Digital Journal

How technology is revolutionizing the trade compliance industry



With the acceleration of digitalisation in international trade, new smart software has been launched by iCustoms to help clients struggling with the complexities of cross-border trade.

But the London-headquartered customs declaration software provider, whose system speeds up global trade by automating compliance processes with secure AI-based solutions, has warned that changing legislation and bureaucracy could still be a problem for many businesses.

Adnan Zaheer, iCustom’s founding chief executive, said: “During the last few months, I have had 125 meetings with traders and freight forwarders. All of them delivered the same message – the genuine need for an all-in-one compliance management solution.”

Established only last year, iCustoms is creating an enviable reputation for itself as one of the UK’s leading client-friendly customs platforms, known for technology that makes declarations both easy and reliable. Developed by ex-HMRC customs technology specialists, the software is suitable for trade whether it is conducted by land, sea or air.

However, during a webinar on how technology is revolutionizing the industry. organized by iCustoms and featuring leading international trade specialists, experts warned that the industry still faced significant challenges.

Lars Karlsson, acknowledged as one of the most foremost customs leaders in the world, said: “The good news is that there has been an acceleration of digitalisation in international trade, not only in digitizing paper documents but also in changing processing and supporting international supply and value chains with data pipelining. However, the bad news is that the pace of change is too slow. As part of the industry driving international trade, we must accelerate this change.”

A former Director General of Swedish Customs and Director of the multinational World Customs Organisation, Mr Karlsson is now head of trade and customs consulting at AP Miller, a century-old ocean shipping company now undergoing a major transformation from being an ocean container shipper to an integrator of end-to-end trade solutions across all transport modes through digitalisation.

As a way of speeding up the digitisation process, Mr Karlsson urged greater integration between governments, international institutions and the private sector. “Governments should incentivise compliance by providing benefits to companies who submit relevant data, such as supply chain data. Ultimately, the goal is to make trade compliance more efficient, predictable and sustainable at borders,” he said.

Walter Van der Meiren, who is responsible for customs brokerage and trade compliance at United Parcel Service (UPS), working with the European Commission, said: “I witnessed the first technological disruption in customs brokerage, which was the replacement of Telex by the fax machine. Now, we are talking about predictive service artificial intelligence, which is crucial to tackle the challenges we face today.

“We need earlier and better data availability, which is only possible with today’s and tomorrow’s technology. Without it, we risk failing and ending up with a competitive disadvantage, he added.

He said that the challenges faced in implementing legislation in the EU were significant. “With 27 member states and 27 IT systems, it is complicated to put new regulations into action. For instance, the Union Customs Code (UCC) was adopted in 2013 but will only be fully implemented by 2025.”

Following a “Foresight exercise” to determine how EU customs would look in 2040 and the report of the Wise Persons Group, the EU Commission is now preparing new custom legislation which would replace the current legislation. “This is considered to be the biggest change in EU customs legislation,” said Mr Van der Meiren

The webinar also heard from Mark Denney, a former corporate and investment banker who went on to lead the HMRC Brexit readiness effort. Now working as an IT business advisor to several small companies, Mr Denney addressed the question of how technology could be applied to help improve trade flow and reduce the burden of bureaucracy.

“Presently, many freight forwarders and traders struggle with the complexities of compliance requirements at the border, which increases costs, increases staffing and result in a considerable amount of bureaucracy. It is essential to provide relief in the short to medium term by targeting solutions  that alleviate such burdens and lowers cost to move goods.

“This can be achieved by employing intelligent solutions such as document management,  intelligent classification of goods and rule engines that deal with error messaging.  We can use AI and Machine learning.” However, Mr Denney believed that current software providers were not focusing enough on the real needs of the freight forwarder and trade communities.

He did believe however that AI and Machine learning were becoming mainstream after an “explosion” in the development of such technologies.

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