Cross border modernisation: Australian Border Force launches blockchain trial
The Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) entered into force on 8 December 2020 bringing with it global benchmarks for trade rules and a range of practical cooperation initiatives. Ultimately, the DEA seeks to reduce barriers to digital trade and build an environment where Australian businesses and consumers can yield the benefits of digital trade and a digitised economy.
Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham summarised the DEA as:
[setting] new benchmarks including simplified arrangements for the exchange of electronic trade documents, and new rules that will prevent unnecessary data localisation requirements, including for the financial services sector, and forced technology transfers which can stifle trade and investment flows.
In line with the DEA, the Australian Border Force (ABF) launched a blockchain trial with Singapore. The trial aims to test digital verification systems in the first of its kind to be developed using blockchain technology for inter-government document exchange.
The trial will test verification across both the ABF-developed Intergovernmental ledger and Singapore Infocomm Media Development Authority’s TradeTrust for electronic trade documents with the hopes of decreasing administration costs and increasing trade efficiency.
The National Blockchain Roadmap, published in February 2020, highlighted the issues in international trade where:
an importing regulator has no direct relationship with the exporter and, more importantly, there is no digital mechanism to verify documents they provide
This leads to situations where the importing regulator must rely on physical documents (supported by signatures and stamps) to validate the document rather than having any kind of accepted digital verification. The paper-based process, by its nature, adds costs and delays to the international trade process.
The ABF commissioner, Michael Outram stated that:
The ABF welcomes the opportunity to collaborate further with Singapore to improve cross-border trade between our countries.
The commissioner continued:
In addition to our efforts internationally, this initiative will incorporate paperless trading and secure, digital exchange of trade information as part of the future architecture and design of an Australian Trade Single Window.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment are also working on complimentary digital initiatives with Singapore regulators to progress paperless trading. As Australia's trading partners apply more rules and requirements to food exports relating to safety, provenance, and authenticity, blockchain developments in this area could significantly streamline manual paper based processes. This may also lead to a more flexible export regime so that exports can address new markets and respond to questionable bans or tariffs.