Advancing the digitalization of trade with partnerships: National Trade Facilitation Committees as a platform for policy modernization

A country’s international logistics performance is dependent on the extent and modernity of its trade facilitation reform (World Bank, 2018). An institutional obligation for members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), National Trade Facilitation Committees serve as multi-agency platforms for stakeholder engagement. These partnerships generate consensus via ‘national roadmaps’ to customize a country’s approach to update its domestic interface with global markets through implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (UNCTAD, 2017).

This article explores how the context for crafting trade policy is changing, particularly when considering the digitalization of trade, and what it could imply for the role of NTFCs in fostering modernization.

Digitalization and the Changing Landscape of Trade Facilitation Reform

Mainstreaming digital technologies in trade facilitation reform is not merely an obligation for most countries, it is a necessity. Indeed, conditions for the cost-effective and rapid movement of goods can have as much to do with a product’s data as with a product itself. This is increasingly the case as the shift toward paperless trade is premised on policy delivery and compliance through digital means.

Yet, disparate and emergent rules – regulations (e.g. General Data Protection Regulation, European data strategy), arrangements (e.g. Digital Economy Partnership Agreement), framework treaties (e.g. Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific) and provisions (e.g. e-commerce chapters in trade agreements) – highlight a need to coordinate all relevant legal and technical communities when crafting “future proof” policies at the national level.

In addition, modern supply chain models specify relationships between data entities in international sales / transport contracts and demand a reformulation of measures in accordance with the broadening scope of channels (e.g. cross-border e-commerce) and modes of policy delivery (e.g. the internet).

However, the results of the 2019 United Nations (UN) global survey on digital and sustainable trade facilitation indicate a lag in adoption of information and communication technology (ICT) solutions by governments. Examining the survey results, measures for cross-border paperless trade have progressed to approximately half the rate of implementation as compared to measures for transparency, on average. Conversely, measures for institutional cooperation have moved forward in most countries and NTFCs are starting to be seen as permanent fixtures after TFA implementation. With averages of 63 percent progress for paperless measures and 38.6 percent progress for cross-border paperless trade measures (see Figure 1), global commerce has yet to be radically transformed by technology-enabled policies.

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