Letter to the FT: Britain must bring customs checks into the digital age

Financial Times
Thursday, February 18, 2021
From Mikkel Hippe Brun, Co-Founder, Tradeshift, Copenhagen, Denmark In response to your article “Hauliers warn on export drop” (February 8), it is worth remembering the protracted Brexit negotiations left businesses with almost no time to react to the realities of the UK’s post-transition trading relationship with the EU. When you need to react in real time, you need something that works in real time. Unfortunately, the whole system which underpins global trade remains notoriously paper-based. Reports suggest that some hauliers are being required to present more than 400 pages of documentation to ship items such as cheese, seafood or livestock. None of this will be a surprise to the UK officials in charge. Two years ago, government ministers were touting blockchain technology as an effective solution to cross-border checks. This tells us three things: ministers knew that there was likely to be a problem; they suspected technology might offer a solution; and they had no real plan. As one commentator put it, the blockchain solution was a “wonderfully terrible idea”. Blockchain might have exciting potential applications, but the emphasis here should be on “potential”. In other words, it is unproven technology in any scaleable context. To think it could solve the kind of challenges British hauliers and their counterparts in Europe are now facing is pure fantasy. Ministers were right on one thing. We need to bring customs checks into the digital age. That starts by focusing on solutions to similar problems that are already working at scale today.
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