Opening Statement at the Steering Group on Cross Border Paperless Trade

Excellency, Mr. KIM Byungkyoo, Deputy Minister for Tax and Customs, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Republic of Korea
Distinguished delegates,

Welcome to the opening session of the Interim Intergovernmental Steering Group on Cross-Border Paperless Trade Facilitation. It is a pleasure to be with you to consider how to increase trade in our region. I am pleased to do so alongside a Deputy Minister for Tax and Customs from the Republic of Korea, Mr. Kim Byungkyoo, who brings valuable exerptise to this discussion.

Ongoing international trade tensions make a clear case for deeper regional integration. They highlight Asia and the Pacific’s vulnerability to protectionism, which over the past year has disrupted regional supply chains and shaken investor confidence. Uncertainty is weighing on exports and threatening millions of jobs. Unskilled workers, many of them women, are most at risk.

Part of our region’s response must be to support intraregional trade. Transaction costs remain high in many parts of Asia and the Pacific. It can be costlier for neighbouring developing countries to trade with each other than with developed countries further afield. Reducing these costs is key to unlocking the trade, investment and growth we need for sustainable development.

Hard infrastructure - the physical transport and logistics networks which underpin all types of commercial exchange - has an important role. Yet getting the soft infrastructure right is cost-effective. I am talking of simplified cross-border trade procedures. Procedures supported by technology and long-term trade facilitation programmes - underpinned by structured collaboration among trading partners and informed by businesses’ experience on the ground.

Progress is being made across Asia and the Pacific. According to the UN Global Survey on Trade Facilitation and Paperless Trade Implementation, most countries have implemented trade facilitation measures under the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Customs procedures are being automated. Yet at regional level, the electronic exchange of trade data across borders could be vastly improved.

The paperless trade this would enable is a huge opportunity. One to cut red tape, promote transparency and increase the security of commercial exchanges. Smaller shipments, inherent to increasing levels of cross-border e-commerce, would be greatly facilitated. Combined with the digital implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitating Agreement, paperless trade could reduce existing transactions costs by over a quarter, saving $ 0.6 trillion a year.

ESCAP’s Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific can help us seize this opportunity. As an instrument for regional harmonisation and coordination, it builds on existing trade achievements, including the ASEAN Single Window. It includes support for developing countries to upgrade their e-readiness capacity.

Over the past year, ESCAP has worked closely with the Asian Development Bank, the World Customs Organisation and the World Trade Organisation to drive this initiative forward. We have stepped up support for countries interested in coming on board and for developing countries which have already acceded. A Task Force on Cross-border Electronic Data Exchange for North-East Asia has been established - under the United Nations Network of Experts for Paperless Trade and Transport in Asia and the Pacific. I am delighted Azerbaijan acceded to the treaty, last year, in 2018.

The trust fund the Republic of Korea created has given our effort momentum from the outset. The support the Russian Federation has extended to two projects and the People’s Republic of China’s support for capacity building work has contributed to driving our agenda forward. Good work has been done by the WTO Enhanced Integrated Framework Secretariat to assist certain countries with legal and technical readiness assessments for paperless trade.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Distinguished participants,

I am looking forward to this group’s guidance on how to promote accession and ratification. I hope further progress can be made towards a draft implementation roadmap, supporting guidelines and readiness checklists. This will help build implementation capacity but also, I hope, the consensus needed to accelerate progress among a larger group of member States. The larger the group, the more positive the impact.

I am also looking forward to your thoughts on how we can strengthen capacity building for least developed and landlocked developing countries. We must ensure they benefit from the experience of those who became part of the Framework Agreement early. Pilot projects will be crucial for practical experience prior to full implementation.

I hope we can make 2019 the year in which all interested countries conclude their accession to the Framework Agreement. I wish this group successful discussions and I look forward to hearing their outcome. This is our opportunity to unleash intraregional trade’s full potential in Asia and the Pacific.

Thank you for your attention.