WCO News – June 2020

As the title suggests, the latest edition of WCO News contains a variety of articles concerning Customs approach to COVID-19 and even one article relating to Customs Brokers on COVID-19. Other features include C-2-C cooperation and information exchange, Risk Management and the future invisible supply chain and Secure Border . Of interest for Customs Policy are articles on improvements to simplification and harmonisation of components to the Revised Kyoto Convention; WCO’s development of draft “Practical Guidance on Free Zones” as well as Internet domain name ownership data – understanding changes and useful suggestions for Customs. All in all another great read!

Source : World Customs Organisation

Guide to the WCO E-Commerce Framework of Standards

It is often difficult to navigate and assimilate the myriad of documentation and annexes associated with significant initiatives such as WCO’s ‘framework of standards’. True, the documentation is detailed and technical. There are, however, online training courses available on the WCO website for users wishing to attain a level of proficiency on a particular subject. Furthermore, member states can request technical assistance from WCO in the establishment of capacity for the implementation of specific Customs initiatives.

However, sometimes one requires a synopsis or insight as to what a particular initiative aims to achieve. This is important so as to establish the nature and extent of change and capacity required in one’s own domestic situation. In my area of operation, MS PowerPointTM plays an important role in uniformly conveying key information to a multitude of people across different disciplines in the organisation. Im happy to share a ‘guide’ which consolidates most of the ‘official’ WCO documentation that comprise the Framework of Standards on E-Commerce. When viewed as a PowerPoint Show, all hyperlinks to the official WCO E-Commerce documentation are available for download or display. Below are versions for both standard PowerPoint or PowerPoint Show. I hope it will serve some useful purpose.

Guide – WCO Framework of Standards on E-Commerce [PPTX, 3MB]

Guide – WCO Framework of Standards on E-Commerce [PPSX, 3MB]

WCO-IMO Partnership for maritime digitalization to support flow of trade by ship

The WCO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) strengthened their partnership recently to further facilitate the exchange of information in a harmonized way by updating the IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business and mapping it to the WCO Data Model. The updated Compendium, which is a set of standards on the submission of maritime related data, will enable the integration of Maritime and Customs Single Windows and allow closer coordination between Customs administrations and Maritime authorities. 

It is known that when ships enter and leave ports, vital information concerning cargo, dangerous goods, crews, vessel details and other pieces of information have to be exchanged with the authorities ashore. However, under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL), public authorities are now required to set up systems for this all to happen digitally. 

With a view to sustaining the maintenance work of the Compendium and to allow more involvement of different stakeholders in the maritime supply chain, within the framework of existing partnerships, the IMO, the WCO, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) and the International Standards Organization (ISO) have come together to support this increased maritime digitalization. 

The renewed partnership paves the way for updating the IMO Reference Data Model and for its further development towards the harmonization of data standards in other areas, beyond the FAL Convention, such as exchanging operational data that could help facilitate the just-in-time operation of ships. Just-in-time operations allow ships to optimise their speed, so they arrive at their destination port when their berth is ready for them, thereby saving energy and cutting costs and emissions. 

The partners involved have been cooperating to develop the IMO Reference Data Model, which is a key element of the IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business and covers the reporting requirements defined in the FAL Convention to support transmission, receipt, and response of information required for the arrival, stay, and departure of ships, persons, and cargo via electronic data exchange.  This work ensures interoperability between the respective standards of each organization, such as the WCO Data Model.

Source: WCO, 14 May 2020

WTO Report – Role of e-Commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic

The WTO Secretariat has published a new information note looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected e-commerce, including the implications for cross-border trade. It notes the increased use of e-commerce as consumers adapt to lockdowns and social distancing measures and draws attention to several challenges, such as the need to bridge the digital divide within and across countries.

As well as highlighting the uptick in e-commerce during the COVID-19 crisis, the report looks at measures introduced by governments to facilitate e-commerce and some of the challenges facing these initiatives. Governments have worked to increase network capacity, encourage the provision of expanded data services at little or no cost, and lowered or scrapped transaction costs on digital payments and mobile money transfers. The report also looks at ongoing e-commerce discussions in the WTO and how continued implementation of the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement could address some of the challenges brought to the fore by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The report argues that the experiences and lessons emerging from the COVID-19 crisis could be a further incentive for global cooperation in the area of e-commerce, which could help to facilitate cross-border movement of goods and services, narrow the digital divide, and level the playing field for small businesses.  

