It is time to talk about the technical solutions again

The Brexit debate has almost only been concentrating on the political level, conditions for the Withdrawal Agreement and what will happen if UK leaves the European Union without an agreement on Match 29, 2019.

We have heard about how UK could leave with a no-deal Hard Brexit and use the WTO rules, especially since the Meaningful Vote was voted down in early January. The practical work in UK Government on agency level has more and more – fully understandable – been concentrating on how to prepare for consequences of a potential no-deal.

Let me already here say that leaving with no-deal and using the WTO rules will not take care of the logistic chaos by the border that will be the result on Day 1 after a no-deal hard Brexit March 29.

Last week a new vote in the House of Commons showed that there could be a majority for a deal and for the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) if an amendment was done regarding the Irish backstop.

The Brady amendment requires UK to re-negotiate the WA and to replace the Northern Ireland Backstop with “alternative arrangements”.

The EU reaction from various initiated speakers was consistant and negative – saying that the WA can’t be opened and re-negotiated.

However, EU has asked for what UK wants to approve the deal, and this is what UK answered.

So what is “alternative arrangements”?

“…what is “alternative arrangements”?

PM Theresa May said this week in the Parliament; “The political declaration already references alternative arrangements and raises a number of proposals that can be addressed such as mutual recognition of trusted trader schemes”.

A new UK Trusted Trader Programme and a technical Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) between UK and EU is the platform for a new Customs process, a border process that makes trade possible post-Brexit. This is how other countries solve similar challenges, maybe on another a scale, and it is the instrument available in international standards.

Trusted Trader and Mutual Recognition is one of the fundamental parts of a Smart Border 2.0 solution.

Let me in this context again say that the Trusted Trader Programme we talk about here is not the same AEO concept used in EU/UK today (and often in UK considered not so efficient) but a new and more dynamic, holistic multi-tier system with lower thresholds to get in – and a new attactive benefit programme for business.

An example on a design of a new Trusted Trader (AEO) programme [Smart Borders 2.1]

For Brexit the border solutions are to be discussed in the next negotiations after a deal is agreed under what is called Future Relations. However, I believe that we already now need to have a dialgue about how a border can be designed based on international customs law and best practices. We can today design a border very diffrently from the external EU borders that were developed deacdes ago.

We need to separate the political discussion from the dialogue about practical technical solutions. There need to be room for both discussions in parallell.

“…maybe now is the time to talk about the possible technical solutions again?”

So maybe now is the time to talk about the possible technical solutions again?

I have presented a solution, Smart Borders 2.0/2.1 to the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) and to the UK Parliament House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee, House of Commons Nortern Ireland Affairs Committee and the House of Lords Foreign Affairs Committee and several other institutions. I have also given numerous interviews in media about these solutions.

“Smart Borders 2.0/2.1 is a standardized way to design fast and safe border crossings by moving necessary border formalities to before and after the border”.

The World Customs Organization has just announced that the institution dedicates 2019 to the theme, ‘Smart Borders’.

Smart Borders 2.0/2.1 is a standardized way to design fast and safe border crossings by moving necessary border formalities to before and after the border.

A Smart Border solution moves border formalities away from the border to before and after the border [Smart Borders 2.1]

Smart Borders 2.1 is a way to handle the NI/ROI border and it can be implemented without infrastructure at the border, if both parties agree.

The Smart Border identification at the border can be done in different ways with no identification at the top, if agreed [Smart Border 2.1]

However, Smart Borders 2.1 is also a way to handle the other new UK-EU borders, especially the from a volume perspective challenging English Channel through the Channel Tunnel and the ferries across the Channel. This can be done with one single operational Smart Border model and different applications.

Let me underline one very important thing that people seem to always forget. This is not about technology only, it is about using smart Customs and Border techniques, processes and models in combination with modern technology. In fact, the BPR and new models are more important than the technology. I have stated this fact many times, but still people only talk about technology.

So what is needed?

These are the important components;

  • A new Trusted Trader Programme (registration)
  • Electronic Exchange of Information for Exportdata and Importdata
  • A Trusted Transport and/or Transit
  • Use of existing infrastructure for management, monitoring and when needed surveillance
  • Identification by the border (can be frictionless on the Irish border and technology infrastructure on the Channel Traffic)
  • A protocol for cross-border exchange of technical information and data
  • Self-Assessment by Trusted Traders
  • Alternative Inspection Facilities
  • Cross-Border agency cooperation

This is what is needed to fulfil all border formalities and regulations in line with international laws and conventions.

Let me in this context also say that the model described is not only to handle Customs formalities, tariffs, controls and inspections – but also conventions and legislation for other agency areas like; sanitary controls (-griculture/food & health), security, safety, IPR (non-tariff barriers) etc.

Another reply I often get when talking about Smart Borders is if this solution can handle illegal activities, contraband and smuggling?

This is a complicated topic, but it is also a question that is easy to answer.

A Smart Border model is primarily there to handle the legal trade, while we since many years handle international cross-border crime with other methods.

Today we fight crime related to borders with intelligence, surveillance, investigation, advanced analysis and risk based targeted actions. We don’t handle these type of crimes with random inspections by the border anymore. In fact, experience show that Trusted Trade Lanes based on Smart Border systems provides additional information that can be used to improve these modern techniques.

Could this Smart Border solution be in place to March 29 2019? No, this is not possible.

How long would it take to implement?

I have stated publically several times that it can be developed and implemented within 24 months. This is what it takes. It is my estimation based on my 35 years of experience having worked with international standard setting, academic research and executive operational management of Customs and borders (and in addition having visisted and seen more than 800 borders around the world).

The key question is then, could this solution – or another similar one – be in place before an potential transition period ends?

My answer is yes, it is possible.

“…could this solution – or another similar one – be in place before an potential transition period ends? My answer is yes, it is possible”.

The important thing here is that we need to be able to talk about this, without ending up in a for or against debate.

I have no preference. I only talk about what is possible in relation to borders from a professional perspective post-Brexit if UK leaves the EU. I do believe that this is an urgent and valid discussion that we need to have now.

As an international expert in this field having spent my entire professional life serving the public and private society promoting trade and growth, combatting international cross-border crime I se it as my duty to contribute if I can. This is my contribution.

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