Lessons for Brexit from Nor­way’s hard bor­der with Swe­den

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By David Key­ton and Jill Law­less

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 (EEA) 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 bor­der-re­lated prob­lems that threaten to scut­tle a di­vorce deal with the EU. But the re­al­i­ties of this north­ern bor­der also show the dif­fi­cul­ties that per­sist.

A di­vorce deal be­tween Bri­tain and the EU has stum­bled over how to guar­an­tee an open bor­der be­tween the United King­dom’s North­ern Ire­land and EU mem­ber state Ire­land af­ter Bri­tain leaves the bloc on March 29.

The Ir­ish bor­der area was a flash­point dur­ing decades of con­flict in North­ern Ire­land that cost 3,700 lives. The free flow of peo­ple and goods across the near-in­vis­i­ble Ir­ish bor­der now un­der­pins both the lo­cal econ­omy and North­ern Ire­land’s peace process.

The EU’s pro­posed solution is for Bri­tain to re­main in a cus­toms union with the bloc, elim­i­nat­ing the need for checks un­til an­other solution is found. But pro-Brexit Bri­tish politi­cians say that would stop the U.K. from forg­ing new trade deals around the world.

Tech­nol­ogy may or may not be the answer, de­pend­ing on who you talk to.

“Ev­ery­one agrees that we have to avoid a hard bor­der in North­ern Ire­land, and ... tech­nol­ogy will play a big part in do­ing so,” said North­ern Ire­land Min­is­ter John Pen­rose.

But EU deputy Brexit ne­go­tia­tor Sabine Weyand said on Twitter: “Can tech­nol­ogy solve the Ir­ish bor­der prob­lem? Short answer: not in the next few years.”

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.

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