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Accelerating Trade Digitalization Amid The Pandemic

A new treaty aims to turn the idea of cross-border paperless trade into a reality


Feb 20 marks the entry into force of a new international agreement promoting paperless trade, a timely reminder of how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought digital solutions to regional development challenges into the limelight.


Paperless trade across borders has proven an effective way to mitigate trade disruptions since the onset of the crisis, enabling commerce to continue while limiting physical contact. Yet, despite the increasing acceptance of electronic documents across borders, implementation of cross-border paperless trade remains low, according to the United Nations Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation for Asia and the Pacific.


Across Asia and the Pacific, governments must move from time-consuming paper-based processes to electronic and traceable trade procedures that can significantly enhance competitiveness and address new challenges associated with e-commerce and the digital economy. In doing so, our region can also recover some of the US$200 billion in illicit financial flows that sharply reduce the capacity of governments to put in place support measures for vulnerable groups.


More than 25 countries worked together to develop the treaty, which is now open for accession to all 53 members of ESCAP. The five countries that have ratified or acceded to the treaty -- Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, China, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Philippines -- represent a diverse group of countries spanning the wider Asia-Pacific region but all are committed to regional cooperation in this critical area. Armenia and Cambodia signed the treaty in 2017 while several other ESCAP members are in the process of completing their accession this year, before implementation of the agreement starts in earnest in 2022.

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