Distinguished Delegates, Experts,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to extend a warm welcome to the Sixth Meeting of the Interim Intergovernmental Steering Group on Cross-Border Paperless Trade Facilitation.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought digitalization into the limelight, with paperless trade recognized as an effective way to mitigate trade disruptions during the crisis. Paperless trade can also help address new challenges associated with e-commerce and the digital economy, which experienced extraordinary growth during the pandemic. Looking beyond the on-going crisis, paperless trade will also provide more inclusive and resilient trade for Asia and the Pacific, contributing to building back better.
I am very pleased to note that the paperless trade treaty that this Steering Group negotiated will enter into force on 20 February 2021, as five ESCAP members have now ratified the agreement. Several other ESCAP members are in the midst of completing this year the process of accession to the agreement as well.
The entry into force of the treaty is a great achievement for our region, confirming our high-level commitment, vision and leadership on trade digitalization. However, despite the increasing acceptance of electronic documents across borders since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, implementation of cross-border paperless trade remains low according to the latest UN Global Survey on Trade Facilitation. This is in large part because it requires consistent and sustained collaboration to develop the required legal and technical solutions. In this regard, the Framework Agreement is designed to create a neutral and dedicated space to develop and test these solutions, building on national, bilateral and subregional initiatives. The latest estimates by the Asian Development Bank and ESCAP suggest that it can help reduce trade costs by more than 20 per cent in most of the developing countries of the region.
Nevertheless, we gather now for the next phase: actual implementation of the Framework Agreement. In this context, please allow me to highlight some areas for the meeting to consider during the session.
First, I encourage all Parties to discuss how to best utilize and further advance resources already developed by the Steering Group and its Legal and Technical Working Groups. I expect the road map drafted by the Steering Group, including supporting documents and related tools, will help interested member States to move more quickly with implementation of the Framework Agreement once they become party to it. But incorporating capacity building opportunities for least developed countries and other countries with special needs will be important, as the paperless trade solutions developed under the treaty should accommodate the needs of as many ESCAP members as possible, regardless of their level of development.
Second, the Steering Group should find ways to strengthen and leverage partnerships. Achieving cross-border paperless trade is a long and challenging process, requiring political will to cooperate, long-term planning and gradual implementation, but also strong partnerships. The Framework Agreement stresses collaboration with development partners for more effective technical and financial assistance to close capacity gaps between parties. Thus, I am very pleased to see a large increase in the number of international organizations participating in the meeting, and I encourage this group to re-enforce these partnerships during and after this meeting, including by discussing concrete modalities for collaboration going forward.
Third, I urge all member States represented here today that have not yet acceded to the Agreement, to take swift actions to join the treaty. As we know from network economics, the treaty can bring more benefits to its members if more countries become party to it. If your country has limited capacity in paperless trade, joining will build it through cooperation with other parties. If your country has extensive capacity, please join to share and promote your solutions or those actions you have already implemented at the bilateral or subregional level.
Let me assure you that the secretariat will continue its support in implementing paperless trade and other trade facilitation measures, including through research, technical assistance and capacity-building activities. In this regard, in August 2020 the secretariat launched the Accession/Ratification Accelerator Programme for the Framework Agreement to provide technical assistance and advisory services to Member States interested in speeding up domestic accession or ratification processes. The Governments of Mongolia and Tajikistan are currently supported by the programme. We have now extended the programme to June 2021 and I encourage developing member States that need support to apply. This would enable them to be a part of the agreement from the very beginning ensuring their priorities are fully taken into account.
Lastly, I would like to thank the Republic of Korea for its continuous support and commitment through a trust fund created for the implementation of ESCAP resolutions 68/3 and 70/6 on paperless trade. The organization of this meeting, as well as meetings of the Legal and Technical Working Groups and capacity building workshops are supported by the trust fund. I would also like to thank the continued commitment of China to support countries in building their capacity towards cross-border paperless trade in line with the Framework Agreement, including providing the resources needed to conduct cross-border paperless trade readiness assessments in several countries. This has provided a strong basis for the online readiness self-assessment guide ESCAP launched a few months ago with UNCITRAL and the Enhanced Integrated Framework of the WTO.
I close by wishing the Steering Group a fruitful discussion and look forward to continuing our joint efforts through the Framework Agreement.
Thank you very much.