Download the report here!

Source: World Trade Organisation

What is a bill of lading and why isn’t a digital format industry standard?

The bill of lading is believed to be the most important transport document in international trade: a mainstay of the global supply chain that’s present from origin to destination and critical to customs clearancefinancing and ownership of cargo.

But for as much as shipping has changed over the decades, not much about the bill of lading (BL) has. Today, it’s pretty much the same often-paper, always-time-consuming document it ever was.

That’s why driving an eBill standard is largely considered the Holy Grail of global trade. Succeed in that, and partners up and down the supply chain would benefit from the days and weeks that paper BLs add to the process as they are printed, pouched, messengered, lost, found and waited upon.

It’s ironic because there isn’t a single aspect of the BL that couldn’t be done better digitally. To demonstrate, let’s dive into the essence of these documents and the challenges that remain to making them digital.

How does an original paper bill of lading work?

Once the vessel departs, an original BL can be issued by the ocean carrier. After the shipper endorses the original bill, it is couriered to the buyer who then needs to surrender it back to the carrier at destination as part of the cargo release process.

It sounds simple enough, but along the way the BL impacts many other processes and actions. Even before issuance, the time-consuming process from a shipping instruction to the issuance of a verified BL, many iterations and changes can occur to get the BL into an approved state.  

The BL, and its critical data fields are required for customs clearance, letter of credit, change of title and other processes. One delay in any of these can result in costly extra charges.  

The functions of a bill of lading were made to be done electronically

In oftentimes convoluted international shipments, the BL is the legal go-to document that facilitates negotiation, lending and risk reduction by performing three key functions:

1. It is evidence of a contract of carriage

2. It confirms receipt of goods

3. It serves as the title to the goods

So, can eBill perform these functions while maintaining the integrity and legality that’s required? The P&I Clubs think so. Today’s top eBill solutions meet these challenges through rule frameworks and advanced security measures — all while providing significant cost and time savings.

eBills can play a pivotal role — and a digital role

Carriers issue the BL, but they rely on information from shippers which may change multiple times during the booking and shipper’s instruction processes. Electronic features like structured documents make creation, approval, distribution, tracking — everything — easier than paper.

This benefits not only the shippers but the carriers, buyers, sellers and banks without having the need to continue to print out paper — which defeats the purpose

Digital does the different types of bill of lading better

There are many types of BL, reflecting the complexities of international trade. Eliminating paper is only the beginning of the ways eBills can help streamline processes related to the two main categories of BL:

Sea Waybills are sometimes referred to as “Express Release.” They have a named consignee on them but are issued without any original documents that have to be presented for the release of the cargo. Non-negotiable and non-transferable, they are usually used in three cases:

  1. Intra-company shipments between divisions located in different countries
  2. Shipments when no negotiations take place between the seller and the consignee
  3. Instances when the shipper doesn’t have to submit an original BL to any party in order to secure their payment

Original BLs have different forms that all hinge on the issuance of original BL documents in some way.

· Order BLs are the most common type of BL. They enable delivery of the cargo to be made “To Order” to the bonafide holder of the BL. These types of BL are negotiable and often linked to letter of credit transactions. Often banks must verify and endorse the original BL before the cargo can be released to the buyer.

  • Straight BLs stipulate that the cargo may only be released to the specified consignee and only upon the surrender of an original BL.
  • Open BLs are negotiable and transferable. The name of the consignee can be changed with the consignee’s signature and transferred — often multiple times.

Going Digital assists in filling out the bill of lading

With shippers providing the majority of the information for a BL, completeness and correctness is crucial. eBills help guide the way. If shippers can provide bill of lading information digitally, there’s less risk of keying errors. Form fields and autofill features all speed the process and lead to time savings.

One of the challenges of going paperless with BLs from the very beginning is standards. Adhering to set data standards makes information useful for different parties within organizations and multiple supply chain partners and it enables seamless workflows from automation. Unfortunately, standards are far from being standard today.

Digital makes the information included in a BL more useful

Users look to the bill of lading as an infallible source of essential and comprehensive information like names and addresses, purchase orders or reference numbers, special delivery instructions, pickup date, description of items, packaging type, NMFC freight class and DOT hazmat designations.

eBills of lading can make this information highly transparent to supply chain partners who can use it. But like many of the benefits of eBills, this transparency hinges on adoption — if all the participants of the supply chain are rowing together digitally, it works. If not, it just makes for another manual process that may end up being even more work than paper.

