Vanuatu points the way forward on digitalization for SIDS

Infrastructure obstacles often hamper developing countries, including small island developing states (SIDS).

Digitalization could help these nations in development, and aid posts in efficient cross-border e-commerce and customs clearance. Vanuatu has become an example of these efforts.

Vanuatu Post is moving to interface its post and customs data for cross-border e-commerce and customs clearance. In December 2020, Vanuatu graduated from least developed country status and has become the first Pacific island nation to move its customs and biosecurity processes online.

The interface efforts are part of the collaboration between the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). A collaboration supported by the multilateral partnership known as the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Assistance for the Least Developed Countries (abbreviated to EIF) and promoted by the World Trade Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, among others.

The agencies identified 22 least developed countries in which the interface between the UPU’s Customs Declaration System and UNCTAD’s Automated System for Customs Data could be implemented to exchange electronic advance data (EAD).

“The goal is to facilitate an efficient customs clearance process, reducing release times, and fostering a steady flow and delivery of postal items,” said Siva Somasundram, the UPU’s Director of Policy, Regulation and Markets, who spoke at an Aid-for-Trade Stocktaking Event on March 25, 2021.

“Ultimately it is all about improving the visibility, timelines and quality of service for items in the postal network in a way that is sensitive of national customs and security objectives,” Somasundram said.

These steps are vital as new regulations in 2021 mandate pre-arrival processing of EAD. Without EAD items may be severely delayed or deemed inadmissible. If countries cannot comply with this rule, they may be unable to send items containing goods to several UPU member countries.

Additionally, in the post-pandemic world, with global supply chains restored, Somasundram said he expects a surge in international parcel volumes.

“With this comes the increased need to ensure that our member countries, in particular developing and least developed countries, are well positioned to benefit from the expected surge and have the reach and required digital supporting infrastructure to facilitate those flows and e-commerce generally,” Somasundram said.

The postal network, with more than 650,000 postal outlets worldwide, is uniquely positioned to support government policies for e-commerce inclusion and development, he said.

“We can thus clearly see the relevance and importance of our endeavor today in supporting all the national stakeholders, and in particular Vanuatu Post, in their efforts to be e-commerce ready and be part of the e-commerce story,” Somasundram said.

He added that the collaboration on Vanuatu is a framework for other collaborations in the region.

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