The Group of 7 nations (G7), six of which are UNECE member States (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US), took bold step towards reducing barriers to trade by agreeing on the principles to govern cross-border data use and digital trade. At their meeting in London on 22 October, ministers adopted the G7 Digital Trade Principles and stressed the importance of commonalities within standards while providing sufficient flexibility to pursue legitimate regulatory goals.
UNECE has long supported countries in their efforts to move towards digital trade. Through the UNECE-hosted United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), UNECE serves as a focal point for trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards. Moreover, harnessing the power of digitalization is key to the inclusive, sustainable, and resilient post COVID-19 recovery, and a transition to a more circular economy, that are priorities for UNECE member States.
To use the digital economy's opportunities and support the trade of goods and services, G7 ministers agreed upon driving forward the digitization of trade-related documents to ensure common standards and streamline stakeholders' interactions with border agencies.
UNECE tools such as the recently adopted Package of Standards for Multi-Modal Trade and Transport Connectivity provide for interoperability and facilitate digital exchange of data between modes of transport, sectors, companies, agencies, and countries. This package of standards developed under the multi-agency project on “Transport and Trade Connectivity in the Age of Pandemics”, in support of the UN COVID-19 response, aims at addressing supply chains’ fragmentation and at increasing their efficiency and transparency. By fostering the digital exchange of trade and transport documents, with pilot projects in key transport corridors such as the export of wood products from Belarus via Ukraine, the Black Sea and the Danube, to Serbia, using several modes of transport, the package of standards increases efficiency and can also help avoid physical contact in transport and supply chains, a key objective during the pandemic.
By fostering the traceability of supply chains, UNECE seeks to help countries harness the power of advanced technologies (e.g., blockchain) for sustainable trade. The Call of Action, part of a toolkit to assert and verify claims about sustainable and ethical production in the garment and footwear sector, provides traceability and transparency solutions for tracking any garment or item of footwear from raw components to point of purchase. Greater transparency and traceability can also contribute to efforts towards building a circular economy, as prioritized by UNECE member States.
All of this is also building on long lasting inter-agency cooperation. The United Nations’ Regional Commissions (RCs), under the Joint Approach to Trade Facilitation launched back in 2010, have been pursuing sustainable and digital trade facilitation reforms in their respective regions. The Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation is one regular, joint activity. This year’s Survey includes a new set of standards on ‘Trade Facilitation in Times of Crisis’ referring to immediate and long-term measures to address inclusive, sustainable, and resilient post-COVID-19 recovery. The survey results allow countries to monitor progress in the implementation of measures for sustainable and digital trade facilitation and serve as an evidence base for policymaking.
Over the past decades, rapid technological change and digitalization have profoundly changed global trade. G7 countries prioritized the importance of providing standards for digital trade in developing and developed economies while safeguarding each country's right to regulate for legitimate public policy objectives. However, a fair and inclusive economy will not be achieved without strengthened efforts to tackle the digital divide. The future economy needs to rely on innovation and emerging technology to build a fair, inclusive market with equal opportunities for all. Through its global standards, and through its technical assistance and capacity building support for countries with economies in transition, UNECE can make a valuable contribution to this endeavor.