Progress in streamlining trade procedures continues despite COVID-19 crisis, UN survey shows

Countries across the globe are continuing to move towards a seamless and efficient trading environment, within and beyond national borders, by simplifying and digitalizing formalities in international trading, helping to sustain international trade despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey released today by the United Nations regional commissions.

The United Nations Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation is produced biennially by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

The Fourth Survey covers not only the trade facilitation measures in the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, but also digital trade facilitation measures supported by the numerous recommendations and electronic business standards of the UNECE-hosted United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT). The Survey also pays special attention to sectors and groups with special needs, such as the agricultural sector, small and medium enterprises and women traders. A new module on trade facilitation during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic was integrated this year.

Many developing countries and countries with economies in transition have made rapid progress in streamlining trade procedures, particularly in Asia and the Pacific. The Survey, covering 143 countries, shows the global average implementation rate of trade facilitation and paperless trade measures at 65 per cent. For 128 countries, this is an increase of 5 percentage points from an average of 61 per cent to 66 per cent in the last Survey in 2019. In 2021, developed economies have the highest implementation rate (82 per cent), followed by countries in South-East and East Asia (75 per cent). Pacific Islands have the lowest implementation rate (44 per cent).

In the UNECE region, average trade facilitation implementation increased from 73 per cent in 2019 to 76 per cent in 2021. Higher progress has been recorded in Central Asia (16 per cent increase), followed by North America (6 per cent), the Caucasus and Turkey (5 per cent). Despite the significant progress made since 2019, Central Asia is still lagging, as is Eastern Europe and South-Eastern Europe at around 64 per cent while the other four sub-regions (the Caucasus and Turkey; EU, UK, Norway and Switzerland; North America; Russian Federation) reached close to 80 per cent or higher implementation rate. The Survey results for the implementation levels of trade facilitation measures in times of crisis and pandemic vary widely across the region with an average of 46 per cent. The UNECE 2021 Survey includes 44 countries with the addition of two new countries – Andorra and Luxembourg.

The categories that have lower levels of implementation and vary significantly across the region are Paperless trade and Cross-border paperless trade. These are all digital measures, therefore presenting challenges related to ICT infrastructure and digital skills, amongst others. Several countries in the region have reached over 90 per cent implementation in these categories, but countries in Central Asia, Eastern Europe and South-Eastern Europe are far behind in these categories.

“While the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and its socioeconomic impacts, digital trade facilitation measures are of paramount importance to keep supply chains operating smoothly and to accelerate the sustainable recovery needed for the 2030 Agenda”, said Ms. Olga Algayerova, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of UNECE. “UNECE stands ready to support its member States, including countries with economies in transition, to further strengthen digital trade facilitation, harnessing UNECE’s normative tools and policy support.” The UNECE-hosted UN/CEFACT trade facilitation recommendations and e-business standards are key instruments in this regard, and are available free of charge to countries globally.

“Implementation of cross-border paperless trade remains a challenge everywhere, even though the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how useful it can be to exchange documents electronically to reduce physical contacts and the spread of the virus,” according to Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. “I encourage all leaders to take advantage of all available global and regional mechanisms to make progress, such as the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific.”

2021 UN Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation_UNECE region_chart

The results are available at www.untfsurvey.org. The global and regional reports, including the UNECE report, covering 44 countries across the Pan-European region, and detailed data analysis, will be published later this year.

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