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August 26, 2022

September 7, 2022

Sharing data across supply chains: international reflections for the UK’s Single Trade Window

The transformation of supply chain data sharing across sectors is crucial for international trade that is digitised, frictionless, and secure. Building upon PUBLIC’s report on frictionless trade, this blog identifies key challenges that disrupt supply chain data sharing at the border — with a particular focus on the UK’s proposed Single Trade Window. It then suggests actionable recommendations for the UK policy makers informed by international best practice.

Digital trade is not only paperless. The UK government has committed £180 million to digitally transform bureaucratic and transactional procedures for businesses, government agencies, and partner organisations. It aims to eventually enable international, interoperable data sharing.

Approaches to the use of supply chain data via a single trade window

A Single Trade Window (STW) is a centralised online platform that allows trade stakeholders to submit all of their customs information in one single place, instead of multiple public and private systems. When properly implemented, an STW streamlines regulatory and logistic processes, improves supply chain visibility and resilience, and boosts international competition in trade. 

A number of countries have implemented STW programmes. We focus on The Netherlands, Singapore and Australia: 

  • The Netherlands applied WCO requirements to standardise supply chain data. The Dutch Maritime Single Window Initiative prescribes to the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade (SAFE FoS). SAFE FoS addresses supply chain security standards development and collaboration. The requirement of using the WCO Data Model to standardise data across government and businesses has led to data harmonisation. 
  • Singapore extensively engaged with innovation sectors and created frictionless user experience. TradeNet and TradeXchange are two digital services launched by the Trade Development Board of Singapore which transferred onto the Networked Trade Platform (NTP). TradeNet concerned electronic trade declarations, while TradeXchange enabled Electronic Data Interchange. The NTP now operates a ‘company repository’ — a cloud-based system for actors to share supply chain data and documentation. 
  • Australia took a phased-out approach to facilitate trade through strong security measures. The Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth established a STW to strengthen border security and increase supply chain resilience via the adoption of blockchain technology. The STW also enhanced data and intelligence-based risk assessment capabilities through predictive analysis like AI. 

These countries’ approaches address challenges with supply chain data sharing between private and public sectors. We outline these challenges below. 

Challenges of sharing supply chain data sharing between private and government sectors

Although perspectives vary, businesses are sceptical towards providing access to supply chain data to government departments. These concerns are rooted in complex technical requirements like accreditation, documentation, valuation rules, and countervailing measures. 

PUBLIC has identified five key challenges for cross-sectoral supply chain data sharing:

  • Unclear business benefits: Businesses hesitate to share supply chain data as the question of whether benefits outweigh the implementation costs and governance, risk and compliance (GRC) burden is unresolved. 
  • Upskilling costs and GRC burden: Businesses lack technical capabilities and resources to fully digitise supply chain data and replace systems especially when faced with additional GRC burdens.
  • Commercial sensitivity: Businesses, especially in defence and critical commodity sectors, view STWs with transparent supply chain data as providing unfair advantage to their competitors.
  • Perceived cyber threats and risks: Businesses are highly risk-averse in trusting government systems’ ability to establish solid cyber security for their sensitive data, especially with limited knowledge of customs procedures. 
  • Undefined liability in data submission: Businesses are also averse to participating on a decentralised STW platform due to ambiguous responsibility, a lack of liability agreements, and low supply chain transparency

Resolving these challenges is not easy. Promisingly, international STW initiatives have inspired best practice solutions to the key challenges identified. 

Recommendations: takeaways from international practice 

We present four approaches around regulation, innovation and service design for UK public authorities. 

  1. International frameworks: Adopt international data standards and requirements, including statutory boards to assist business development and credentialise STW procedures. Such adoption will display government commitment to trade facilitation and counter undefined liability in data submission, commercial sensitivity, and cyber threats and risks. 

By adhering to international data frameworks, governments can decentralise data liability instead of imposing authority on supply chain data, whilst ensuring such data is secure. Adherence to frameworks also lessens the data vulnerability to cyber threats, as multiple organisations are aligned towards maintaining robust security measures to ensure data safety. 

The Netherlands’ obligation to international frameworks manifests in its regular iterative process of updating the WCO SAFE FoS guidelines based on business challenges. This process demonstrates their commitment to business development for private enterprises. In adhering to the SAFE FoS, the Dutch government also established Authorised Economic Operators (AEO). The AEO has been given certified standard approval by the National Customs Administration, meaning that it complies with the WCO in meeting security and systems standards and managing commercial records. 

Similarly, the Australian Home Office engages with international customs counterparts like APEC. As an active member of APEC’s Sub-Committee on Customs Procedures, the Australian government harmonises regional customs procedures, expands the use of STW for partnerships, and promotes e-commerce capacity building. Additionally, Australia obliges to the Trade Facilitation Agreement by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in establishing the National Committee on Trade Facilitation (NCTF), a strategic advisory body for trade policy. Through reducing excessive customs regulations and bureaucratic procedures by publishing import and export information online, the NCTF harmonises domestic customs processes that leverage e-services and automation. 

Likewise, Singapore launched SPRING Singapore, an agency under the Ministry of Trade that helps businesses grow and trust the Singaporean government’s products and services. 

