Blockchain – introducing Customs to the Global Supply Chain, earlier

Picture: Dadiani Fine Art

Customs authorities are age-old institutions whose missions have been subject to numerous changes over time. Historically, the main role was to levy customs duties, which, in other words meant collecting resources for the benefit of local authorities. Today, customs performs many other functions, from securing national borders, recording import and export trade and prevention of fraud and illegal trade activity.

From the customs authority’s perspective, there is a constant focus on finding innovative technology and new methods and techniques to become more effective on risk assessment and inspection of the goods circulating across their borders. At the same time, customs authorities must examine the consequences these changes will have on trade, avoiding the creation of additional burden and obstacles for industries and entities involved in the exchange. Adopting flexible technology is often key for meaningful strategic transformations.

More quality data with accuracy and speed

Each country has its own policies for operating border control when goods arrive or depart from their territory. Most of these policies work from systems built off a central repository, powered by data collected from different sources. Time and effort are often spent in sorting and cleansing data from these various sources but disconsonant data can still create confusing outcomes when analyzed.

While globalization gives an incentive to operate in an open market, the increased amount of trade activity also conceals illicit activities that must be supervised by customs authorities, such as tax evasion, drug traffic or smuggling. It is in the best interest of the entire industry to cooperate, allowing data sharing to flag the early recognition of risky trade transactions.

Receiving data related to the supply chain activities prior to and during the transportation process can assist authorities, supporting them to pinpoint risky elements on international trade. Data validation across various trade and transportation documents allows authorities to manage detailed risk assessment processes and is enhanced with access to earlier and more granular information.

Providing government authorities with access to upstream transport data is one of the features of TradeLens. On the platform, customs authorities have access to data related to their countries from the moment a booking is placed with a carrier. Updates on documents from different data sources and transportation milestones are shared in near real-time.

Additional data is not only a way to make sure that accurate risk assessments are being made, but it can also help decrease the burden placed by the bureaucracy related to importing or exporting goods. Increasing the accuracy of the inspection of goods, can enable authorities to focus their resources on the most important targets and improve trade documentation processing for reliable shippers, truckers and carriers. Enhancing global trade and the upstream exchange of information can drive growth and prosperity for the entire ecosystem.

Doing more with less

While many technologies and platforms exist in the marketplace, organizations are often constrained by limited public resources that must be utilized wisely. TradeLens does not aim at replacing existing systems but enhancing them with additional data from the supply chain. The TradeLens Platform provides a forum for authorities to run pilots and test innovative solutions in a true end-to-end shipment lifecycle.

In order to contribute to the logistics operations of the entire ecosystem, customs authorities can send notifications related to their inspection and release activities to TradeLens. This information will be made available in near real-time to all the players involved in the shipment and permissioned to see the data.

Several countries have already started using TradeLens to improve their access to valuable information that will in turn support their mission goals:Indonesia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Jordan and Azerbaijan.

Source: TradeLens, 28 May 2020

ICD 2020 – #MakeTradeWork

Picture courtesy of the WCO

To mark International Customs Day 2020 – focusing on the theme of ‘fostering Sustainability for People, Prosperity and the Planet’, the following article from the Spring 2018 edition of World Trade Matters by Jan Hoffmann, the Chief of the Trade Logistics Branch, Division on Technology and Logistics at UNCTAD, is relevant. The article discusses global trade facilitation reforms, the digitalisation of trade and measures towards ensuring long-term sustainability in the maritime industry. 

Confronted with growing populism and a surge in protectionist measures recorded by the WTO, policy makers and enterprises are struggling to avoid a backlash in international trade. At UNCTAD’s Trade Logistics Branch, we support these endeavours by helping to make trade work better. Through trade facilitation reforms, the promotion of digitalisation, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of international transport, we aim at ensuring that the international movement of goods is not confronted with unnecessary obstacles and costs. 

A multilateral agreement to facilitate international trade

Under the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), developing countries commit to implement a number of very practical measures that make trade easier and more transparent. Countries are obliged to publish duties and procedures on the web, traders can transmit their declarations prior to the arrival of the goods, payments can be made electronically, and fees and charges must not become hidden taxes to generate income for the government. These are but some of the 37 concrete measures grouped into 12 Articles of the TFA. They are all useful and help make trade more efficient. 

However, many of these measures involve an initial investment or reforms that require human and financial resources to start with, which developing countries many not have. The good news is that the TFA also includes a novel mechanism – the so called “Special and Differential Treatment” – that helps developing countries plan and acquire the necessary capacity prior to being fully committed to comply with all 12 Articles. Concretely, the mechanism puts the developing countries in the position – and obligation – to analyse and notify their own implementation capacity. At UNCTAD, we are working closely with the developing countries to enable them to do so. Our main counterpart in this endeavour are the National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) that each country must set up under the TFA. UNCTAD’s Empowerment Programme for NTFCs includes training and knowledge development for the members of the NTFC, combined with advisory services and the development of a Roadmap of TFA implementation. 

By the same token, UNCTAD also supports developing countries in setting up Trade Information Portals. Under the TFA, members of the WTO are obliged to make relevant information on tariffs and trade procedures available on-line. UNCTAD’s Trade Information Portals not only help countries become compliant with this obligation, but in the process of analysing and publishing applicable trade procedures, a Trade Information Portal effectively helps countries identify the potential for the further simplification of procedures. Thanks to these new insights, NTFCs can then develop programmes and reforms that subsequently ensure the further simplification of procedures. 

