Reducing trade costs is essential for developing economies to participate in international production networks and effectively use trade as an engine of growth and sustainable development. This can be accomplished by tackling non-tariff sources of trade costs and addressing cumbersome regulatory procedures and documentation requirements. Indeed, trade facilitation including paperless trade has taken increasing importance as evidenced by the entry into force of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), as well as the growing number of regional and subregional initiatives for facilitating the electronic exchange of information along international supply chains .
This report presents key results of the second global survey on trade facilitation and paperless trade implementation, covering 44 countries in Asia and the Pacific. The survey questionnaire includes 47 trade facilitation measures under seven groups—(i) general trade facilitation measures; (ii) paperless trade; (iii) cross-border paperless trade; (iv) transit facilitation; (v) trade facilitation for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); (vi) agricultural trade facilitation; and (vii) women and trade facilitation.
Trade facilitation implementation rates vary widely across and within subregions. Apart from Australia and New Zealand, average implementation is highest in East and Northeast Asia (73.7%), followed by Southeast Asia (60.1%), North and Central Asia (51.8%), and South and Southwest Asia (46.5%). The Pacific lags at 28.2%. The region’s implementation rates on the WTO TFA related measures are relatively high, at 50–70%. However, paperless trade and, in particular, cross-border paperless trade implementation remain limited. Average implementation rates for measures aimed at facilitating trade for SMEs and facilitating women participation in trade are low, at 39% and 23% respectively.
Average implementation rates of general trade facilitation as well as paperless trade measures increased by approximately 5.6 percentage points between 2015 and 2017, from 44.8% to 50.4%. The largest progress is observed in Central Asia where the implementation rate rises by 10.2 percentage points during that period. Substantial progress is also observed in South and South-West Asia and the implementation rate improves by 7.1 percentage points. Implementation rates of other subregions rise by 3 to 5 percentage points. Limited human resource capacity seems to be the key challenge for Asia-Pacific Least Developed and Landlocked Developing Countries (LDCs and LLDCs) in making further progress, while Lack of coordination between Government agencies seems to be the most important challenge in other developing countries.
Going forward, digitalization offers immense potential to enhance trade facilitation implementation and further reduce trade costs in Asia and the Pacific. The Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific, which complements the WTO TFA by facilitating paperless trade, provides a unique opportunity for participating countries to accelerate electronic exchange of trade-related data and documents across borders and to overcome challenges on cross-border paperless trade.
For national, (sub)regional reports related to the UN Trade Facilitation and Paperless Trade Implementation Survey, as well as to access the online interactive database, please go to: https://unnext.unescap.org/AP-TFSurvey2017/
**Financial support from Republic of Korea for collecting the data and disseminating the results is gratefully acknowledged.