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UN and EIF launch interactive guide on cross-border paperless trade

Cross-border paperless trade has great potential to not only grow trade competitiveness but also to address new challenges associated with e-commerce and the digital economy.
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in collaboration with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), launched an interactive guide to support readiness assessments on cross-border paperless trade.

What is the guide about?

The Online Readiness Assessment Guide for Cross-border Paperless Trade is designed to support countries in the region to conduct self-assessments of legal and technical readiness on cross-border paperless trade. With the new guide, countries have at their disposal, comprehensive guides on how to conduct readiness assessments, without the need for intensive physical travelling of experts. They will also be able to interact virtually with experts for further guidance on conducting readiness assessment on a request basis.
“The guide being launched today is expected to support member States in conducting self-assessments of their legal and technical readiness for cross-border paperless trade, as a first step towards developing a concrete action plan for implementation. The Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific, that the guide is supporting the implementation of, is designed so that countries at all levels of development and digitalization can participate, leaving no one behind. I urge all member States to complete ratification as soon as possible,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana at the launch.
“The Online Readiness Assessment Guide for Cross-border Paperless Trade is an important diagnostic tool to identify opportunities for adopting laws and regulations that enable paperless trade. UNCITRAL texts are a core component of that legal environment. The importance of taking prompt action in this area has recently been highlighted by the discussions on how to mitigate the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. ­We are pleased to have cooperated with ESCAP and EIF in preparing this Online Guide and look forward to work with all concerned partners to support States in this critical endeavor,” shared Anna Joubin-Bret, Secretary, UNCITRAL.
“The potential benefits from digitalization of trade processes are substantial. The online interactive guide on cross-border paperless trade will be instrumental in supporting countries to assess their technical and legal gaps in electronic exchange of trade data and documents with other trading partners. We look forward to working with our partners, including ESCAP, to support least developed countries in the region to strengthen their institutional capacity and harmonize data standards towards the vision of an Asia-Pacific paperless trading environment,” said the Executive Director of the Executive Secretariat for the EIF, Dr. Ratnakar Adhikari.
Readiness assessments on cross-border paperless trade support implementation of the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific, which will soon enter into force on 20 February 2021. Five countries – Azerbaijan, Philippines, Islamic Republic of Iran, Bangladesh and China – have thus far ratified or acceded to this UN treaty. In addition, Armenia and Cambodia have signed in 2017, with several more in the process of completing their domestic processes for accession.
The treaty, with its common set of general principles and a dedicated intergovernmental platform, will support countries in building on the bilateral and subregional digital trade solutions they have already developed to achieve greater, region-wide paperless trade. By enabling exchange and legal recognition of trade data and documents, it could reduce trade costs by 25% across the Asia-Pacific region and support more seamless and resilient trade.
Moreover, the policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are having a significant impact on the cost of trading goods across borders. Despite measures taken by many countries to keep goods moving across borders, ESCAP research reveals that international trade costs faced by importers and exporters in the region are expected to rise by 7% on average this year, with some facing increases in costs exceeding 20%.

The new guide is relevant to all countries globally, as it can support the implementation of not only the treaty but also the full digital implementation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).

The Online Readiness Assessment Guide resulted from strong partnerships and continuous efforts in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. It is based on legal and technical readiness assessment checklists developed by the Interim Intergovernmental Steering Group on Cross-border Paperless Trade Facilitation at ESCAP and its Legal and Technical Working Groups, with contributions from the United Nations Network of Experts for Paperless Trade and Transport in Asia and the Pacific (UNNExT).
It benefited from the legal expertise on e-commerce of the UNCITRAL, as well as support from the EIF under a joint project on facilitating cross-border trade in LDCs for sustainable development. It also incorporates lessons learned from other ESCAP trade facilitation projects funded by China, the Russian Federation as well as the Republic of Korea.
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