) assured the WCO’s members of his commitment to driving Customs towards a safe, prosperous and inclusive future. He said, “While respecting the WCO’s rich past, there is a need to innovate and adapt to modern challenges. I intend to lead the organisation by forging strong and enduring public-private partnerships, leveraging technology, promoting inclusivity for effective global customs cooperation, and ensuring transparency and openness as fundamental principles of good governance.”
Incumbent SG Kunio Mikuriya, whose term of office expires at the end of December 2023, welcomed Saunders’ appointment and said, “I congratulate the winner on his election, and I wish him well when he assumes his duties.” Mikuriya added, “The WCO has withstood the test of time, and despite changes in global trade and the recent pandemic, we have stayed relevant and proactive and have accompanied our members with clear and precise standards promoting certainty, predictability and security of the global supply chain. However, many challenges remain ahead of us, and I am confident that my successor, with the support of the WCO’s membership and the staff of the Secretariat, will rise to the occasion and steer the organisation in the right direction for the next five years.”
Ian Saunders is a proven and principled leader with more than 20 years of customs experience and 30 years’ experience in international relations. As a member of the US Government Senior Executive Service since 2008, Saunders has a record of addressing complex challenges and elevating organisations to excellence. He has served the public and the international community in diverse and challenging roles focused on various facets of trade such as: customs, commercial policy, travel, and infrastructure. Collaborative in style, considered in communication and accomplished in delivery, Saunders has led the implementation of programmes, the formulation of policies and the forging of partnerships that have advanced facilitation and security in trade worldwide.