Persisting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical turbulence and high inflation continue to challenge international trade. Despite these global disruptions, countries are continuing to move towards a seamless and efficient trading environment by simplifying and digitalizing formalities in international trading.
According to the fifth United Nations Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation covering 161 countries, progress has been observed in more efficient trade facilitation with the overall implementation rate of general and digital trade facilitation measures increasing by more than six percentage points between 2021 and 2023. The global average implementation rate currently stands at 68.7 per cent. The highest implementation rate is seen in developed economies (85.3 per cent), followed by countries in South-East and East Asia (76.6 per cent). Pacific Islands have the lowest implementation rate (42.3 per cent).
In the Asia-Pacific region, implementation increased by about three percentage points since 2021, with the highest rates observed in Australia and New Zealand and East and North-East Asia. North and Central Asia and the Pacific Island Developing Economies recorded the most progress over the last two years. Measures included in the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement continue to be largely implemented and paperless trade facilitation measures improved the most over the period.
Even though implementation of measures to achieve cross-border paperless trade remains much lower than that of others, there have been notable improvements in this area, including the development of laws and regulations for electronic transactions and electronic exchange of Sanitary & Phytosanitary Certificates. Such progress highlights the region’s willingness to modernize trade processes, foster efficiency and promote international collaboration.
Crucial to the progress made globally were regional and subregional initiatives such as the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific (CPTA), the expansion of the ASEAN Single Window Agreement, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement. These initiatives could further support countries in gradually moving to less paper and then to paperless and cross-border paperless trade by providing a dedicated, inclusive and capacity-building intergovernmental platform.
Conversely, the 2023 Survey also highlighted the insufficient adoption of sustainable trade facilitation measures and inadequate support for vulnerable groups, including the agricultural sector, Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and women traders.
“More concerted international collaboration is necessary. I call upon countries to actively implement sustainable trade measures highlighted in the Survey to foster inclusive and sustainable trade and development,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP.
The Survey was jointly conducted by the Economic Commission for Africa, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the Economic Commission for Europe, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
The initiative supports the implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, as well as emerging regional and global initiatives on paperless trade or e-trade, such as the recent CPTA. The Survey also recommends cutting-edge paperless and cross-border trade facilitation measures, as well as those supporting more inclusive and sustainable trade, targeted at supporting sectors and groups with special needs.