Digital Signatures in Foreign Trade
Since the legalization of digital signatures, we have seen a significant reduction of paperwork and enhanced streamlining of document signing processes worldwide. Organizations, governments, schools, individuals, and various other domains have started appreciating and implementing digital signatures to restructure their operations. One such domain that has begun reaping the benefits of digital signatures is Foreign Trade.
When we look at the import and export of the USA, the numbers are staggering. In 2019, the net worth of trade between the U.S and other countries was $5.6 trillion - $3.1 trillion in imports and $2.5 trillion in exports of goods and services. Looking at the sheer volume of commodities being traded, there is still plenty of room for the digitization and modernization of the existing process.
The problem statement
The import-export ecosystem involves tons of paperwork. If this paperwork is forged, damaged, or tampered with, it can lead to severe repercussions. If forged correctly, chances are people or companies can intentionally conceal, destroy, or manipulate invoices to import goods illegally. Forging import-export paperwork can result in companies or individuals claiming allowances from customs and getting unlawfully paid. This is a direct hit to the economy. With paper-based processes in use, we are also looking at high chances of someone forging seals used by the customs department to bring in illegal wildlife, gold, or even arms & ammunition. Authenticating documents like foreign transactions and transport manifest online add a much-needed layer of security and transparency, with so many sensitive matters at stake.
Digital signatures becoming the new norm
Digital signatures prove to be a full-proof way to ensure the authenticity of the signing parties, documents, and transactions on the internet. Not only are we looking at convenience as the prime factor, but also the legality and security that come with E-signature platforms. Digital signatures also maintain a detailed log of document modification, making it virtually impossible to tamper without being identified, further adding accountability to domains like import-export. In this day and age, we also see E-signatures becoming the norm in financial, legal, medical, and educational sectors, as well as in some government offices. By expanding the usage of digital signatures to cover more paper-controlled processes, government bodies and the taxpayers stand to reap lasting benefits in the longer run. The future of every administrative body is digital, and with digital signatures making their way to the import-export office, we are getting one step closer.
Scenarios that can be avoided using digital signatures
Like any other country, the USA is home to countless auto enthusiasts. However, there is a long list of imported vehicles deemed illegal in the country, and illicit importing of such vehicles can result in severe penalties. Some of the most sought-after cars, called Japanese Domestic Market vehicles or JDM cars, are also deemed illegal. The main reason why these cars are not allowed on American streets is because they are right-hand drive cars. The penalty of owning a JDM car in America is more than that of possessing drugs or even an automatic rifle! Digital signatures can prove to be pivotal in restricting such imports.
Cases of illegal import of commodities in America range from weird to bizarre. For example, back in 2012, Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents arrested a resident of Florida named Eric Prokopi for illegally importing skeleton fossils of dinosaurs from different countries of the world. Most of these cases happen due to vulnerabilities involved with paper-based processes.
Illicit import & export activities involving gold, silver, or any other commodities can not only leave a severe dent in the economy but can also act as a front for far more nefarious money laundering schemes. While digital measures like E-signatures cannot directly eradicate such activities, given the right digital ecosystem, they can play a significant role in reducing these scenarios by making import & export more transparent and accountable.