With its centrality to supply chains and essentiality to digitizing global trade, it’s easy to understand why the industry has its sights set on digitizing this important document. But acceptance of the eBill remains both the goal and the greatest challenge today. That’s why getting the eBill to catch on will require successfully digitizing the entire process for eBills, too.

TradeLens, with its relationships with the world’s largest ocean carriers, is in a unique position to explore the digitization of this process at an unprecedented scale. Within an ecosystem where there’s already widespread acceptance, the potential of the eBill could finally be revealed. 

Source: Original article authored by Jeffrey Ivinski, 13 April 2020

Unpacking ICC's Digital Initiatives for global trade

ICC is partnering with government, business and other stakeholders to create digital solutions that will advance economic prosperity for all.

In line with ICC’s Declaration for the Next Century of Global Business, we are committed to maximising the benefits of the digital economy through establishing key partnerships to unify, simplify, and transform trade processes for all.

Here are seven ICC digital initiatives that will prepare business for the future of global trade:

1). TradeTrust facilitating ICC TradeFlow

During the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, ICC joined the Singapore Government and major firms from key industries to launch TradeTrust, a public-private partnership that uses blockchain technology to digitalize global trade. The TradeTrust framework allows for interoperability across different trade platforms for the exchange of trade documents on a public blockchain.

ICC TradeFlow, a blockchain platform developed by ICC and Perlin to simplify the trade documentation process for all, was the first project built on the TradeTrust network. The platform, launched by ICC, DBS Bank, Trafigura, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Enterprise Singapore, and Perlin, enables businesses to visually map out trade flows, issue instructions to partners, and analyse trade actions in real time.

2). Digital Trade Standards Initiative

The ICC Banking Commission has announced the creation of the Digital Trade Standards Initiative (DSI) to establish open technology standards that will promote interoperability among existing blockchain and technology platforms.

3). Digitalisation in Trade Finance Working Group

ICC’s Digitalisation in Trade Finance Working Group coordinates the ICC Banking Commission’s work related to the digitalisation of global trade, including the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, and blockchain.

Formed in 2017, the Working Group evaluated all existing ICC rules for electronic compatibility, leading to the release of the eUCP version 2.0 and eURC version 1.0. In addition, the Working Group conducted a legal survey to understand the rights of third parties under e-Bills of Landing and developed a Digital Trade Roadmap, a communication tool for policymakers engaged in digital trade work.

4). Partnership with Perlin

In May 2019, ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO announced the formation of a technology partnership between ICC and Perlin, a Singapore-based blockchain technology company. As part of this partnership, ICC and Perlin will work in close association to develop innovative blockchain products that will simplify and transform global trade for all.

AirCarbon, Perlin, and ICC at COP25

In recognition of the significant environmental impact of commercial air traffic, ICC, Perlin, and AirCarbon, formed a partnership on the side-lines of COP25 to facilitate carbon credit schemes to reduce worldwide aviation emissions. ICC will work with its global network to pursue adoption of the AirCarbon Exchange, the world’s first blockchain backed trading network for CORSIA compliant carbon credits. CORSIA, International Civil Aviation Organization’s Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, was signed in Montreal in 2016 by 191 countries.

Chambers Climate Coalition

The Chambers Climate Coalition is an initiative launched by ICC to mobilise chambers of commerce to take climate action, aligned with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and reaching net-zero emissions by no later than 2050. The Coalition, which was recognised as part of the landmark Climate Ambition Alliance at COP25, aims to reduce the greenhouse footprint from chamber service activities without delay.

Chambers of commerce can use Perlin’s blockchain technology to trace their value chains and implement a more sustainable model for their services to local businesses.

ICC Centre of Future Trade

ICC, Perlin, and Enterprise Singapore, established the ICC Centre for Future Trade in Singapore, an innovation hub for the creation and development of blockchain solutions for business. From the Centre for Future Trade, ICC and Perlin will work together to accelerate the commercial adoption of blockchain technologies for business.

International E-Registry of Ships (IERS)

In collaboration with Perlin and the Singapore Shipping Association, ICC has announced the creation of the International E-Registry of Ships, the world’s first blockchain-backed digital ship registration system. IERS will standardise the international shipping registration and renewal system through the use of digital technology.

