The COVID-19 pandemic not only had huge disruptions on international trade and supply chain, but it also underscored the importance of digital technology and of finding new ways of doing business with almost all international trade today being facilitated and enabled by digital and communication technologies. To this end, the expansion of countries (currently at 11) as Parties to the Agreement on the Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific is a welcome development. The agreement, an ESCAP-facilitated initiative which entered into force in February 2021, is the first UN treaty dedicated entirely to accelerating the implementation of digital trade facilitation measures for trade and development and demonstrates the Asia-Pacific region’s strong political will and leadership in digitalizing trade procedures. The Standing Committee met for the first time in December 2022 to initiate the agreement’s implementation, including discussions on a comprehensive action plan and areas for collaboration among partner countries.
Notably, these recent developments are most relevant to East and North-East Asia especially to the Greater Tumen Initiative (GTI) platform with three GTI member countries as Parties to the agreement. China ratified the agreement in November 2020 and Mongolia and the Republic of Korea acceded in July and November 2022, respectively. Russian Federation is well advanced in its domestic consultations to accede to the agreement. Membership in the treaty is diverse and inclusive, covering least developed countries (e.g., Timor-Leste) landlocked developing countries (e.g., Mongolia), and leading economies (e.g., China, Republic of Korea). As such, opportunities for collaborations abound. Leading economies can support implementation through promoting practices and setting up regional norms in cross-border paperless trade. At the same time, less developed economies will get much needed support in advancing paperless, including cross-border paperless, trade.