Norway-Sweden border offers lessons for Britain
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.”