Perlin Clarify

ICC’s partnership with Perlin enables ICC’s global membership network with access to Perlin Clarify, a blockchain solution that enables businesses to trace their value chains. Perlin Clarify allows businesses to track their compliance with government regulations, environmental standards, and other industry indicators.

The Incoterms® rules and smart contacts

ICC with support from Perlin is piloting customisable, self-executing digital sales agreements, that incorporate the latest edition of the Incoterms® rules into contracts. The creation of these blockchain-backed Incoterms® rules with smart contracts will help facilitate trade by reducing costs faced by importers and exporters worldwide.

The project was announced by Mr Denton, Dorjee Sun, CEO and co-founder of Perlin, and Satvinder Singh, Assistant CEO for Enterprise Singapore at an event in Singapore in August 2019.

5). Partnership with GIST Advisory

On the side-lines of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Mr Denton joined Pavan Sukhdev, CEO of GIST and President of the World Wildlife Foundation, to launch two digital platforms that track the environmental impact of business operations for companies of all sizes. The platforms, I360X and SME360X, utilise analytics and global databases to measure the environmental impacts of market goods and services.

With the analytical information provided by these platforms, companies can transition their operations toward a more sustainable model for the future.

6). eATA Carnet

In November 2019, ICC successfully piloted the first ever digital ATA Carnet, a customs document allowing duty- and tax-free movement of goods for up to one year. The project, known as the Mercury II pilot, was initially launched by ICC in 2018 as part of the organisation’s commitment to using digital technology to simplify the trade documentation process.

Over the next six months, the project will enter a testing phase with six participating pilot countries, including Belgium, China, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. The European Union Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union actively supports the implementation of the eAta Carnet.

7). Digital platforms with the World Trade Organization (WTO)

Global Dialogue on Trade

In October 2018, Mr Denton and World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevedo launched the Global Dialogue on Trade digital platform to gather input from policymakers, business leaders, and academia on the future of global trade.

The first series of debates, which concluded in March 2019, resulted in a set of concrete policy recommendations to provide guidance to stakeholders for strengthening multilateral trade.

Trade Dialogues

At the request of the WTO and B20, ICC is responsible for hosting Trade Dialogues, a digital platform connecting stakeholders from around the world to spark discussions among WTO members on critical business issues.

Source: ICC Website, February 2020

Digital Trade Standards Initiative launches under the umbrella of ICC

ICC has launched the Digital Trade Standards Initiative (DSI) – a collaborative cross-industry effort to enable the standardisation of digital trade.

The ICC Digital Trade Standards Initiative (DSI) will build on work done by various likeminded initiatives, many of which aim to digitise trade, notably through the development of open trade and technology standards to promote interoperability.

The ICC DSI will promote greater economic inclusion through the development of open trade standards. This will facilitate technical interoperability among the variety of blockchain-based networks and technology platforms that have entered the trade space over the past two years.

“Universal standards will connect existing digital islands and enable market forces to improve customer experience,” said ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO. “As a leading and neutral voice in the industry, it made sense to bring this project under the umbrella of ICC. This will allow the ICC DSI to lead and coordinate efforts in developing standards and protocols to digitise trade.”

The ICC DSI is unique among trade digitisation initiatives due to its collective nature. Too often, digitisation is enacted through bilateral agreements between institutions that require members to run on the same platform. This has resulted in siloed data and bespoke trade and trade finance processes.

“The ICC DSI seeks to coordinate all parties in the standardisation of data formats and processes, rather than duplicate existing efforts. In turn, membership will be open to all organisations across industries and geographies supporting the project’s core mandate, including existing industry associations and initiatives,” explained Steven Beck, Head of Trade Finance at the Asian Development Bank.

The ICC DSI will be supported by seed-funding committed by the Asian Development Bank and the Government of Singapore, in addition to ICC’s support. The ICC DSI will be run as an independent entity out of the recently-established ICC Centre for Future Trade.

“We have seen the tremendous impact of technology in growing businesses and facilitating international trade,” said Gina Lim, Director of Financing Ecosystem Development at Enterprise Singapore. “The ICC DSI will promote greater adoption of technology within the trade ecosystem and facilitate greater inclusiveness for small businesses. We are excited for the establishment of the ICC DSI office in Singapore and look forward to working with our global partners across geographies and sectors.”

