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Delivering the Single Trade Window for the UK

03 Oct 2022

How we think about borders is changing

The World Customs Organisation is strongly encouraging nations to be proactive participants in the evolution of their borders from physical entities – where the emphasis is on policing, security, and management – into places where trade is promoted and facilitated, and risk is appropriately managed. The UK government is actively engaged with this agenda, as proposed in the 2025 UK Border Strategy.

One key tenet of UK government policy today is the creation of a Single Trade Window (STW). In an increasingly complex and uncertain world, trade that takes place across borders can’t afford to be unreasonably delayed over a sustained period, or to be so complicated as to discourage cross-border trade. Today, many traders are obliged to provide detailed information – often across multiple platforms – about their businesses and goods for every shipment. An STW will, by contrast, use technology and data to create a “tell once, in one place” digital system which will save businesses time and money, and make international trade easier.

STWs are swiftly becoming a global norm. 41 countries already have STWs in place – including high-income economies such as the U.S., New Zealand, Singapore, and Sweden – and 76 more are currently developing them.

In late July 2022, the UK government published a consultation paper on the UK Single Trade Window as part of its commitment to developing a world-leading STW for the UK; a single gateway into government through which all information required to import and export can be submitted to all border authorities and agencies. The stated aim is nothing less than to “reshape trader interactions with the border”.

The immediate goal of the consultation is to help define the features which will then inform both design and legislation around the STW; it has been enthusiastically received by interested parties.

Streamlining the trader experience

The UK STW will leverage digital technologies and collaborative data ecosystems to create a single gateway that reduces the administrative burden for businesses to comply with UK import/export obligations, improves flow at the border and lowers barriers to entry for international trade.

With over 25 government agencies involved in the movement of goods across the UK border, simplifying trade compliance processes and interactions across border agencies will provide significant value.

Implementing a single gateway with the “tell us once” approach will streamline the interactions between traders and border agencies to satisfy import, export, safety, security, and transit obligations. Underpinning this with a collaborative data-ecosystem, with increased data sharing across border agencies and the supply chain, will enable the removal of duplicative processes, drive down costs and encourage further trade with the UK.

Improved border flow

The STW will provide greater visibility on border operations, providing both the trader and border agencies with granular identification of pain-points and obstacles to flow. The ability to consolidate border authority communications into a single service will enable businesses to proactively manage blockages at the border, thus improving predictability of movements – this is particularly important for perishable goods.

This visibility of flow will enable both the government and businesses to implement more targeted initiatives for reducing friction at the border, including greater use of intelligent infrastructure at ports (e.g., traffic management, automated lane change, and trusted corridor systems) and digital services to accelerate border clearance (e.g., pre-population, multi-filing, and notifications).

Lowering barriers to international trade

Small businesses are in relative terms the most penalised by current border processes, with high barriers to entry for international trade due to the administrative burdens of managing licences, permits, and authorisations for the import and export of goods.

The provision of a self-serve capability within the STW will enable small businesses to lower their barriers to international trade, by managing their own trade obligations through a guided digital service that removes the complexity of filing and provides greater visibility on progress.

Becoming digital-first and future-ready

The fact that the UK is in a position to learn from the developments of STWs in other regions enhances the opportunity to make this a genuinely world-leading digital undertaking. The STW platform will enable both agencies and traders to make use of their supply chain data to provide better data to the government, in a less burdensome way. Having full visibility of the status of current goods movements (for example, where goods are held at a port for an inspection or testing to ensure they meet regulatory standards) and being able to view historic goods movements will provide data to drive both insight and innovation.

Driving smart, frictionless borders that leverage digital tools such as IoT sensors and data visualisation will create a continuous live digital view of trade across borders. This will happen through the tracking of evolving trading patterns, trends, and market participants, thus enabling the early identification of potential risks and offering a window in which to take precisely targeted action.

Delivering a world-leading UK STW

The government plays a vital role in safeguarding national borders; it also plays a huge role in encouraging trade and making it easier for companies to trade with the UK. Perhaps its greatest challenge in this area over the coming years is the imperative to balance both of these; improving flow while still maintaining security.

