UN urges regional cooperation to accelerate digitalisation of cross-border trade procedures

UN urges regional cooperation to accelerate digitalisation of cross-border trade procedures

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) recently hosted the first Paperless Trade Week to foster deeper cooperation among public and private sector stakeholders from the region to implement cross-border trade digitalisation.

The Week concluded with the third sessions of both the Standing Committee and Paperless Trade Council of the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific (CPTA), bringing together over 30 member States and 10 international development partners to engage in enriching discussions and share their learnings on pertinent issues and solutions for digitalising international trade processes. This engagement served to inform the potential actions and decisions taken during the week’s intergovernmental sessions.

The central element of the Week was the CPTA, a UN treaty aimed at accelerating the implementation of digital trade measures for trade and development. It is designed to support countries in moving to less paper and then to paperless trade by providing a dedicated, inclusive and capacity-building intergovernmental platform. However, the task is mammoth.

The latest United Nations Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation underscored that cross-border paperless trade measures remain among the least implemented initiatives on the global and regional levels. The persistence of this challenge may be attributed to the inability to unilaterally implement such measures effectively.

The implementation of digital trade facilitation measures could yield a reduction of 11 per cent in trade costs across the region according to a joint Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Report 2024 issued by ADB and ESCAP earlier this year. But countries in the region continue to face challenges in cross-border paperless trade, as shown by the average implementation rate of only 42 per cent, suggesting that much remains to be done.

In order to facilitate the successful implementation of cross-border paperless trade, ESCAP underscored the importance of consistent and sustained collaboration in developing necessary solutions. The Framework Agreement serves as a neutral and dedicated regional institutional framework for developing and testing cross-border paperless trade solutions, which further builds upon national, bilateral, and subregional initiatives aimed at achieving the goal of trade digitalisation.

“From just five initial parties to the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific, we now boast 13 participating countries — a testament to the growing momentum behind its implementation,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP in her opening remarks at the third session of the Paperless Trade Council.

Anticipating further expansion of participation, she highlighted three pivotal considerations: sustained commitment from government leadership to build the necessary foundations for both national and cross-border paperless trade, the crucial nature of partnership in implementing the Framework Agreement, as well as active promotion of the benefits of the Agreement within the members’ respective spheres of influence.

The 2024 Paperless Trade Week was held from 3 to 7 June 2024. In addition to sessions of the Standing Committee and Paperless Trade Council, ESCAP hosted a series of capacity-building workshops and interactive side events. These workshops, via discussions and interactions, supported public-private partnerships in advancing the digitalisation of trade procedures. Throughout many sessions, critical and emerging topics were highlighted, including the importance of harmonised rules and collaborative forums to support cross-border paperless trade, the utilisation of emerging technologies for efficient and seamless electronic exchange of trade data and documents, establishing and enhancing conducive environments for digital trade and strategies to enhance sustainable trade facilitation by enhancing accessibility for women, SMEs, and special groups.

The Week was held in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank, Commonwealth Secretariat, Eurasian Economic Commission, International Chamber of Commerce Digital Standards Initiative, Islamic Centre for Development of Trade, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, Islamic Development Bank, World Bank Group, World Economic Forum, and World Trade Organization, who actively support cross-border paperless trade.

For further information: https://unescap.org/events/2024/paperless-trade-week-2024/.


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