ICC anticipates the implementation of a full-time management team, and a global and diverse steering committee to provide guidance and set priorities for the project’s development.

ICC has opened the recruitment process to hire a managing director to lead operations within the ICC DSI, with an official launch event to follow once this first process completed.

Source: ICC webpage, 4 March 2020

WCO News – February 2020

This edition’s “Dossier” focuses on how Customs can foster sustainability for people, prosperity and the planet, the WCO’s theme for 2020, and includes a selection of articles on the implementation of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, the role of the Harmonized System, the trade in illegal timber, and tools for logistics planning and supply chain optimization.

The “Panorama” section covers various topics such as internal communication, cultural goods, partnership with express couriers to fight illicit trade, management of e-commerce transactions via blockchains, and measurement of the time required to process imports in order to boost logistic service providers’ efficiency.

You can also read an insightful “Point of View” article on how machine learning can automate the determination of the valuation of goods, as well as an “Events” article containing highlights from the WCO Communication Strategies Conference held in October 2019.

Source: WCO, WCO News, February 2020

Guide: Goods and Conveyance Reporting in South Africa

A companion guide in support of increased compliance in the reporting of goods and conveyances (RCG) to Customs, South Africa.

Necessary information for – Air, Sea and Road carriers, vessel’s agents, NVOCCs, freight forwarders, Air and Sea terminal operators, container depot operators, transit shed operators and de-grouping depots. Also, all private software service providers to the trade.

The guide offers easy navigation through –

  • registration and electronic trading with SARS Customs
  • the various electronic messages mandated by law, covering import and export movements, across all modes of permissible international transportation
  • message types for each transaction type
  • scenarios to facilitate easier understanding across operators in the supply chain on how the various electronic reports are sequenced, ensuring that Customs formulates a comprehensive end-2-end view of a international trade transaction
  • reference webpages, official notifications, Customs rules and other pertinent information concerning cargo reporting.

All information is hyperlinked to SARS documentation, found on the official SARS website www.sars.gov.za

You may download the Guide below (File size: 3MB)

USCBP extends secure e-commerce supply chain pilot

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has expanded its pilot of a new, voluntary scheme to try to improve the security of low-value shipments entering US borders.

The Section 321 Data Pilot is focused in particular on e-commerce, and aims to improve data-sharing between online marketplaces, carriers, technology firms and logistics provider to help protect American consumers from illicit goods arriving by air, ocean, truck, or rail.

That includes, “illicit narcotics, unregulated prescription drugs, brand counterfeits, and unsafe food and beauty products”, according to the CBP, which plans to run the pilot until August 2021.

Nine companies have been selected to participate in the pilot, including e-commerce giants Amazon and eBay, carriers Zulily, FedEx, DHL and UPS, as well as technology firm PreClear and logistics providers XB Fulfillment and BoxC Logistics.

CBP has said that it plans to expand access to all interested and qualified participants “in early 2020.”

The participants will provide cargo origin, content, tracking, recipient and other information to CBP upfront, in addition to the information that is currently legally required for Section 321 shipments – in other words one shipment per day for eligible importers, individuals or companies with a value of $800 or less.

CBP says it wants to see whether having that additional information will enable it to perform “more effective and efficient targeted screening” of these low-value shipments.

Research published in 2018 has suggested that two-thirds of counterfeit goods intercepted by customs around the world are discovered in small parcels sent through postal or courier services.

In part because they are harder for customs officials to track and seize, and also because in many jurisdictions they have not required detailed manifests for their contents. The US stepped up the manifest requirements for Section 321 shipments from January 1, 2019.

CBP broadened the scope of the 321 Data Pilot last month, shortly after the pilot was launched in August, to include ocean shipments and international mail which weren’t included in the original plan.

“Combined with the exponential growth of the online shopping market in the US over the past five years, CBP has seen a significant increase in small, low-value packages,” said the agency in a statement.

“Today, CBP processes more than 600 million express consignment and international mail shipments a year – approximately 1.8m a day. The unprecedented growth in volume of these low-value shipments requires creative solutions to interdict illicit and dangerous products to enter the US.”

Source: article by Phil Taylor, Securityindustry.com, 20 January 2020

Kenya – Single Window costs to impact on traders

Importers and exporters will have to pay to use the Single Window System, Kenya Trade Network Agency(KenTrade) has said.

