2023 is set to be a pivotal year for the digitalisation of international trade in the UK, with the expected passage into law of the Electronic Trade Documents Bill and the introduction of a new single trade window.
The government is expecting to begin introducing the latter from November and it will be hoping that it will help to remove unnecessary bureaucracy for traders by giving them a single entry point into its border systems when submitting data relating to trade.
On a poll during a recent IOE&IT webinar, speed and efficiency was the voted as the single most important benefit of a single trade window by 53% of the audience, followed by reduction of complexity at 38%.
During a time in which traders have had to adapt to new systems and administrative requirements to continue trade with the EU following Brexit, anything that reduces the burden on traders is definitely to be welcomed.
Single windows – as they are more commonly named overseas – have been around for a while and remain one of the main recommendations to government from the UN’s trade facilitation unit, the UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN-CEFACT).
On the IOE&IT webinar in October 2022, the manager of Brazil’s Single Window, Tiago Barbosa, spoke about the benefits that his country has seen since launching its equivalent system in 2014.
He said that by reducing non-tariff barriers and the time required for goods to cross the country’s borders, the Brazil’s single window programme has helped to save the country’s private sector billions of dollars every year. He explains:
“Since the beginning of the single window system in Brazil, we’ve reduced the time for exports and imports by eight days..
“Due to this time reduction, the private sector in Brazil is saving US$20bn a year, according to WTO studies.
“The non-tariff barriers are much more expensive than tariff barriers and they’re an invisible cost. We had to work together – government, private sector, logistics providers – to achieve this reduction of time and cost in foreign trade.
Barbosa believes this collaborative approach is the key learning the UK can take from Brazil’s success story.
“For me, the critical success factor was the public and private sector partnership we created. In Brazil, we decided that the main goal of the single window was to reduce time and cost for the private sector.
“But how did we achieve this? It was the private sector which decided what the new process for importing and exporting should be. Our challenge in government was to update the system and legal framework to meet those needs.
“Why did we do it this way? For us, the private sector is the expert in cross-border trade, so we realised we needed to listen to the experts.”
Having been involved in the development of the project since it began, becoming the general manager in 2018, he said that the reforms to the trade processes and legal framework just as important as the development of the IT system.
“It wasn’t just an IT challenge, but it also involved process redesign, integration of government agencies and reviewing the legal framework.
“A single window is not just a one-off system – it’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s where importers and exporters interact with government, but there’s a lot going on in the background beneath it.”
An additional challenge was that there were already a wide range of systems in use, which could all essentially function in the same as any single window ideally would. Integrating all of these into an overarching national portal was his key task – something that may well ring true for the UK government in 2023.
“You already have multiple different single windows in different fields. The big challenge is to integrate these if you want a overarching national single window.”