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The UK's Digital Trade Facilitation Journey

What the government's 'Benefits of Brexit' report reveals about the UK's digital trade facilitation goals.

Following the government’s publication of its “Benefits of Brexit” report, techUK takes a look at how the government’s plans will impact companies involved in importing and exporting physical goods to and from the UK.

What have we seen so far

  • UK Global Tariff regime. The Department for International Trade released a UK Global Tariff regime applicable from 01 January 2021 for goods coming from any market with which the UK does not have a trade agreement. The government strove to reduce administrative burdens by simplifying tariff lines and eliminating tariffs on a wide range of products.

  • UKCA marking. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced the implementation of a UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA) marking scheme to ensure safety standards, replacing the CE mark that was used while part of the EU Single Market. Businesses will be required to use the UKCA marking for products sold in England, Scotland and Wales from 01 January 2023.

  • Freeports. The March 2021 Budget announced eight freeports in England: East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe & Harwich, Humber, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth & South Devon, Solent, Teesside and Thames. These special economic zones will benefit from simplified customs arrangements in an attempt to spur economic development in these regions.

Future plans

  • UK Single Trade Window. The government has committed £180 million to the creation of a UK Single Trade Window which would streamline the UK’s import and export controls and reduce the cost of trade by creating a single digital gateway for border processes and removing the need for traders and intermediaries to interact separately with HMRC, DEFRA and the Home Office. techUK’s Trade Compliance & Customs Group (TCCG) will soon be meeting with the Cabinet Office to inform the early design work of this initiative.

  • Enabling of electronic trading documents. Building upon a memorandum of understanding with Singapore to work together on digital trade facilitation, the ‘Benefits of Brexit’ paper announced government plans to introduce legislation that would put electronic trading documents on the same legal footing as paper documents. Sector-specific initiatives such as the creation of digital export health certificates are also underway. techUK welcomes this announcement which could have considerable positive impacts on the costs, duration and environmental impact of customs processes. We encourage the government to further support the digitalisation of trade by providing importers the option of meeting compliance requirements through e-labelling.

  • Digital pilot projects at UK ports. The government has also invited expressions of interest for consortiums to trial digital initiatives at UK ports as part of an ‘ecosystem of trust’ pilot. The goal is to experiment with how technology, data science and trusted trader programmes can come together to create a secure border where most processes are moved away from the frontier, greatly reducing costs for businesses across supply chains.

  • Review of the Product Safety Regime. The report also reiterated the government’s intention to review the UK’s product safety framework after issuing its response to a Call for Evidence in November 2021. Companies wishing to import and sell goods in England, Scotland and Wales will need to comply with any new UK regulations in this area. techUK engages the government on product safety regulations through our Product Technical Policy & Standards (PTPS) committee.

techUK’s view

techUK looks forward to working with the government towards the development of efficient and technologically progressive customs and border processes as well as robust product safety standards.

Noting that regulatory divergence from the European Union and other key trading partners can create additional costs and regulatory burdens for global businesses that wish to invest in and trade with the UK, we welcome the government’s emphasis on ‘proportionality’ as a key regulatory principle.

We look forward to contributing to calls for evidence and regulatory impact assessments in relation to new proposals, and propose that regulatory divergence should only be pursued where likely to deliver benefits that outweigh the costs of implementation, which can be considerable. By implementing this principle the government can achieve its goal of delivering ‘the most effective border in the world by 2025’ and make the UK an attractive place for technology companies to invest and trade.

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