The main function of the paperless trade system, including the single window, is to facilitate the exchange of trade-related data and documents in electronic form. The information is originally submitted on paper or electronically by commercial operators that have a duty to make complete and correct statements. Moreover, in an electronic environment, there could be special procedures to attribute the declarations originating from the various participants. Electronic signatures may play a significant role in the attribution of the declarations.
II.B.1 Does the law on the substantive requirements of trade-related data and documents also apply to paperless trade?
The verification of the compliance of import/export operations with the law is based on the declarations of the traders or of their agents, such as customs brokers. Accordingly, laws and regulations on customs operations require the submission of accurate trade-related information, including with respect to its attribution. At a minimum, the normal rule is that information submitted should be complete, accurate and up to date. This is intended to permit customs and other law enforcement agencies to carry out their functions, to ensure compliance with regulations and to investigate allegations of non-compliance.
The use of electronic means normally does not alter the substantive content of the information to be provided. In other words, substantive information requirements do not change depending on the medium used (paper or electronic). The duties of the entity filing the information is in principle the same in all cases. It is therefore important to identify any such difference and its justification.
II.B.2 Are there specific rules for the exchange of trade-related data and documents in electronic form?
Specific rules are sometimes needed to adapt paper-based procedures for submission of information to paperless trade. As a result, one sees not only the general rules on the use of electronic communications, but also special rules dealing with controls over data input processing, responsibility for data transmission and processing, and audit trails and recording mechanisms.
Often, customs laws are designed to operate in a paper-based environment and later adapted to paperless trade. In other cases, only electronic submissions are possible. For example, section 96 of the Singapore Customs Act 2004 (Cap. 70) makes the use of electronic communications mandatory and imposes the standards for accuracy and completeness that apply to documents on paper.
96. Declaration to give a full and true account
1. The declaration referred to in sections 37 (declaration), 59 (removal of dutiable goods from Customs control) and 80 (declaration by claimant) shall, unless the Director-General allows under subsection (2), be made and submitted by an electronic notice in accordance with section 86 (computer service) and such declaration shall give a full and trust account of such particulars as are required by the Director-General.
2. The Director-General may, in his discretion and subject to such conditions as he may impose, allow any declaration referred in sections 37, 59 and 80 to be made on a form determined by the Director-General.
3. Such declaration shall –
a. Give a full and true account of the particulars for which provision is made in the form; and
b. Be in duplicate or in such other number of copies as the person to whom the declaration is required to be made may direct.
If a country does not have laws expressly directed at paperless trade, it may have laws and regulations of general application that apply as well to paperless trade and that enable – among other things – submission and processing of electronic information and ensure its integrity and security.
A critical element of these rules when applied to paperless trade is the identification of the source of the information, i.e. its attribution. As noted above (section II.B.1), attribution is critical for law enforcement as well as normal commercial relations. On paper, attribution is carried out with signatures and seals on the sheet containing the information. In an electronic environment, attribution is often achieved with electronic signatures, which, in some cases, may also provide assurance of the integrity of the data message. Other metadata and textual content may also help show attribution of an electronic document.
The paperless trade system may rely on the general rules on electronic signatures or may specify its own rules. In both instances, these rules may be technology neutral or technology specific (see section I.B).