The Single Trade Window (STW) is a technology concept proposed within the 2025 UK Border Strategy, published by the Cabinet Office in 2020. It builds upon the recommendation and guidelines proposed by the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT).
These guidelines create a single data point of entry to the government for all customs and border-related activities, to enhance the efficient exchange of information and in doing so contribute to the growth of global commerce.
The Single Trade Window (Preparation) Regulations 2023 came into force on 8 May 2023, qualifying UK government procurement expenditure.
On an international basis, the STW concept has already been implemented by countries including New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.
As a precursor to the STW, in 2021 the UK government introduced the Check How to Import and Export Goods (CHIEG) service to provide tailored guidance on aspects such as rules of origin and applicable duties, and instructions on how to obtain any appropriate certification and where to submit them, both at the domestic and the destination border. This builds upon the information provided in the UK Trade Tariff.
The objectives of the STW are described as follows:
- Make use of a simplified user experience when interacting with government services to manage trades;
- Be guided through every stage of the trade lifecycle;
- Provide data once, in a single place, to satisfy all government import, export, safety and security and transit obligations when trading;
- Apply for and manage all licenses, permits and authorisations in a single place;
- Have full visibility of the status of current trades (for example where goods are held at the port for an inspection or testing to ensure they meet regulatory standards) and view historic trades; and
- Make use of their supply chain data to provide better data to the government, in a less burdensome way.
Integration with the UK’s current border model
Customs declarations are currently submitted to HMRC using the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) platform for imports, and whilst the Customs Handling of Imports and Exports System (CHIEF) will become obsolete by 30 November 2023, it is still in current use for exports. HMRC also have the simplified National Export System (NES) available for traders’ use.
The Border Innovation Hub have documented that the STW will span 25 government departments, requiring both policy and legislative change.
The government is exploring the potential scope for self-declaration of border data directly into the STW, by the trader or an intermediary. In the current model, e-customs software, connected to one or more Community Service Provider (CSP) badges, provide the interface that interacts with HMRC CDS or CHIEF platform and data fields are completed by customs brokers.
Both e-customs software and the CSP badges are based on subscription models, with particular CSP badges offering access to certain non-inventory and inventory-linked ports, airports, and customs warehousing inventory systems. When the cargo is released from the inventory records, other port charges may be billed to the customs broker via the CSP. Identifying how the STW can be adopted without operational user fees is yet to be determined.
In addition to this, the process of submitting customs declarations requires professional training and stringent familiarity with codified rules, and the underlying legislation which determines their application, particularly concerning customs valuation, tariff classification, rules of origin, and customs procedures, of which many aspects are harmonised across World Customs Organisation and World Trade Organisation member states. Failure to comply with these rules can lead to the seizure of goods, and penalties.
Data flow and design choices will determine how the portal will interact with the CSPs. A key priority within the design-build is highlighted as API functionality so that software engineers can create plugins within existing inventory systems.
Trade digitalisation and the ecosystem of trust
Trade digitalisation is predicted to add up to 1% (£25 billion) to UK GDP. The ecosystem of trust across the UK border seeks to integrate the use of technology to promote efficient and secure border systems, encouraging the adoption of collaboration between public and private sectors, between states, and between different types of new technology (e.g., Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation, Distributed Ledger Technology and Smart Contracts).
The government has outlined their role in catalysing innovation by ensuring that policy, standard setting and legislation are aligned, for example, via the forthcoming Electronic Trade Documents Bill. This bill will permit documents used in international trade, such as the bill of exchange, bill of lading, promissory notes, and marine insurance documents to be accepted in electronic rather than physical format.
Economic operators will be invited to apply for Trusted Trader status, and once compliance obligations have been fulfilled, trusted traders will be enabled with access to submit data using electronic documents such as commercial invoices, and the bill of lading only once.
Whilst the UK government has published a target release date of 2025 for the STW, customs software entrepreneur Adnan Zaheer, CEO of Customs AI, has speculated that it is unlikely to be released for at least three years, citing that HMRC have fallen behind in establishing the comprehensive release of CDS for exports as it does not currently interact with all software providers on the market.
Alinea Customs has also received reports of internal challenges in moving the Procedure for Electronic Application for Certificates from the Horticultural Marketing Inspectorate (PEACH), the platform which administers plant health and HMI certificates, to the Import of Products, Animals, Food and Feed System (IPAFFS).
Once released, STW is likely to facilitate trading activities for those engaged in customs and border activities, with economic benefits across areas including reducing time in duplicative processes, improved efficiency, and increased transparency over customs processes.
It is likely, as with current customs and border-related activities and the recent introduction of the CDS platform, that HMRC will encourage customs intermediaries to accelerate market adoption and provide guidance in navigating the technical interoperability of the administration.