Paperless Trade On The Horizon

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Cambodia yesterday signed the framework agreement on the Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific, which aims to strengthen digital trade in the region.

cambodia paperless trade asia pacific
A single window system in Thailand has reduced the number of days for export from 24 days in 2006 to 14 days in 2009.

Once Cambodia ratifies the agreement, there are more benefits to Cambodia in terms of trade with other countries in the region who are members of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), said Soeung Sophary, spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce. “It will help digitalise Cambodia’s trade with other countries without using hard copies, which will save operations cost and quicken the time for approvals and coordination,” she said.

According to UNESCAP, the treaty will come into force 90 days after countries have ratified the agreement. After signing the treaty, Cambodia would prepare the requisite digital infrastructure in ministries and government institutions, and build human resources and legal frameworks, before ratifying the agreement, said Sophary.

“The main task to reduce documentary requirements is by identifying unessential ones or harmonising them into one,” she added. “We will try to complete and ratify the agreement in time and not have long talks over it because all relevant parties see the advantages of joining the framework agreement.”

According to a recent UNESCAP study, regional export gains for the Asia-Pacific region are estimated to reach $250 billion annually with the full implementation of cross-border paperless trade. Even partial implementation of cross-border paperless trade could lead to an export increase of $36 billion annually, and decrease the time required to export by as much as 44 percent and reduce costs by up to 31 percent.

According to an Asian Development Bank report, the Asia-Pacific region is home to several successful paperless trade systems that have realised impressive economic gains. “In Singapore after the introduction of the single window system, the time to process trade documents was reduced from 4 days to 15 minutes,” stated the report.

The report also pointed out that Thailand had implemented a number of trade facilitation measures such as procedural reforms and customs modernisation as groundwork for a single window development. “These measures have eliminated redundant processes and reduced the number of days for export from 24 days in 2006 to 14 days in 2009.”

The ADB stated that in Hong Kong, annual savings from an automated information transaction system are estimated at HK$1.3 billion. A recent survey by UNESCAP, as part of the Asia Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum, revealed the region’s readiness to transition to a paperless trade environment.

“UNESCAP Member States have played a leading role in the development of the trade agreement,” said Shamshad Akhtar, United Nations under secretary-general and executive secretary of UNESCAP. “This agreement has the potential to harness the development dividends at the nexus of technology and trade – two key means of implementation for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” he added.

The ADB however stated that one of the main challenges in cross-border paperless trade was harmonising the legal, technical and policy frameworks that differ from one economy to the next. “Overcoming such challenges requires facilitating different paperless trade systems to cooperate with one another.”

This article was originally published in the Khmer Times.

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