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Bangkok - 31 Aug 2022

News Number: G/23/2022

Forum charts Asia-Pacific agenda for next generation of trade facilitation

Photo credit: Ministry of Trade & Industry, Singapore

The 10th Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum was held in Singapore with a strong focus on how next-generation trade facilitation measures, supported by innovative technologies, can make trade not only more efficient but also more inclusive, resilient and environmentally sustainable.

More than 220 participants from 42 countries are participating this week in the Forum organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Singapore.

An economic and trading powerhouse in the past few decades, the Asia-Pacific region is showing signs of uneven recovery and ongoing difficulties aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple other crises. The challenges of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals have also intensified due to rising inequalities in areas such as health, education and work.

“Next-generation trade facilitation, especially trade digitalization, could open great opportunities for the region, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises and smaller rural holders. However, these opportunities and potential benefits are yet to be fully concretized,” United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana said at the opening.

Increasing resilience is another key aspect of sustainable trade facilitation: less than half of the countries in the region have mechanisms and strategies to cope with future crises, according to results from the fourth global United Nations Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation.

Although the regional average implementation rate has now grown to 65 per cent, the UN Survey also reveals that implementation of trade facilitation measures targeted at groups with special needs, such as SMEs or women traders, is lacking. It calls for trade facilitation implementation to better address the challenges faced by vulnerable groups and sectors that are key to poverty reduction, such as agriculture.

“Digital transformation in trade and trade facilitation promises huge gains, including more inclusive and sustainable benefits. In order to harness technologies and realize the potential benefits, we all need to forge ahead with reforms for digitalization and policy harmonization in trade facilitation and bridge the digital divide for SMEs' access to trade and trade finance,” said Albert Park, Chief Economist and Director General, Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department, Asian Development Bank.

“Today, governments and businesses recognise the need for greater use of technology to improve and facilitate trade. With digitalisation, we can make trade processes and transactions more agile and flexible, and enhance business resilience. Besides raising the level of efficiency in international trade, digital trade facilitation can also aid economic recovery, and boost trade resilience amongst countries. However, much more must be done for digital trade facilitation to become more pervasive, and the norm in the long run,” said Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Singapore .

The Forum underscored the importance of accelerating trade digitalization and the move to paperless trade. In addition to a 13 per cent reduction in trade costs, achieving paperless trade would be equivalent to planting 400 million trees.

To this end, Forum delegates further encouraged ratification of the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific, which has the potential to step up paperless trade development, while harmonizing and building upon a number of bilateral and subregional instruments already developed.

A new online repository of cross-border paperless trade initiatives and solutions was launched during the Forum, with ESCAP and the International Chamber of Commerce calling on public and private services providers to submit their best practices.

This year, four initiatives were awarded APTFF Trade Facilitation Innovation Awards. The winners were China Customs, Infocomm Media Development Authority, Korea Trade Network and TradeWaltz Inc. 

Established in 2009, the Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum is the leading regional platform for the exchange of good practices and knowledge on trade facilitation.

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Photos from the event are available here

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