Table of Contents

  • This publication was prepared by the Trade and Investment Division of ESCAP. Its principal aim is to analyse the current status of paperless trade implementation in the region and assess a practical approach to the facilitation of cross-border paperless trade in the Asia-Pacific region, as this will contribute to regional connectivity.
  • This publication contains a compilation of the outcomes from various projects and other work undertaken in the area of cross-border paperless trade, including the implementation of ESCAP Resolution 68/3 and the United Nations Development Account 7th Tranche Project, entitled "Strengthening the capacity of developing and transition economies to link to global supply chains through the reduction of trade obstacles". The contents were prepared by Mr. Sangwon Lim, under the overall supervision of Mr. Ravi Ratnayake, Director, Trade and Investment Division, and the direct supervision of Mr. Yann Duval, Chief, Trade Facilitation Unit of the Trade and Investment of ESCAP.
  • Recognizing the fact that benefits such as improved trade efficiency will be gained from implementing paperless trade, a number of Asian and Pacific countries, such as the Republic of Korea and Singapore, have already introduced paperless trade systems. A recent survey carried out by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), as part of the Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum (APTFF) 2012, revealed the readiness of the region to make a transition to a paperless trade environment. Ninety-two per cent of the responding countries had an automated customs system in place, either nationwide or in major ports and/or airports.
  • Before examining the need for regional arrangements on paperless trade, it is worthwhile looking briefly at the need for paperless trade per se. As the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) (2006) has pointed out, billions of paper documents are used in international trade by traders and administrations. This is happening despite phenomenal advances in information and communications technology (ICT). The arguments supporting a changeover from paper documents to paperless trade are now well-known.
  • This chapter attempts to review various initiatives taken at the individual country level as well as bilateral, regional and global levels to facilitate paperless trade. These initiatives range from putting single window systems in place to electronic exchanges of cross-border trade data and documentation for administration, trade and commerce. Such a review is important as it provides important lessons for formulating a viable regional arrangement for facilitating paperless trade. It should be noted that while several successful initiatives have been taken at the country level to establish single window systems, there are relatively few examples of such arrangements for cross-border exchanges of information in a paperless mode. Some international organizations, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group, have suggested a step-by-step move towards cross-border paperless trade in which the first step should be to develop a national Single Window. The next step should be to interlink these national Single Windows to facilitate cross-border paperless exchanges of information and documentation. However, in practice, several different models have been followed for cross-border paperless trade.
  • The review in the previous chapter of existing paperless trade arrangements clearly shows that the successful creation of a cross-border paperless trading environment in any country requires strong political will, administrative leadership in managing such a changeover and effective participation by traders, in addition to the creation of a suitable legal framework and the marshalling of necessary technological, human and financial resources.