ORJE, Norway -- Norway is testing customs-procedure technology that some in Great Britain are championing as a way to overcome border-related problems that threaten a divorce deal with the European Union.
Britain and the EU are arguing over how to guarantee an open border between the United Kingdom's Northern Ireland and EU member state Ireland after Britain leaves the EU 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.
"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 British politicians who favor a clean break from the EU say a customs union would stop the U.K. from forging new trade deals around the world.
EU deputy exit negotiator Sabine Weyand said on Twitter: "Can technology solve the Irish border problem? Short answer: not in the next few years."
While many border posts in Europe have vanished, Norway's hard border with the EU 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.
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 told The Associated Press. "It will pass by the two cameras and go on. It doesn't need to come into the office."
That allows customs officers to conduct risk assessments before the vehicle even reaches the border.
So far, only 10 Swedish companies are in the pilot project, representing a few of the 450 trucks that cross at this border post each day. But if it's successful, the plan will be expanded.
In the six months since the trial began, Customs section chief Hakon Krogh says some problems have brought the system to a standstill, from snow blocking the camera, to Wi-Fi issues preventing the border barrier from lifting, to truck drivers who misunderstand which customs lane to use.
"It's a pilot program, so it takes time to make things work smoothly before it can be expanded," said Krogh, who still felt the program could have a long-term benefit.
The program also limits flexibility for exporters. If a driver calls in sick and is replaced by another, or extra cargo is added to a shipment, then all the paperwork must be resubmitted online.
Yet a greater barrier to digitalizing the border is the complexity of international trade.
A Section on 02/11/2019
Print Headline: Norway customs tests seen as sign of hope for U.K. exit