Australia and New Zealand trial a ‘green lane’ for international mail

20 March 2018
By the Australian Department of Home Affairs and the New Zealand Customs Service

Australia and New Zealand have been working together to test a new border clearance process to help address the huge increase in e-commerce related international mail volumes between the two countries. Undertaken as a trial, this article explains its objectives, how it was conducted, the results, lessons learned, and the next steps.

Over the past few years, there has been significant global growth in international mail, with the worldwide boom in e-commerce driving a huge increase in the number of low value parcels. E-commerce mail volumes from Australia to New Zealand increased by 74% between 2015/16 and 2016/17, and mail volumes from New Zealand to Australia increased by 25% during the same period. Projections show that mail volumes will continue to increase over the next five years.

The most significant development in the international mail environment over the past few years is the emergence of electronic advance data for international mail. Australia and New Zealand recognize that the availability of mail data is a game changer for Customs administrations, and offers us the opportunity to significantly improve our approach to screening international mail.

Mail data availability supports the advancement of data analytics and profile building for international mail. Once Customs administrations build their information technology (IT) capability for mail data, ‘real time’ pre-arrival risk assessment and targeting is achievable, and specifically targeted mail items can be identified on arrival at international mail facilities.

The Australia-New Zealand eCommerce International Mail Green Lane Trial was a step toward testing how we can leverage the use of mail data for risk assessment, targeting and border clearance purposes, and what we would need to do to redesign our operational processes in our international mail facilities to integrate the use of mail data.

‘Green lane’ trial objectives

The objective of the trial was to test processes with a view to streamlining the movement of low-risk goods being sent by international mail between Australia and New Zealand, including testing the use of pre-arrival mail item data for risk assessment and targeting of mail.

As island nations, protecting our natural resources and agricultural sectors from biosecurity threats is important for both Australia and New Zealand. Every day we work closely with our government biosecurity colleagues in the international mail facilities. As such, we partnered with our biosecurity agencies, as well as with our postal administrations, to plan and conduct the trial.

The following agencies participated in the trial:

  • Australian Department of Home Affairs, including the Australian Border Force (which carries out Australia’s customs function);
  • Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources;
  • Australia Post;
  • New Zealand Customs Service;
  • New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries;
  • New Zealand Post.

The two-week ‘live’ proof of concept trial was conducted in September 2017 with IT support and processes developed especially for use during the trial. The trial, using mail data in ‘real time’ for border targeting purposes and for the identification of mail items of interest to border agencies, was a first for our two countries.

‘Green lane’ trial border clearance process

As this was the first time that Australia and New Zealand would have access to mail item data, and the first time using it in ‘real time,’ we deliberately kept it pretty simple when planning the trial.

We asked our postal administrations for suggestions on suitable eSellers to participate in the trial. What we needed were eSellers who would send adequate volumes of mail items during the period of the trial and retail low-risk goods. Customs and biosecurity checked the compliance records and intelligence holdings, to ensure that there were no adverse findings relating to any of the companies under consideration.

Simple border agency profiles were then developed, for Customs and biosecurity, based on key words. We also included a revenue profile and a sampling profile to select every tenth mail item, in order to ensure enough matches for the purposes of the trial.

Standard Universal Postal Union (UPU) IT messaging formats were used, and our IT experts on both sides of the Tasman tested the sending and receipt of messages. In addition, two daily reports were designed and generated: a standard postal report, and a border agency report, which included the profile matches for targeted items.

Australia Post and New Zealand Post worked out how best to segregate the ‘green lane’ mail items from our selected eSellers at source, so that they could be easily identified at the destination mail facility. The new processes were tested in the Melbourne and Auckland international mail facilities, and officers involved in the live trial were briefed accordingly.

During the trial period, the border clearance process was, as follows:

  1. UPU standard mail data was generated by the eSeller and the data was sent between postal operators through standard IT messaging formats, and then on to border agencies.
  2. Border agencies ran simple key word profiles for Customs and biosecurity risk over the data, as well as a revenue profile, and in Australia, an automated sampling profile to select every tenth mail item.
  3. A status message (hold/clear) for each mail item was sent back to postal operators.
  4. Postal operators segregated the ‘green lane’ mail items at source, so that items could be easily identified at the destination postal facility.
  5. At the receiving postal facility, barcode scanning raised status messages and enabled postal operators to identify mail items subject to a border ‘hold’.
  6. Border agency officers inspected the mail items that generated a ‘hold’ status and cross-checked them against the daily reports (standard border inspection processes applied from this point).

‘Green lane’ trial results

All agencies analysed the data, and gathered observations and feedback during the trial, which was shared amongst the particiapting agencies. All six agencies agreed that the trial met the success criteria!

The trial demonstrated that participant agencies could successfully move mail items through the full ‘green lane’ process and, at the destination mail facility, identify the mail items with a ‘hold’ status for border agency inspection.

Four key milestones were achieved:

  • mail data was exchanged between postal administrations;
  • data was made available to border agencies before the arrival of mail items in the destination country;
  • mail items with data and a ‘hold’ status were identified and presented to border agencies;
  • mail items without data were identified and a ‘hold’ applied during the ‘green lane’ process.

In all cases, mail data was made available to border agencies at least six hours prior to arrival in the destination country. Having six hours to undertake pre-arrival risk assessment and targeting will be extremely valuable in the future as our profiling capability becomes more sophisticated, enabling us to undertake complex intelligence cross-checking and match evaluation.

Participant agencies anticipated that a small portion of mail items would arrive without data. This situation did occur and the safeguards put in place in the postal system, to enable the identification of mail items with no data for border inspection, worked in all cases. This outcome was critical, to provide surety that mail items without data would be identified so that a ‘manual’ risk assessment could be made, and that mail items without data did not bypass border processing.

Lessons learned

Overall, the trial was a success. It demonstrated that the use of electronic advance data for international mail is one of the key strategies that will assist us to tackle the increasing challenges in the mail environment, from both a trade facilitation and border protection perspective.

The trial also provided an opportunity to extend participant agencies’ understanding of the nature of e-commerce between the two countries, and the priorities and processes of the postal, Customs and biosecurity agencies in Australia and New Zealand.

It demonstrated that there would be benefits for both countries if a ‘green lane’ type model was further developed and implemented on an ongoing basis. The benefits may include improved trade facilitation, resource savings for postal administrations, the potential for the reallocation of border agency resources to high-risk targets, and improved targeting of border risks for Customs and biosecurity agencies.

The trial was conducted in a specially created environment, and participants acknowledged that transferring the outcomes and learnings to ‘real life’ operational conditions will require further work. This includes building ongoing IT capability for mail data for both Australia and New Zealand. In addition, the trial highlighted the impact the use of mail data will have on Customs and biosecurity agencies’ future operational processes, with both countries recognizing that Customs and biosecurity operational processes will need significant redesign to integrate the use of mail data.

Moreover, the trial showed that there is a benefit in using mail data to screen mail for Customs and biosecurity threats. Our current practice relies on the consideration of broad pre-arrival risk indicators, and, in the international mail facilities, our screening approach includes X-rays, detector dogs and trace detection technology, underpinned by officer experience and physical inspection. The use of pre-arrival mail data provides a valuable layer of screening previously not available in the international mail environment.

Next steps

Australia and New Zealand are building on the success of the trial and continuing to work in partnership to streamline trans-Tasman postal e-commerce. During 2018, both countries are working towards developing ongoing IT capability to receive and use mail data, as well as focusing on the redesign of operational processes to accommodate the integration of mail data.


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