STW is perfectly positioned to help, but the UK will only gain maximum benefit from new and existing commercial supply chain systems by being open to collaboration, rather than dictating new processes. Helpful lessons can be learned from the government’s approach to rolling out the Open Banking regulation. STW, like Open Banking, can encourage innovation by adopting an open approach to developing standards and APIs in collaboration with industry. Without this open approach, innovation is stifled by inflexible frameworks and prescriptive requirements.

Among the key enablers to delivering a UK STW successfully are the following:

Harnessing industry innovation:

There are many trade supply chain technologies with the potential to transform the way the whole trade ecosystem works and that the STW can harness. STW should also consider sector-based innovation, collaborating with industries where there is a particularly high need to closely monitor the supply chain, for example the pharmaceutical industry.

Leveraging existing supply chain systems and collaborative data ecosystems:

The UK already enjoys a degree of connectivity between trade supply chains and the existing border trade processes; a prime example is the handling of freight in inventory linked ports by Community Service Providers (CSPs). Offering incentives to existing providers and partnering with them on the STW could well secure faster exchanges of information than new systems, processes or regulations would.

Increasing international collaboration:

As a result of the UK’s transition from the European Union, the opportunity to forge new, modern Free Trade Agreements is being grasped by the Department for International Trade (DIT), and the development of an STW should, among other things, prove a useful vehicle for aiding discussions and negotiations.

STW also offers an opportunity to use UK Official Development Assistance funding to develop new links overseas with middle-income and developing trading partners. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) supports initiatives which proliferate UK standards and technologies across the globe; collaboration with trade focused FCDO programmes could provide a platform to interact with countries and their STWs.

The opportunity to capitalise on the platforms offered by multi-lateral organisations is enhanced through STW; the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development, World Customs Organisation, and World Trade Organisation all have committees and working groups focused on trade facilitation and the reduction of burdens on traders. There are clear opportunities for the STW to develop new interactions with trading partners through the offer of best practice sharing and collaborating on overcoming common challenges.

Transforming policy and legislation:

When in place, the UK STW will enable traders to make use of a simplified user experience when interacting with government services, to be guided through every stage of the trade lifecycle, and to apply for and manage all licences, permits and authorisations in a single place. For this to come into being, legislation will be needed. The UK government’s July 2022 consultation paper is set to accelerate discussion and planning around the STW, en route to defining this legislation.

The effects of the STW will be far-reaching and will necessitate additional changes to wider policy and legislation. The UK Trade Act 2021 set out strict guidelines which govern data sharing across government agencies. Further legislative change is needed to expand the use cases for information sharing; without these, it will be difficult for government-owned data to be shared in line with the ambitions of delivering the UK STW.

Conclusion: Eyes on the prize

Across the global economy, STWs will help facilitate digital, traceable, transparent, and collaborative supply chains – and will become the backbone of international trade and trade agreements.

The UK STW is the enabler of the government’s vision for the future of its borders, as well as being a core pillar of the UK’s drive to embrace digital-first strategies and data-led innovation.

Achieving this isn’t necessarily straightforward – it will involve managing the diverse cohort of borders stakeholders to collaborate and integrate; success will be dependent on levering industry innovation, policy transformation and the UK government becoming a collaborative participant in the supply chain and not just a gatekeeper. However, getting the STW right represents an unprecedented opportunity to transform the UK border.

For over 15 years, Capgemini has been engaged in multiple border transformation programmes, globally. We’ve supported government bodies, industries and organisations to help them navigate international trade processes with innovation, fresh thinking, and technology. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you start implementing Border Management initiatives.

James Rankin

Executive Vice President, Capgemini Border Management Practice – James leads the Border Management Team and has extensive experience in Customs and Borders, working alongside the UK government. He is passionate about creating client value utilising industry expertise to deliver outstanding service through technology driven transformation.

Vikash Poye

Capgemini Borders and Trade Portfolio Lead -Vikash is a thought leader in border transformation and the use of intelligent automation technologies. He is passionate about supporting clients to harness the value of business and technology change, enabling them to redefine customer experiences and supporting operational processes.

Liz Locke

Capgemini Borders and Trade Account Manager – Liz is pioneering Capgemini’s collaborative approach to the provision of border services. She is passionate about building collaborative border ecosystems that bring the best of industry expertise and technology innovation to truly transform border operations.