Ms. Low Yen Ling, Minister of State of Singapore,
Mr. Albert Park, Chief Economist of ADB,
Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome you to the tenth Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum.
Building on a solid partnership with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and many international organizations involved in relevant topics, I am happy to see that interest and participation in the Forum have continued to grow since it was first held in 2009.
The theme, “Next Generation Trade Facilitation for Sustainable Development,” was chosen at the outset of rapid changes and fundamental shifts in the trade facilitation arena since the last Forum in 2019.
International trade has been recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a key means of implementation. And the role of trade in enabling growth and development is particularly evident in the Asia-Pacific region, with it firmly established as an economic and trading powerhouse for the past few decades.
However, even though the COVID-19 pandemic is showing signs of quietening, the region’s economies are left fragile and uneven in their recovery and are facing ongoing difficulties, further aggravated by new crises.
Developing countries were affected heavily by lower domestic demand and tourism. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were hard hit during the crisis. Also, as the inequalities increased in areas like health, education and work, the challenges of achieving Sustainable Development Goals intensified.
In this regard, accelerating the implementation of trade facilitation measures and digitalizing procedures is more crucial than ever to make trade more resilient and inclusive.
Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
Trade facilitation also has a vital role in minimizing the negative effects the transportation of goods across borders can have on the environment.
In this respect, accelerating trade digitalization and a move to paperless trade is crucial. In addition to a 13 per cent reduction in trade costs that may be expected from cross-border paperless trade implementation, ESCAP research suggests that achieving paperless trade in Asia and the Pacific would be equivalent to planting 400 million trees.
The Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific bears great importance in this context.
This United Nations treaty entered into force in 2021, and with eight active Parties, it already accounts for 37 per cent of regional trade. I take this opportunity to congratulate Mongolia on its accession to the treaty just last month and look forward to welcoming many more before the end of the year.
The agreement provides an inclusive and flexible means to accelerate progress while leaving no one behind. It has the potential to accelerate the development of cross-border paperless trade, harmonizing and building upon a number of bilateral and subregional instruments already developed, such as the ASEAN Single Window initiative.
This will reduce trade costs, stimulate trade and make the region more integrated and competitive. Moreover, the treaty provides an enabling platform for the full digital implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.
I am glad to hear ASEAN countries committed to aligning their practices to the Framework Agreement as part of the implementation plan of the ASEAN E-Commerce Agreement, and the easiest way to align is to join it.
Acceding to the Framework Agreement is also identified as a strategic output in the Pacific Regional E-Commerce Strategy and Roadmap. Moreover, joining the paperless trade treaty would also be an effective way for members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) to implement paperless trading cooperation commitments made under that agreement, in particular Article 12.5 and 12.5.2.
Another recommendation I would like you to consider during this Forum is to mainstream the Sustainable Development Goals into your trade facilitation strategies.
How can next-generation trade facilitation measures make trade not only more efficient but also more inclusive, more resilient and more friendly to the environment?
The fourth global United Nations Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation – led by ESCAP and conducted by the United Nations regional commissions in collaboration with many partners shows the regional average implementation rate has now reached 65 per cent, six percentage points higher than in 2019.
However, the more detailed survey results also show that implementation of trade facilitation measures targeted at groups with special needs, such as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or women traders, is lacking.
Research at ESCAP shows that trade facilitation implementation needs to better address the challenges faced by disadvantaged groups and sectors that are key to poverty reduction, such as agriculture sector.
Increasing resilience is another key aspect of sustainable trade facilitation. In this regard, the survey results are compelling, indicating that less than half of the countries in the region have mechanisms and strategies to cope with future crises.
While national plans should be made, greater regional cooperation and coordination will also be essential. I encourage you to consider the Model Chapter on Trade in Crisis Situations released a few days ago by ESCAP and the UN as you negotiate or update your regional trade agreements.
To sum up, next-generation trade facilitation, especially trade digitalization, could open great opportunities for the region, especially for SMEs and smaller rural holders. However, these opportunities and potential benefits are yet to be fully concretized.
There is much more room to improve. In this regard, I look forward to the Forum discussing the pathway ahead and making concrete recommendations to maximize the contribution of trade facilitation efforts and initiatives to achieve the SDGs and leave no one behind.
Let me end by thanking the host country, Singapore, especially Madam Minister, for its outstanding support of this event, particularly the Ministry of Trade and Industry and our key partner, the Asian Development Bank.
Finally, I would like to thank all collaborating international organizations, and representatives from the private sector and industry for your participation and support.