Want smoother cross-border trade? Blockchain technology, augmented reality headsets and chatbots are going to be part of that effort, according to trade experts.
“The Office of Trade’s Business Transformation and Innovation Division has taken the lead on new technologies, including exploring blockchain, predictive analytic modeling, augmented reality and most recently the USMCA [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement] natural language chatbot,” said James Byram, executive director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Trade and Trade Transformation.
Byram’s discussion was part of CBP’s recent Virtual Trade Week. The event featured talks on subjects such as the new USMCA, forced labor, e-commerce and how emerging technology is changing trade.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection wants to know where goods and entities originate, the supply paths they follow and ultimately who the parties are, who take part in that chain,” Byram added.
In August 2019, CBP introduced the 21st Century Customs Framework (21CCF) initiative to address changing global trade and e-commerce. The initiative has been rolled out in stages of development and adoption over the past year and will have to adapt to the new USMCA trade pact and COVID-19 pandemic.
“21CCF is pursuing transformational reforms to help set the stage for sustainable industry success, enhance security, and improve economic competitiveness in the 21st century and beyond,” said CBP Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez. “We’re currently developing some legislative changes that will open the door to a more efficient and effective trade environment for years to come.”
Perez said legislative changes focus on four areas:
- Modernizing CBP’s approach to responsible parties.
- Updating enforcement authorities.
- Removing data-sharing barriers.
- Reforming CBP’s consequence delivery processes for trade violations.
Travis Skinner, CBP’s director of Trade Modernization, said the business world has changed significantly just in the past 14 years.
“In 2006, some of the top-selling stocks were Exxon, GE and Shell. In 2017, the top three companies were Apple, Google and Microsoft,” Skinner said. “The most valuable currency is no longer tangible as ones and zeros, it’s information, and the trade community and CBP need to adjust accordingly.”
In 2019, the U.S. imported goods valued at around $2.5 trillion, using more that 29 million trucks, railcars and shipping containers, according to CBP. The U.S. also exported $1.65 trillion in goods during 2019.
“The challenges of COVID-19 make the need to achieve supply chain transparency through automation all the more necessary for the protection of legitimate goods,” Byram said. “Reduced examination time, earlier messaging are crucial to helping the trade industry compete in a tougher business climate.”
Some of the tools key to streamlining global trade include blockchain, which is like a digital database, a way of storing records of value and transactions. CBP has been using blockchain for proof of country of origin and proof of intellectual property rights.
“This year, we are using blockchain proof of concepts with steel imports and pipeline imports,” Bryam said.
Blockchain can also protect U.S. businesses from theft of intellectual property by exchanging data securely and efficiently with manufacturers, retailers, rights holders and importers, Byram said.
Other tools include verifiable credential technologies and predictive analytics. CBP has also been testing augmented reality headsets and USMCA chatbots for use in cross-border trade.
The headsets are aimed at allowing the wearer to view and examine projected 3D images of an object, according to CBP.
“CBP has the potential to use this technology on products with copyrights/trademarks recorded with CBP for protection of intellectual property. CBP will be expanding its testing to evaluate higher complexity goods, like electronics,” according to a recent release. “The headset enables real-time image sharing with rights holders, enabling quick decision making when evaluating products.”
CBP also recently unveiled a smart search engine 24-hour chatbot on CBP.gov’s USMCA resource webpage. The chatbot is aimed at helping users find answers to common questions.
Another new program officials discussed was CBP’s information technology platform called Advanced Trade Analytics Platform (ATAP). ATAP, which recently requested an additional $12.5 million of FY21 funding for procurement, contractor support and deployment, aims to enhance visibility by bringing trade data together into a single source.
Skinner said ATAP has the potential to “ensure seamless data sharing,” one of the pillars of CBP’s 21st Century Customs Framework.
“That means potentially sharing information with three distinct parties, other government agencies, sharing information back with the trade community, and with foreign customs agencies in our country,” Skinner said. “It could potentially allow for maybe even a shared single window. That would be tremendous.”
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