Brexit-proof border technologies.

With the likelihood of a hard Brexit rising, we all know that the key challenge for Gibraltar will be ensuring that border fluidity for both people and goods is maintained. While the Spanish government has already hinted several times that they are not planning on imposing new restrictions on cross-border traffic, nothing is certain yet. While the Gibraltar-Spain frontier already has stringent border and customs compliance procedures, these will also need to be compatible with broader future customs arrangements between the UK and the EU.

The Solution: Smart Borders

Smart borders involve utilising modern technology, risk management, domestic and international cooperation as well as international standards to create secure and low-friction borders. Smart borders recognise that people and goods carry different risks and so separate these flows so they can be managed differently. The concept of smart borders was first used in December 2001 in an agreement between the governments of the United States and Canada and identified areas for development including biometric identifiers for passengers and harmonized clearance, joint facilities and customs data sharing for goods. The EU announced its own smart borders program in 2013 focusing on the use of technology and biometric data to facilitate the movement of persons across the external Schengen borders, and included elements such as a registered traveller program. The European Parliament adopted a legislative resolution on the Commission proposal for a regulation on 25 October 2017.

At Benefit Business Solution Ltd we have been working with both logistics-related Blockchain companies and with providers of Smart City solutions that offer a wide range of technology solutions that support modern smart borders. These can facilitate secure and fast movement across borders by supporting better risk management and reducing the amount of paperwork required. In order to free up the border, a number of measures can be taken to ensure that as much government agency activity as possible is moved away from the border. These measures can form part of, for example, trusted trader programs, or be applied to most imports and exports. A key step is allowing the release of goods prior to clearance by customs and other agencies. Based on pre-arrival information (or a pre-declaration with the minimum information required) goods can be released and a full declaration made within a defined time period after release. Based on an account system, duties can be paid on a periodic basis and controlled based on audits. This system of deferred duty payments eliminates the need to determine the correct amount of duties at the border. A system of monetary guarantees or security underpins deferred duty payments. If inspections or controls are required, these can be conducted away from the border. This can be done either at a specified location (e.g. a customs warehouse away from the border) or at the importers place of business. For exports, any controls can be undertaken at the exporter’s place of business.

Additional technologies include:

A fully electronic environment: requiring the electronic submission and receipt of documents and payments. This creates a more secure environment by reducing the amount of paper as well as the faster processing of goods and passengers at a border.
Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR): ANPR allows the reading of number plates and the use of this information to link to customs pre-arrival information or a declaration for a truck arriving at a border, which can allow faster or even no processing at a border. It can also facilitate the movement of passenger vehicles through risk assessment if it is possible to access data on vehicles in other government databases.

Smartphone apps: Information for goods and passengers can be exchanged through smartphone apps. This can include the provision of minimum information from the driver approaching a border and the receipt of information (e.g. a barcode) by drivers to facilitate passing the border.

RFID technologies: The use of RFID associated with goods and/or licenses or other forms of enhanced driver identification, means that scanning can take place within a limited area, reducing the need for people to leave vehicles.

Blockchain at the Border

Being a leading Blockchain hub, Gibraltar is not short of Blockchain technology companies that can make our border smarter. Infusing trust and traceability into the trade and traveller ecosystem, blockchain offers more efficient, secure and cost-effective ways to manage the complexity of processes, procedures and information in multi-stakeholder environments. In preparation for goods arriving at the border, customs officials can digitally verify details such as origin, physical characteristics, licensing, authenticity, destination and journey. The blockchain helps quickly and securely process legitimate trade whilst identifying suspicious traders, illegitimate trade and fraudulent practices. Sensitive or specialist goods can be quickly flagged to ensure correct handling and appropriate transport. No more paperwork holding up arrivals. Traders can digitally verify origin, status and the financing of a delivery before releasing final payment. They can also easily and securely process simultaneous transfer of payment in exchange for ownership. With the additional Internet of Things, traders and customs officials can track the entire supply chain journey to monitor appropriate and safe handling (e.g. correct temperature in truck, no unapproved access).

The technology is certainly there to produce a smart border, and in fact there are many of them in existence already, such as between the US and Canada, Switzerland and Germany, Israel and Palestine. This sort of technology works best on borders where neighbouring countries have a history of collaboration and an economic need to cooperate. Sweden and Norway, for example, have a border agreement that predates the EU – since 1959 – and a long history of cooperation. Whether Gibraltar will be facing a soft or a hard Brexit, a Smart Border is definitely required.