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UN forum spotlights digital trade facilitation measures to boost sustainable progress in Asia-Pacific

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New Delhi (ESCAP news) – The 9th Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum (APTFF) closed in New Delhi, India yesterday with a strong focus on how digital and sustainable trade facilitation measures and practices can bring prosperity for the region.

Organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), in collaboration with the Ministry of Commerce, India and Confederation of Indian Industry, the Forum discussed results of a new Global Survey on the progress made by countries in implementing trade facilitation measures and how to address remaining challenges in this area.

Developed economies aside, the 2019 UN Survey results confirm leadership of several Asian developing countries in digital trade facilitation implementation, notably Republic of Korea and China in East Asia; Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in South East Asia; Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation in North and Central Asia; and India in South Asia. All 46 Asia-Pacific countries in the Survey made significant progress in making trade easier and more transparent over the past two years, with countries in North and Central Asia, in particular Kazakhstan, making most progress. Cambodia was the best performing among the least developed country (LDC) included in the Survey. Pacific Small Island Developing States are lagging behind as they face particularly difficult implementation constraints.

Over 270 participants from more than 30 countries at the biennial Forum shared experiences and perspectives on different aspects of trade facilitation for sustainable development, including trade finance, cross-border ecommerce, paperless trade and innovative applications of emerging technologies.

“Amidst global trade tensions, regional cooperation to cut red tape and automate trade procedures is more important than ever. Making trade easier and faster at lower costs by expanding cross-border trade digitalization and the simplification of international trade procedures, will help all firms in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly Small and Medium Enterprises,” said United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana in her opening remarks.

At the opening, India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry and Railways Mr. Piyush Goyal highlighted that the Government is working proactively to introduce a plethora of reforms including digitization of trade procedures as well as ensuring improvements in the trading environment with reduced turnaround time and transaction costs.

The joint Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Report 2019 launched by ESCAP and ADB at the Forum noted that aiming for full digital implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and enabling seamless electronic exchange of trade data across-border could cut transaction costs for the region by nearly 17 per cent. To accelerate progress in this area, all countries were encouraged to complete their accession to the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific.

The ESCAP-ADB report also highlighted the need to strengthen linkages between trade facilitation and trade finance, with financial technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence to be used to enhance the efficiency and availability of trade finance, especially for SMEs in the region.

“There is an enormous untapped potential in the rapidly evolving digital technologies. Emerging new technologies can help address long-standing issues of high transaction and processing costs, while mitigating the huge trade finance gap,” said ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, Mr. Bambang Susantono.

Going forward, the Forum noted the importance of better addressing the needs of SMEs and other more vulnerable groups such as women and those working in the agricultural sector, noting that only very few countries in the region have customized trade facilitation measures to support these groups so far.

Three initiatives were awarded APTFF Trade Facilitation Innovation Awards this year. The International Plant Protection Convention was awarded for its work on the Generic ePhyto National System (GeNS), PSA International Ltd and Global eTrade Services (GeTS) for enhancing digital connectivity for China-ASEAN trade, and Tuticorin CFS Association for its CoDEx: Container Digital Exchange.

ESCAP and IBM also signed an MoU on the sidelines of the Forum to conduct studies on how frontier technologies can be harnessed to make trade more sustainable and inclusive. This includes collaboration on TINA, a new online decision-support tool for trade negotiators from developing countries.

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