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

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African Rhino poaching reaches new record

A record number of African rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa this year, driven by the use of their horns in Chinese medicine and a spreading belief in Southeast Asia, unfounded in science, that they may cure cancer. The street value of rhinoceros horns has soared to about $65 000 a kilogramme, making it more expensive than gold.

South Africa, home to more than 20 000 rhinos, or about 90% of all the rhinos in Africa, lost 455 rhinos to poachers, as of Tuesday, to eclipse the 448 killed in all of 2011, the environment ministry said in a statement. Around 15 animals a year were lost a decade ago, showing the impact of rising demand from Asia.

The number of rhinoceroses dying unnatural deaths in South Africa, either through illegal poaching or legal hunts, has now reached a level likely to lead to population decline, according to a study by Richard Emslie, an expert in the field. Poaching increased dramatically from about 2007 as a growing affluent class in China, Vietnam and Thailand began spending more on rhino horn for traditional medicine, where it was once used for ailments such as devil possession.

About half of poaching takes place in Kruger National Park, the country’s flagship park covering an area about the size of Israel, where soldiers and surveillance aircraft have been deployed in recent months to slow the carnage. The park has been the focal point of an arms race as gangs of poachers sponsored by international crime syndicates have used high-powered weaponry, night vision goggles and helicopters to hunt the animals, investigators said. Source: Polity.org.za

Open Borders and Integrated Supply Chains break down Global Trade Barriers

East Asian economies have recorded marked improvements in their ability to enable trade, while traditional frontrunners Singapore and Hong Kong retain a clear lead at the top of the global rankings, according to the Global Enabling Trade Report 2012, released today by the World Economic Forum.

The report, which is published every two years, also confirms strong showings for Europe’s major economies, with Finland and the United Kingdom both advancing six places to 6th and 11th, respectively, and Germany and France remaining stable at 13th and 20. Other large economies fare less well: the US continues its decline to 23rd, as does China (56th) and India (100th). Among emerging economies, Turkey (62nd) and Mexico (65th) remain stable while Chile (14th), Saudi Arabia (27th) and South Africa (63rd) climb in the ranking. ASEAN members Thailand (57th), Indonesia (58th) and the Philippines (72nd) also improve. Perhaps the proponents of OSBPs and a BMA in South Africa have not read this or have deeper insight into the matter.

As well as ranking nations’ trade openness, the report finds that traditional notions of trade are increasingly outdated as global value chains require new measurements, policies and cooperation. The report also finds that security, quality and trade can be mutually reinforcing through supply chain integrity efforts, but a knowledge gap in identifying buyers remains an important barrier. The biennial report, covering 132 economies worldwide, measures the abilities of economies to enable trade and highlights areas where improvements are most needed. A widely used reference, it helps countries integrate global value chains and companies with their investment decisions.

At the core of the report is the Enabling Trade Index, which measures institutions, policies and services facilitating the free flow of goods over borders and to destination. It breaks the enablers into four issue areas: market access, border administration, transport and communications infrastructure, and business environment. The Index uses a combination of data from publicly available sources, as well as the results of the Executive Opinion Survey, a comprehensive annual survey conducted by the World Economic Forum with its network of partner research institutes and business organizations in the countries included in the report. The 2012 results demonstrate that the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement has facilitated trade since its entry into force in 2010. This year, the report also directly captures the most important obstacles to exporting and importing in each country, and notes the strong links between import and export success. Source: AllAfrica.com / WEF