Post-Brexit, Tech And Trucks Make Port Of Calais 'Smarter'

The customs border between the UK and the EU is back, with new rules and regulations, an influx of hastily trained agents, and a technology overhaul.

Staff members working at the Calais Port in France
Staff members working at the Calais Port in France
Louisa Benchabane

CALAIS — In the cab of his lorry, Maciej desperately waits to leave the port of Calais, in northern France, to return to his homeland, Poland, where his shipment of chocolate is to be delivered.

"Today is a holiday in my country, so a miracle is required to get people to answer my questions and help me get back on the road as soon as possible," the driver says. He has gone through the Channel crossing many times, but this is the first time since the post-Brexit border was implemented.

Like him, dozens of trucks are stuck in an immense car park after they arrived from Dover, UK. In a cold and wet wind, they are waiting near the ferry landing for authorization to get back on the road — clearance they can only obtain once the operator whose goods they are transporting provides customs with all the necessary documents.

To avoid having all these trucks at a standstill — and be overwhelmed with a colossal amount of paperwork and endless traffic jams — French customs have devised what is called a smart border. The system is based on software that generates a barcode for each shipment, after the expeditors have filled a declaration form. This code, which is linked to the truck's license plate, is an identity card for the vehicles allowing them to avoid customs formalities.

The software analyzes the plates inside the ferry. Once they arrive at the port, drivers can see on a screen whether they must follow the green marking that will lead them to the exit or the orange marking that takes them to the customs parking lot for a physical inspection.

"For now, we rarely have to stop trucks," says Marc Declunder, head of the customs office at the port of Calais. "The smart border is working well."

At the end of the orange line is the first customs office. Through a thick window, Smaïl Hamouni, one of the customs officers, uses his rudimentary English to guide drivers who are annoyed at being halted.

The smart border is working well.

"We understand their frustrations since this is the first time they've been checked here. So we delay action and advise them to call their employer," he says.

Drivers who have trouble speaking English rely on their smartphone's online translator and put it against the glass to make themselves understood — a resourceful solution that is now commonplace. Every time a ferry arrives, this process starts all over again.

"Almost 80% of drivers cross the Channel several times a month, so next time they will already know how this works and they won't have to stop," says Benoît Rochet, deputy general manager of the port of Calais.

To carry out these post-Brexit controls, nearly 700 new customs officers have been recruited. Smaïl Hamouni arrived just a few days ago. After he passed the customs exam and followed a distance learning course last year at the National School of Customs in La Rochelle, he applied for one of the 63 customs jobs available in Calais.

"We mostly check that the documents appear on the software and we intervene when problems emerge during the inspections," he says.

Inside the customs' office in Calais — Photo: Lefevre Sylvain/Abaca via ZUMA Press

There are still some misunderstandings, which kindle conversations amongst the drivers when they return to the parking lot. Maciej, who now speaks perfect English after living in the UK for several years, explains to his Polish colleagues the procedure to follow. They immediately pick up their phones and inform their shipping company, which in turn gets in touch with the firm that hired their services.

In front of the parking spaces that are filling up gradually, transit agents monitor the immobilization of trucks that are not allowed to leave. Only a signal sent by customs on their tablets will give them the green light to drive off.

Aurélie Dufour, who was recruited a few weeks earlier at the same time as the other transit agents, is experimenting with the device in real time — and for the first time — after only a few days of remote training. The agent makes sure that the vehicles are evenly distributed over all the parking lots. Fluidity is an obsession for all of the port's managers.

"The port's economic balance is based on continuous smooth movement, so it would be unthinkable to create endless traffic jams," explains Thibaut Rougelot, a member of Dunkirk's regional customs management.

But for now the port is calm, as the British built up unprecedented stocks before Brexit. "We had never seen so many luxury cars pass by," Jean-Marc Puissesseau, the port's CEO, says with a chuckle. The discovery of the highly contagious "British" variant of the coronavirus has also slowed down trade.

Since 2018, the key word here has been anticipation.​

"We are ready, nothing will jeopardize all our preparations," says Xavier Bertrand, president of the northern region Hauts-de-France, who came to attend a presentation of the port's post-Brexit operations in front of an audience of senators. Since 2018, the key word here has been anticipation.

At the end of the orange markings, there is a new hangar that was built after fears over a "no deal" started to emerge in March 2019. Inside, the veterinary and plant diseases inspection service (Sivep), which was founded due to Brexit, is waiting to control all shipments of fresh products — a requirement since the trade deal was signed. The port of Calais has invested 7 million euros to create this department.

"We have spent a lot of time thinking about how things were going to turn out, and now we're finally moving from theory to practice," says Xavier Desmulier, head of Sivep Calais. The team collects samples from the products, which are then analyzed on site. Animals are examined by veterinarians in another hangar that's located two kilometers away from the port.

During controls, recently recruited inspectors check that the paperwork has been filled correctly and that the fees associated with the procedure are paid to customs. Once everything is validated, so-called "clerks' act as intermediaries between exporting companies and customs. If traffic is smooth and the formalities have been completed, the truck should be free to leave in less than an hour.

Even though a small grain of sand could be enough to jam the whole system, optimism reigns in Calais. "It is also up to the exporters to play the game. We have explained to them the need to declare their goods to customs for months now," says Marc Declunder.

Night falls and, one by one, the trucks leave. But Maciej is stuck still, waiting for the green signal so that he can finally start his three-day journey home. "In the end, this new border crossing means we have a lot of documents to prepare, but nothing has really changed for us," the Polish driver says.

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]


Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.


"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.


Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

➡️


"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."

— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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