The agency dismissed concerns that it will increase the cost of doing business.

This comes as it moves to upgrade its system which provides the sole trading platform for lodging entries and accessing trade approvals, mainly by government agencies.

Companies will now have to pay Sh5,000 [ZAR722] annually as registration to the Single Window System. Application for Unique Consignment Reference (UCR) number in the system costs Sh750 [ZAR108] per UCR.

Arrival notification for any the impending arrival notice of a consignment will cost Sh7,500 [ZAR1,080] per ship. 

The charges have been approved by the National Treasury and Planning, following a legal notice issued on December 24 which became effective this month.

This is to support the cash-strapped government agency’s operations after Treasury cut its budget by more than a half.

KenTrade CEO Amos Wangora said the  charge are informed by low funding by the exchequer,which is threatening sustainability of the Single Window Services.

“The agency has over the years relied on the exchequer for funding to run its operations as well as maintain the system, this funding has not been sufficient and has been declining over the years,” Wangora said.

The Single Window System was rolled out in 2013, providing a single platform to process import and export cargo documentation.

It currently serves 12,000 users and processes close to 800,000 transactions annually.

The system brings together 35 permits, licenses and certificates from various government issuing agencies whose cargo clearance documentations have been interfaced with the  KenTrade system.

It is also linked to financial institutions (banks, mobile payment solutions) through Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) iTax System and the governments eCitizen platforms.

Source: article published in The Star, Kenya, 24 January 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

Embracing Blockchain for Cross-border Trade

In August of 2019, both the United States and Thailand announced their plans to test blockchain applications for tracking and managing shipments. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is planning to test a blockchain application against their current system to determine how distributed ledger technology (DLT) can improve its existing processes. Thailand, on the other hand, plans to use IBM’s blockchain-based logistics platform Tradelens to improve customs processes such as data sharing.

Originally developed in a joint venture between IBM and logistics giant Maersk, Tradelens seeks to streamline processes in the global shipping industry by making the flow of information occur in real-time. The blockchain platform is reported to currently process about half of the world’s shipping data.

These moves highlight countries’ increasing interest in employing blockchain technology in their customs and border operations. The Tradelens website says its ecosystem comprises over 100 different organizations including carriers, ports, terminal operators, third-party logistics firms, and freight forwarders. More specifically, a map on the Tradelens website suggests that about 60 ports and terminals worldwide are directly integrated with TradeLens.

Elsewhere, the Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD), which develops policies and operational systems for the European Customs Union, explored the applicability of blockchain in customs and taxation with a focus on utilizing blockchain as a notarization service.

The Union is looking into using blockchain to digitize ATA Carnet, an international customs document used in 87 countries for temporarily admitting goods duty-free. A pilot project conducted in collaboration with the International Chamber of Commerce World Chambers Federation (ICC WCF), was successfully tested in 2018. 

The ICC WCF, a body of the ICC that helps facilitate mutually beneficial partnerships between ICC members, has been working with different customs authorities to develop solutions for converting ATA Carnets into electronic documents.

About 80 countries around the world have developed authorized economic operator (AEO) programs and signed a mutual recognition agreement (MRA), all in an effort to streamline cargo security. Under such arrangements, individual countries identify and approve trustworthy logistics operators that pose a low risk in security and share the approval information with participating countries. 

This allows countries to piggyback on the security checks of other countries to make customs operations more efficient. However, a few problems have arisen with the program. 

  • There are information leakage risks associated with the conventional way of sharing AEO data by email. While a sender’s email server may be encrypted, there is no guarantee that the receiver’s is as well, and vice versa.
  • Data sharing is not real-time, but monthly or at an agreed-upon interval. This limits the speed at which information on new or suspended AEOs can reach all participants.

To avoid the aforementioned problems as well as achieve additional time and cost savings on security procedures, customs administrations in Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica are working with the Inter-American Development Bank to develop a blockchain application called Cadena.

The move by governments around the world to employ blockchain to improve cross-border trade marks a step toward paperless customs processes, which originally began with the digitization of information flows by making trade-related data and documents available and exchangeable electronically. For all the improvements they’ve brought to paper-heavy processes, traditional electronic data exchange systems still face the challenges of authenticity and the unavailability of real-time data exchange.