  1. Regulation policy: Implement mandatory data standardisation with voluntary supply chain data sharing for businesses. Such implementation counters unclear business benefits and commercial sensitivity.

Mandatory data standardisation based on international standards leads to highly credible data harmonisation. This effect stems from businesses’ preference to follow secure and legitimate standardisation requirements for trade facilitation. Voluntary participation offers flexibility to businesses unable to cope with standardisation costs and eases discomfort associated with fast digital supply chain data transformation. Moreover, sceptical businesses have the option to witness supply chain data sharing benefits before participating in STW. 

The Netherlands mandated by law that all businesses must adhere to the WCO Data Model. Both businesses and the government benefited from procedure-alignment, reducing overall costs and burdens. Meanwhile, sharing supply chain data with the government on the STW platform is voluntary — giving businesses data sharing freedom. Since all supply chain data is standardised, businesses choose to share data to avoid bureaucratic hurdles and participate in international trade facilitation. 

The UK government is currently in the process of adopting the WCO Data Model across government agencies as mentioned in the UK STW Policy Discussion Paper. However, there is no mention of any legal mandate on the scope of data sharing.

  1. Innovative approaches to facilitation: Implement the STW in phases to ensure regular iterative feedback, sufficient risk assessments and a gradual transition for businesses. This implementation will counter upskilling internal costs and GRC burden, unclear business benefits, commercial sensitivity, and cyber threats and risks.

Government collaboration with private sector innovation and procedural development programs makes businesses confident in digital supply chain declaration processes. This innovative approach to trade facilitation platforms allows for iterative feedback that gives businesses the space to voice technical concerns. Meanwhile, conducting risk assessments ensures credible commercial sensitivity and cybersecurity through trialled and tested security measures.

The Singapore Ministry of Trade conducted Industry Dialogues on Advance Export Declarations to gather expert opinion on trade facilitation through digital declaration processes. They then assisted companies in capturing and reusing data for downstream activities. 

The Dutch Neutral Logistic Information Platform (NLIP) maximised national competitiveness. The NLIP facilitated the development of tools which enable digitisation in standards, agreements, and contracts. It also unlocked data sources to enable stakeholder collaboration, which displayed seamless data exchange through collaboration over standards and agreements. It also provided a preview of how the Maritime Single Window would operate to private enterprises. 

The Australian Home Office conducted risk assessments with Australia Post and also ran the Green Lane Trial with New Zealand. Through the use of international mail data, these actions developed data-based capabilities that reduced the risks of restricted items. These risk assessments illuminated the potential uses of data-based capabilities for trade and border management. Through iterative feedback loops from each assessment, businesses witnessed how their commercially sensitive data remained secure. 

  1. Accessible service design: Include user-friendly government guidance on the STW to assist business learning in end-to-end processes in customs declarations and supply chain data standards. Guidance inclusion counters upskilling costs and GRC burden.

Government guidance would reduce the costs of business onboarding to new digital systems. Deeper knowledge of operating declaration procedures would also make businesses more adept at performing mandatory customs tasks in a safe, risk-free, and digital way.

In Singapore’s TradeNet, traders can access guides and requirements to specific Controlled Authorities requirements. Importantly, they can also access technical data relating to security or the military. 

The Australian Home Office is partnered with the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) to provide education programmes for small businesses in the defence industry and exporters aiming to enter markets. 

The feedback collected from UK businesses reveals the importance of government guidance. Some traders complete declarations using commercial software after receiving HMRC training. Yet, others with insufficient knowledge of customs unknowingly outsource declarations, exposing their data to cyber and commercial sensitivity threats. Early support from government departments such as HMRC, including self-declaration and accessible guidance, will protect businesses from threats and incentivise them to participate in the UK STW. 

Showcasing technology solutions

Technology companies successfully operating in the UK and Europe offer supply chain data sharing solutions for traders to potentially interoperate with the STW:

  • Zencargo offers management services, such as their cloud platform, which assists collaboration across supply chain stakeholders, live SKU tracking, and product and supplier performance analytics. 
  • Beacon offers logistical supply chain visibility services through a singular cloud platform. The accessible logistics dashboard enables shipment locating and data analytics to examine and audit vendor performance.
  • Risk Ledger offers supply chain security management support. The cybersecurity risk assessment shortens procurement processes while their visibility services scale supplier coverage to spot vulnerabilities. 
  • Shipamax offers data entry optimisation services to trade logistics companies and more. Through automated email scanning and triages, Shipamax categorises master bills to ensure the supply chain process is on track. 

Technology companies could be included as Value Added Service (VAS) providers on the UK STW. Businesses can subscribe to them for additional trade services, as observed on Singapore's NTP. Such a marketplace would serve as an on-demand platform for businesses looking to embody both government and private services into their processes while establishing the government as a trade-services facilitator.

Work with us 

PUBLIC’s Business Systems and Procurement team provides strategic advice and critical research to support governments and businesses to create digital developmental solutions in procurement processes. If you’re working on innovative solutions to digital trade facilitation, we’d love to hear from you to explore together. Get in touch with Zixuan (zixuan@public.io), Johnny (johnny@public.io) and Aditi (aditi@public.io) to collaborate with us and find out more. 

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Zixuan Fu

Associate

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