Costs on the rise and volatile, but trade facilitation could mitigate challenges ahead

Costs on the rise and volatile, but trade facilitation could mitigate challenges ahead

Despite high implementation rates in various trade facilitation reforms in the region, progress in paperless trade has been slow and uneven, while growing geopolitical tensions and heightened inflation have further made business between countries more difficult and unpredictable, said the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in a new report.

Countries continue to face challenges in cross-border paperless trade, as shown by the average implementation rate of only 42 per cent, according to the Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Report 2024. However, the implementation of digital trade facilitation measures could yield a reduction of 11 per cent in trade costs.

The report was launched at the 11th Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum which took place in Samarkand this week. More than 250 participants from 30 countries participated in the five-day meet organised by ESCAP, ADB and the Ministry of Investment, Industry and Trade of Uzbekistan. This year, the Forum focused on leveraging digitalisation to enable sustainable supply chains in the region, including deep-dives on topics such as cross-border paperless trade, transport and greening the trade process.

“There is ample evidence that streamlining and digitalising trade procedures is key to making trade not only more inclusive but also reducing its potential negative impact on the environment,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP in her opening remarks. She underscored the importance of collaboration, including through the dedicated UN treaty on cross-border paperless trade facilitation in Asia and the Pacific, which saw a doubling of ratifications since its entry into force in 2021.

The new report further draws attention to the increasingly important role of trade facilitation in ensuring more resilient and green supply chains. This includes improved customs procedures, enhanced cross-border data sharing and increased transparency which can help address bottlenecks, reduce border wait times and support sustainable sourcing.

Well-targeted trade facilitation can promote trade expansion and make supply chains more resilient and environmentally friendly. Leveraging digital innovations in particular can enhance the resilience and sustainability of supply chains, making them more adaptable to changing global trade dynamics and less vulnerable to potential disruptions,” said Yingming Yang, Vice President (South, Central and West Asia), Asian Development Bank.

The Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum is the leading regional platform for the exchange of good practices and knowledge on trade facilitation since its establishment in 2009. Held for the first time in Central Asia, this year’s Forum also featured dedicated sessions on the vital interconnection between trade and transport facilitation for landlocked developing countries.

“In recent years, we have made significant progress in liberalising the economy and confidently entering world markets. We also aim to accelerate trade flows between countries and simplify licensing procedures by ensuring the integration of national licensing information systems with countries in the region and phasing out paper documents by recognising their electronic versions,” said Teshabaev Khurram Fatihovich, Deputy Minister of Investment, Industry and Trade of Uzbekistan.

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