“My Lords, there exists a need, there exists an opportunity, a pressing need, a potentially transformational opportunity. The need for a border fit for the 21st Century, the opportunity; a digitally enabled, free trade flowing, free trade growing border delivered by the best of our talent deploying the best of our technologies. Artificial Intelligence, Distributed Ledger Technologies, Cyber, Internet of Things, all of which we have world leading proponents, all of which can be aligned with a Utility Trade Platform which would benefit all concerned.”Lord Holmes speaking in House of Lords debate on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, January 8th 2021
In September I published a report about a proof of concept project, Reducing Friction in International Trade(RFIT). Using a combination of Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices the RFIT project demonstrated a comprehensive supply chain data management system for Australia/UK wine imports in which all the required trade information was generated at the point of commercial contract and all actors involved (from producers to importers via regulators, customs etc) had safe assured and controlled access to the same data. The Government’s 2025 UK Border Strategy published in December gives details of the RFIT project as a case study concluding that:
“This early work shows the potential benefits of creating a Utility Platform for trade, where government works with industry to connect and integrate decentralised data to facilitate international trade.”2025 UK Border Strategy, p.40
These “potential benefits” point to the opportunity we have to create a 21st Century, friction reducing, free trade flowing, free trade growing, digital border built by the best of our talent built by the best of our leading edge technologies.
These technologies have the potential to reduce data fragmentation, enhance traceability and accountability and – as I have long argued – the long-term benefits are dramatically improved public service delivery and cost savings and efficiencies on a scale that could positively impact national finances. The RFIT project has demonstrated that our real life trading participators can save money and time by using the RFIT platform. The project engaged government to government with regulators (fiscal and physical) at the Australian and UK ends. The prospects are good that the platform can also be used to collect and assure data around Sustainable Development Goals and Environmental, Social and Governance compliance in line with UK Government commitments on net zero, on our G7 Chair and other priorities such as Project Defend.
If we are to deliver on this unique opportunity for the UK to have the world’s leading border by 2025 we need to be able to understand and apply the benefits of Distributed Systems operating at the border, together with deployment of IoT, AI, cyber, robotic process automation (RPA) and smart contracts. In short, deployment of every technology making up 4IR. We have the talent, the technology to make this a reality. In the words of my 2017 report, what must run right through this all is, “leadership, collaboration and innovation.”
The need is urgent, the opportunity, unique. We can deliver a frictionless, free trade flowing, free trade growing, digitally enabled border right around the UK. At Dover, to update Harold Wilson, atop, The white cliffs of technology.