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UK tests smart tariff borders to reduce trade friction after Brexit

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The UK government is set to begin testing a “smart” customs border next year that incorporates advanced technology to reduce trade friction for UK importers.

A senior Whitehall official said British companies should submit bids to test the new system this week, with testing expected to begin at the port in May.

The announcement of the plan, described as building a “Rolls-Royce system for moving goods,” comes as the government prepares to begin implementing full customs inspections on EU imports starting in January.

Last week, trade organization the Federation of Small Businesses warned that only a quarter of businesses were ready to process new documents, including real-time customs declarations and advance notice to UK authorities of animal and plant product imports. I did.

To smooth out the post-Brexit border, the UK has pledged to spend £180 million to establish a “single window of trade” system by 2025. The system provides real-time information to UK border agencies, including HM IRS and health authorities.

Among the ideas expected to be tested in trials in mid-2022 include shipping container seals that automatically warn authorities when tampered with, and geo-tracking of goods that use GPS technology to catch trucks making unscheduled stops or detours.

Officials said over time, such technologies should help create auditable supply chains that can be easily monitored, allowing businesses to conduct more self-assessments than is currently possible outside their borders.

They added that the government hoped to avoid the pitfalls of previous state-owned IT projects by entering the UK business and tech industry directly. “We want a big and bold solution,” said one official.

The six-month trial location has not yet been decided, but it will be a “live port environment” where ports, technology providers and import/export enterprises can demonstrate the effectiveness of the system.

As the UK is no longer bound by EU rules, ministers are expected to claim the new frontier as a Brexit benefit. In October, Brexit Secretary David Frost said the UK would never adopt the same level of checks as the EU.

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However, the EU is also in the process of devising a “single tariff window” that could reduce some of the burden on UK exporters on the block in the future.

Experts welcomed the UK’s plans to use the technology to reduce burdens at borders in 2019, the HMRC estimates that UK businesses will need nearly 200 million additional customs declarations at a cost of £7.5 billion a year.

Sam Lowe of consulting firm Flint Global says the UK’s reliance on high-speed trade with the EU could entice the UK to digitize its borders much faster than the EU.

“In the next decade, the UK will become one of the most efficient frontiers in the world, out of sheer necessity, a sort of ‘Brexit dividend’,” he added.

William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, a business lobby group, said if the experiment is successful, it could have advantages in facilitating trade, but governments should prioritize improving EU-UK trade agreements. said to do.

“This attempt should not be seen as an alternative to deeper tariff cooperation between the UK and the EU,” he added. “Additional agreements are truly important to facilitate navigation of the GB-EU customs border for traders.”

Former British trade negotiator David Henig welcomes any aspirations to streamline trade, but warns that the government’s record of delivery of such projects has been “not great” in recent years.

He added that even if the bureaucracy of goods entering the UK from mainland Europe diminished, it would still be “much greater than the smooth trade the UK enjoys as part of the EU single market”.

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