For instance, the Netherlands and China launched a five-year project in 2010 to test the applicability of electronic sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) certificates. A World Economic Forum white paper titled “Paperless Trading: How Does It Impact the Trade System?” noted that concerns around the authenticity of the electronic documents arose. This necessitated the adoption of electronic signature systems and a whole new legal framework that recognized the electronic signature.

Still, the entire process requires longer procedures and the introduction of new types of intermediaries — e-signature providers, for instance. Moreover, low-income countries, the trade costs of which remain high compared to high-income countries as according to World Bank data, may not have the budget to implement several new systems for data and document digitization. They still need to invest in better customs infrastructure. 

Blockchain, on the other hand, if implemented in border protection, will ensure real-time availability and immutability of customs documents while saving considerable costs on excessive paperwork.

Source: Original article titled: “Blockchain Adoption as a Cure for Cross-Border Trading“, authored by Craig Adeyanju, Cointelegraph.com, 2019.09.28

9/11 – 18 years on

WTC 6, home to the US Customs Service, New York until September 2001

As unrecognisable as the building is, the same can be said for the world of Customs today. Few contemplated a ‘Customs’ parallel at the time; but, when the Department of Homeland Security was launched, the emergence of US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) ushered in a new way of doing business. The world of Customs was literally ‘turned on its head’. Bilateral overtures seeking agreements on ‘container security’, ‘port security’ as well as an industry focussed ‘Customs and Trade Partnership Against Terrorism’ (C-TPAT) forced the World Customs Organisation (WCO) into swift action. After years of deliberation and negotiation several guidelines were released, later to be packaged as the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards. It seemed that the recent Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) on simplification and harmonisation of Customs procedures was already ‘dated’. Customs as a proud solo entity was gone for ever, as country after country seemed compelled to address border security through wholesale transformation and upheaval of their border frontier policies and structures. Thus was born ‘border security’ and ‘cooperative border management’. In a manner of speaking, 9/11 put Customs onto the global map. Along with WCO developments, the tech industries brought about several innovations for risk management and other streamlined and efficient service offerings. Prior to 9/11, only the wealthy countries could afford non-intrusive inspection capabilities. One key aspect of the SAFE Framework’s was to include a pillar on Capacity Building. Through this, the WCO and business partners are able to offer tailor-made assistance to developing countries, to uplift their Customs and border capabilities. In particular, countries in Africa now are now in a position to consider ‘automated’ capabilities in the area of Customs-2-Customs information exchange as well as establishment of national Preferred Trader and Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) schemes. At the same time a parallel industry of ‘Customs Experts’ is being developed in conjunction with the private sector. The end result is the availability of ‘standards’, ‘policies’ and ‘guidelines’ fit for Customs and Border operations, focussed on eliminating incompatibilities and barriers to trade. Where these exist, they are largely attributed to poor interpretation and application of these principles. With closer cooperation amongst various border authorities still a challenge for many countries, there are no doubt remedies available to address these needs. In gratitude, let us remember the thousands of public servants and civilians who lost their lives that we can benefit today.

WCO – Blockchain for Customs

WCO-Unveiling the Potential of Blockchain in CustomsThe World Customs Organization (WCO) has initiated work to identify possible case studies and uses of blockchain for Customs and other border agencies with a view to improving compliance, trade facilitation, and fraud detection (including curbing of illicit trade through the misuse of blockchains and Bitcoins), while touching on associated adjustments in legal and regulatory frameworks.

The objective of this research paper is to discuss ways in which Customs could leverage the power of blockchain and the extent to which the future of Customs could be shaped by the use of blockchain-based applications. Blockchain projects are currently in the beta testing phase in the finance sector (facilitating inter-banking system processes), insurance sector (preventing fraud and accelerating coverage) and international trade. With regard to the latter, this paper focuses its attention on two initiatives.

  • The first was launched by MAERSK-IBM as a global trade digitalization platform to which Customs administrations are expected to join.
  • A second initiative consists of an “information highway”, joining the National Trade Platform of Singapore and the Trade Finance Platform of Hong Kong, with a view to creating a Global Trade Connectivity Network (GTCN).

A conclusion that has been reached after discussion is that Customs would be able to have a broader and clearer picture of international trade particularly in terms of the movement of cargoes and consignments as being tied with the flow of capital. With blockchain-based applications, therefore, Customs could become a full-fledged border regulator with greater capabilities in the future.

Source: WCO, Y.Okazaki, June 2018