Post Brexit Border Issues – is tech the answer?
“Just in time” products are set to be amongst those most affected by a hard Brexit (where we leave the EU without a trade deal) because any delays at customs could cause products to spoil or be rejected at the border crossings between the UK and the EU.
Whilst the actual effect of Brexit, however this happens, cannot be predicted with any certainty, many in industry both from the UK and the other EU member states have been looking at what can be done practically to keep trade free-flowing if a deal on customs isn’t reached by the time we exit the EU. Technological solutions, or at least proposed solutions, are being advanced either in the absence of, or in parallel to, political agreements and protocols.
One such system being championed by the Dutch is the “Green Lanes” idea. This involves fast-tracking fruit and vegetable imports from the Netherlands via a digital pre-clearance system. Proponents say this could allow customs checks to happen before produce arrives at the ports. British officials could check cargos remotely, and product information, such as country of origin or pedigree certificates, would be uploaded onto a special system. Goods would then speed through customs in a dedicated “green-lane”.
Technological solutions have also been proposed to try to get past the need to create a hard border either between Northern and Southern Ireland, or between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland (effectively in the Irish Sea). Blockchain technology, the larger-scale application of which has up to now mostly been limited to Fintech products such as crypto currencies like Bitcoin, has been put forward as a possible work-around. Advocates of blockchain have argued we could use the distributed ledger technology to create a central database, which could be used to monitor and record goods moving across the border in a non-disruptive way that would not breach the Good Friday Agreement. An additional advantage of blockchain is its transparency and how difficult it is to hack and corrupt the record. This would be supplemented by scanning devices to save drivers having to get out of their vehicles.
Other potential tech solutions proposed involve using drones and automated number plate recognition, which are used to patrol US borders and the border between Norway and Sweden. In the latter they use sophisticated technology, including IT systems that automatically inform customs when goods leave a warehouse and X-ray scanners as well. However, its is notable that trucks still need to stop to lodge paperwork and some are selected for inspection and as there are no entirely friction-less borders at present, the technology remains untested for this situation.