Nor­way-Swe­den bor­der of­fers lessons for Bri­tain

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD - By David Keyton and Jill Lawless David Keyton and Jill Lawless are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

ORJE, Nor­way — With fresh snow crunch­ing un­der their boots and a hand­ful of pa­pers to be checked and stamped, truck driv­ers from Latvia, Swe­den and Poland make their way across Nor­way’s Orje cus­toms sta­tion to a small of­fice where their goods will be cleared out of the Euro­pean Union and into Nor­way.

While many bor­der posts in Europe have van­ished, Nor­way’s hard bor­der with the Euro­pean Union is clearly vis­i­ble, with cam­eras, li­cense-plate recog­ni­tion sys­tems and bar­ri­ers di­rect­ing traf­fic to cus­toms of­fi­cers.

Nor­way’s mem­ber­ship in the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Area grants it ac­cess to the EU’s vast com­mon mar­ket and most goods are ex­empt from pay­ing du­ties. Still, ev­ery­thing en­ter­ing the coun­try must be de­clared and cleared through cus­toms.

Tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions be­ing tested in Nor­way to dig­i­tal­ize cus­toms pro­ce­dures for cargo have been seized on by some in Bri­tain as a way to over­come bor­der­re­lated prob­lems that threaten to scut­tle a di­vorce deal with the EU. But the re­al­i­ties of this north­ern bor­der also show the dif­fi­cul­ties that per­sist.

The Cus­toms of­fice at Orje, on the road con­nect­ing the cap­i­tals of Oslo and Stock­holm, has been test­ing a new dig­i­tal clear­ance sys­tem to speed goods through cus­toms by en­abling ex­porters to sub­mit in­for­ma­tion on­line up to two hours be­fore a truck reaches the bor­der.

At her desk in Orje, Chief Cus­toms of­fi­cer Nina Bul­lock was han­dling tra­di­tional paper bor­der clear­ance forms when her com­puter in­formed her of an in­com­ing truck that used the Ex­press Clear­ance sys­tem.

“We know the truck num­ber, we know the driver, we know what kinds of goods, we know ev­ery­thing,” she said. “It will pass by the two cam­eras and go on. It’s doesn’t need to come into the of­fice.”

That al­lows Cus­toms of­fi­cers to con­duct risk as­sess­ments be­fore the ve­hi­cle even reaches the bor­der.

Yet the prime bar­rier to dig­i­tal­iz­ing the bor­der is the com­plex­ity of in­ter­na­tional trade.

The Svi­ne­sund cus­toms of­fice, 56 miles south of Orje, is Nor­way’s ma­jor road bor­der, with 1,300 trucks each day car­ry­ing goods into the coun­try from all over Europe. Cus­toms sec­tion chief Kris­ten Hoiber­get has been fol­low­ing the Orje pilot pro­gram with in­ter­est but warns of sys­tem­atic chal­lenges to its ex­pan­sion.

“It’s very easy to deal with a dig­i­tal sys­tem when the goods are uni­form,” said Hoiber­get. “If you have one kind of goods in a lorry, it’s less com­pli­cated. But if you have a lorry that picks up goods at ten dif­fer­ent places abroad, the com­plex­ity arises rapidly.”

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