Good progress made in implementing WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement but still a long road to paperless and inclusive trade procedures

The preliminary results of the 2nd UN Global Survey on Trade Facilitation and Paperless Trade Implementation were presented by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) as part of the Sixth Global Review of Aid for Trade, at the WTO in Geneva, on 12th July 2017.

Preliminary results, based on data from 120 countries worldwide, show that the global average implementation rate of the ambitious set of trade facilitation and paperless trade measures considered in the survey is about 61 per cent, which is 7 percentage points higher than in the first global survey. This suggests that countries have been making significant progress in implementing trade facilitation for the past two years, possibly as countries rush to prepare for the entry into force of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), which entered into force on 22 February 2017.

The survey results show the substantial progress in implementing measures specified in the TFA. However, measures related to automation of trade procedures and use of electronic data and documents are still lagging in implementation in many countries. Paperless trade measures are important tools and “digital” complements for better implementation of the WTO TFA and the development of cross-border e-commerce. Cross-border paperless trade measures, aimed at enabling the exchange of electronic data and documents across borders, have an overall implementation rate of only about 34% globally.
Looking specifically at Asia and the Pacific, the overall average implementation rate stands at 50 per cent in 2017, compared with 46.5 per cent in 2015. Implementation is highest in East and South-East Asia and lowest in South Asian and the Pacific Islands. While still low, Implementation in North and Central Asia including Russian Federation increased by 10 percentage points between 2015 and 2017, the highest rate of change among all subregions.

Despite some long-standing efforts made in this area by South-East Asian countries, the results highlight the difficulties for the region to move towards cross-border paperless trade, making the new Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific, adopted last year at ESCAP, both relevant and timely. This enabling regional UN treaty will provide the institutional foundation for member States to cooperate and accelerate progress in this area, ultimately bolstering competitiveness of participating countries and enabling them to benefit fully from the digital economy. The signing ceremony for the Framework Agreement will be held in Bangkok on 29 August 2017.

The Survey, led by ESCAP, was developed in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and implemented jointly by all the United Nations regional commissions. Key partners of the survey include UNCTAD, International Trade Centre, OECD, ADB, ASEAN, Oceania Customs Organization, Eurasian Economic Commission. More information is available at: https://unnext.unescap.org/content/global-survey-trade-facilitation-and-paperless-trade-implementation-2017