Technological progress will never be as slow as today

My favourite provision of the TFA is Article 10.1., as it provides for a dynamic dimension of the Agreement. According to this article, countries need to minimize “the incidence and complexity of import, export, and transit formalities”, continuously “review” requirements, keep “reducing the time and cost of compliance for traders and operators”, and always choose “the least trade restrictive measure”. As such, even if a country is compliant with all TFA provisions today, countries will need to continue monitoring if existing procedures are still appropriate in view of technological or regulatory developments. 

As trade becomes increasingly digitalised, and new technologies which do not yet exist will be developed, it will be important that governments continuously revise and review the applicable rules and regulations. 

Digitalisation comes in stages. First, we optimize existing procedures, making use of cargo tracking, the Internet of Things, blockchain et al. Second, new businesses are developed which could not exist without the new technologies; new platforms come into being and we see more “uberisation”. Finally, there is transformation and science fiction; still in our lifetime Artificial Intelligence will overtake human capabilities to manage international trade and its logistics. 

But let us take one step at a time. At UNCTAD, we support developing countries through eTrade readiness assessments, the development and upgrade of technological solutions in Customs automation and Single Windows, and by providing a Forum for our members to analyse and discuss the challenges that come with digitalisation. We encourage the development of global standards that allow for interoperability among new systems. The challenge for policy makers it to encourage private sector investments in new technologies and solutions, while ensuring that no new monopolies emerge that might exclude smaller players.  

And it has to be sustainable

While we aim at ensuring continued growth in international trade, there is a catch. The transport of this trade encompasses increasing externalities, such as pollution, green-house-gas emissions, and congestion. 

Ports need to minimise social and environmental externalities. Many port cities are among the most polluted places to live, as ships burn heavy oil, and delivering trucks produce noise and cause traffic congestions. In addition, ports need to be resilient in the face of disruptions and damages caused by natural disasters and climate change impacts. 

International transport, including shipping, needs to play a larger role in addressing global warming and contribute to mitigating the carbon emissions that are causing climate change. Shipping emits less carbon dioxide (CO2) per ton-mile than other modes of transport, but then due to its sheer volume it also produces many ton-miles. Would it be possible that the industry could be charged by its main regulatory body not per ship tonnage (as is currently the case), but per tonne of CO2 emission? 

Currently, the International Maritime Organization is funded proportional to the tonnage registered under the members’ flags. Like this, Panama, Marshall Islands and Liberia pay for the largest share of the IMO budget – and in the end, this is passed on to the ship-owner, who in turn passes this on to the shipper, who will charge the consumer. This is a good established mechanism that could be expanded to also internalize the external costs of CO2 emissions. 

Being the most globalized of all businesses, maritime transport should consider adopting a global regime that helps further internalize its environmental externalities – to ensure prosperity for all.  

It is all about efficiency

Investing in trade facilitation reforms, making intelligent use of the latest technologies, and ensuring that externalities are internalized are all several sides of the same coin. Trade efficiency is necessary to promote an open international trading system. It requires a continuous effort by policy makers to continuously review current procedures, apply the most appropriate technological solutions, and support an efficient allocation of scarce resources. 

Source: Jan Hoffman, UNCTAD – originally published in World Trade Matters, Spring Edition, 2018

Trade Lens – Maersk and IBM implement their jointly developed blockchain-based solution

TradeLens

Maersk and IBM have introduced their global blockchain solution TradeLens, with 94 organizations already participating. The companies announced their joint venture in January this year after collaborating on the concept since 2016.

Early adopters include more than 20 port and terminal operators across the globe, including PSA Singapore, International Container Terminal Services Inc, Patrick Terminals, Modern Terminals in Hong Kong, Port of Halifax, Port of Rotterdam, Port of Bilbao, PortConnect, PortBase and terminal operators Holt Logistics at the Port of Philadelphia. They join the global APM Terminals’ network in piloting the solution at over 230 marine gateways worldwide.

Pacific International Lines has joined Maersk Line and Hamburg Süd as global container carriers participating. Customs authorities in the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Australia and Peru are participating, along with customs brokers Ransa and Güler & Dinamik.

Participation among beneficial cargo owners has grown to include Torre Blanca / Camposol and Umit Bisiklet. Freight forwarders, transportation and logistics companies including Agility, CEVA Logistics, DAMCO, Kotahi, PLH Trucking Company, Ancotrans and WorldWide Alliance.

TradeLens uses IBM Blockchain technology built on open standards to establish a single shared view of a transaction without compromising details, privacy or confidentiality. Shippers, shipping lines, freight forwarders, port and terminal operators, inland transportation and customs authorities can interact via real-time access to shipping data ad shipping documents, including IoT and sensor data ranging from temperature control to container weight.

Using blockchain smart contracts, TradeLens enables digital collaboration across the multiple parties involved in international trade. The trade document module, released under a beta program and called ClearWay, enables importers/exporters, customs brokers, trusted third parties such as Customs, other government agencies, and NGOs to collaborate in cross-organizational business processes and information exchanges, all backed by a secure, non-repudiable audit trail.

During a 12-month trial, Maersk and IBM worked with dozens of partners to identify opportunities to prevent delays caused by documentation errors and information delays. One example demonstrated how TradeLens can reduce the transit time of a shipment of packaging materials to a production line in the U.S. by 40 percent, avoiding thousands of dollars in cost.

Through better visibility and more efficient means of communicating, some supply chain participants estimate they could reduce the steps taken to answer basic operational questions such as “where is my container” from 10 steps and five people to, with TradeLens, one step and one person.

More than 154 million shipping events have been captured on the platform, including data such as arrival times of vessels and container “gate-in,” and documents such as customs releases, commercial invoices and bills of lading. This data is growing at a rate of close to one million events per day.

TradeLens is expected to be fully commercially available by the end of this year.

Source: Maritime Executive, original article published 2018-08-09