A new report led by academics at Teesside University has made the case for a centre for digital trade to be based in the Tees Valley.

Advances in technology such as automation and artificial intelligence, coupled with changes to the traditional global supply chain model, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, have created multiple opportunities for businesses to evolve their trading practices through the use of digital technology.

Now a vital report, Digital Trade Technology and Policy: Barriers and Opportunities, has been prepared for HMRC to investigate the viability of a Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation (C4DTI) in the Tees Valley.

Academics from Teesside University, led by Michael Short, Professor of Control Engineering and Systems Informatics, have looked at how digital technology can be safely deployed to smooth trade processes, and how public and private sectors can work together to ensure the potential benefits of such deployment are spread as widely as possible.

Read more: World's first digital trade centre to be developed in Teesside

The report investigates the UK policy context, digital trade technology, international comparators and also provides summaries from consultations with a range of stakeholders including leading Tees Valley businesses, ports and freight operators, public sector organisations and law enforcement officials.

It forms an analysis of requirements for successful digital trade and suggests focused, short-term actions to initiate positive actions.

These include the development of an inclusive ecosystem to facilitate stakeholder communication and co-ordination, harmonisation of standards, creation of an innovation environment to catalyse public-private partnerships and selected use cases for innovative pilot trade technology deployments.

In addition, it also recommends that a physical presence for a Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation (C4DTI) in both the Tees Valley region and in London is created. The C4DTI will provide focus for the suggested initial activities.

These centres will help to steer UK digital trade policy and practice, helping the Government to achieve its borders goals as part of a wide-ranging digital trade strategy.

This includes the Government’s proposed UK Electronic Trade Documents Bill which is expected to greatly improve access to trade finance and would make the UK the first western nation to adopt the United Nation’s Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR).

Professor Short said: “The United Kingdom has made some broad and ambitious commitments with regard to its net zero strategy and its goal to achieve the world’s most resilient and future-facing border by 2025.

“We believe that, with its inherent skills base, infrastructure and transport/logistics links, the Tees Valley is perfectly situated to drive forward these ambitions and as a regional base for a C4DTI.

“At Teesside University we are committed to working alongside partners to drive forward the economic growth of this region and we are delighted to present this report and its findings.

“This roadmap, if put in place, can begin to steer UK digital trade policy and practice along the correct trajectory to achieving these goals.”

Nick Davies, HMRC Technical Lead said: “My thanks to Professor Short and his team at Teesside University for this thorough and useful report which provides a good basis upon which the work of the Centre can proceed.

“It makes the case well for the collaborative exploration of how technology and standards can combine to transform the way in which we in the UK do trade and manage supply chains.

“The Centre will be the framework for that exploration, and I look forward to continuing to work with Teesside University, stakeholders in the region and across the UK and internationally to make that a reality.”

Chris Southworth, Secretary General of the International Chambers of Commerce (ICC) UK, said: “This report is welcome and a really helpful overview of the digital trade landscape in UK.

“Digital trade is more than just customs and borders. It’s about modernising the way we do trade, so the system is fit for purpose for the 21st century.

“We are on the cusp of a radical transformation of the trading system to make trade cheaper, faster, and simpler as well as more sustainable and inclusive.

“Success will depend on our ability to collaborate and work with others to remove regulatory and legal barriers and standardise trade systems and processes so we can connect and interoperate with the rest of the world. Leading by example, the UK is uniquely positioned to positively influence the world trade system.”

The report can be downloaded at: https://bit.ly/C4DTIreport