A Review of TSTF 2023 – More Greenfields, Please!

One of the best comments coming out of the 11th Tax Stamp & Traceability Forum™ (TSTF), held from 2-4 October in Tbilisi, Georgia, was from a revenue authority attending the forum for the first time. They said that now that they’d seen first-hand what they’d been missing by not attending this event, they would be sure to attend all security printing conferences in future.

Another comment came from an exhibitor, who said it had been the best event in the Reconnaissance stable that he'd been to so far. When asked why that was, he replied: ‘lots of potential new customers’.

It’s true that there were plenty of revenue services registering this year, some of which we don’t often see at this event. These included Oman Tax Authority, General Tax Administration of Angola, State Revenue Committee of Armenia, Ministry of Finance Lebanon, Mongolian General Department of Taxation, Jordan Customs, and Ministry of Finance North Macedonia. All in all, 25 revenue and customs authorities registered for the event – a record number.

As far as total attendance was concerned, 213 registrants from 92 organisations in 45 countries signed up for TSTF 2023, representing 10% more people and almost 30% more countries than in 2022. In fact, this was one of the best forums in terms of attendance, which is a good indication that conferences are now back in full force.

Of particular importance for the sponsors of TSTF was the fact that several revenue authorities represented countries that hadn’t yet implemented tax stamps and track and trace – or that were looking to significantly upgrade and expand their existing programmes.

Having said this, some sponsors remarked that we could have done even better, by drawing more of the ‘greenfield’ countries to the conference – ie. those countries with nothing yet implemented.

This is why, going forward, Reconnaissance, with the support of the International Tax Stamp Association (ITSA), will implement a dedicated campaign to increase attendance by these key target countries at the next TSTF.

Another point that came across during the different discussions was that we should introduce a meeting for revenue and customs authorities only, as a platform for them to exchange experiences and ideas without suppliers being present. The aim of this is to make such exchanges freer and less guarded, and we will therefore be looking to incorporate this type of meeting in the next TSTF.

Key themes

A number of key themes emerged from the presentations, panel discussion, and workshops at the conference.

One key theme was the review of the tax stamp ISO standard 22382, which had its own pre-conference workshop. Ian Lancaster, Project Leader for the ISO review led the workshop, with the intention of gathering attendees’ views and ideas on what should be changed, taken out of, or added to the standard. One suggestion was that 22382 should include more recommendations related to track and trace systems, given that such systems are increasingly associated with tax stamp programmes.

Another theme that was extensively discussed was the implementation of the track and trace system and global information sharing point mandated under the WHO FCTC Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. There are currently 68 parties to the Protocol and most of them should have implemented track and trace by September 2023 – which is unfortunately not the case, as Luk Joossens from Smoke Free Partnership pointed out in his presentation on the global status of implementation of the Protocol.

Still on the subject of the Protocol, ITSA held a pre-conference seminar for revenue authorities and ITSA members, where it used two real-case examples to demonstrate how countries with tax stamp programmes already in place could use these programmes to exchange track and trace data in line with Protocol requirements. One key point raised during the seminar, by Luk Joossens, was that not enough countries were extending their tax stamp programmes to include export products, with the result that these unmarked, unmonitored products could be easily diverted to illicit channels.

A third key topic looked at what really happens in the field in terms of tax stamp inspection. Francisco Mandiola of FMA Secure was joined by Ghana, Mauritius and Panama revenue authorities to talk about their countries’ on-the-ground experiences.

High on the agenda as well was the use of direct marking programmes on beverages. Apart from presentations by SICPA and Optel Group, revenue authorities were treated to a tour of a nearby brewery where they could see direct fiscal marking on beverages in action.

Finally, the conference covered a wide range of country case studies, including recreational cannabis legalisation in Canada, Lebanon’s new tobacco authentication and traceability programme, insights from implementing tax stamps across the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the extensive system used by our hosts, Georgia Revenue Service.

Over the course of the next few months in Tax Stamp & Traceability News™, we will be covering, in detail, a good number of the papers, panels and workshops presented at this year’s event. So, stay tuned!


Moving to the next TSTF, we are pleased to announce that this will take place in early 2025 in Cape Town, South Africa, marking the second time TSTF has been held on the African continent. South Africa is a vast country with currently no tax stamp or track and trace system in place… on anything. So, a prime ‘greenfield’ if ever there was one.