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UN/CEFACT international standards pave the way for paperless trading 

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The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have brought the benefits of paperless trading to the forefront of attention. Many countries are considering issuing, accepting and exchanging electronic documents for paperless trading. Issues related to paperless trading are also at the core of World Trade Organizations (WTO) negotiations on e-commerce. Before the summer break, delegations made progress on articles on electronic signatures, authentication, and e-contracts and work is further intensifying in the run up to the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in December.  

The success of moving towards paperless trade relies on the adoption and implementation of relevant international standards. Dematerializing electronic documents encompasses much more than “digitalizing them”. International standards are crucial to ensure interoperability across all digital platforms and documents.  

The UNECE-hosted United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) is one of the main developers of international standards for paperless trading.  

  • UN/CEFACT has established the UN Core Components Library (UN CCL) – a library of data elements contained in electronic messages, which works as a dictionary of all information that can be exchanged in international trade transactions. Without such a dictionary, every actor may define the elements for electronic information exchange differently, thus preventing alignment and interoperability of international trade transactions, making the processes costly and time-consuming. 

  • UN/CEFACT developed an electronic cross-industry invoice, responding to the need for an electronic version of an invoice in a paperless environment. The UN/CEFACT cross-industry invoice covers multiple sectors and commodities and facilitates the business processes, transitions and information used by the industries in the supply chain. This standard is an obligatory standard within the EU for Business-to-Government electronic invoicing. 

UN/CEFACT is also at the forefront of developing standards for tracking and tracing goods during transportation from seller to buyer. Companies can thus have data-driven visibility into the physical location, condition, and context of products and assets, which increases operational efficiency. UN/CEFACT is currently developing an e-business standard covering the electronic business processes of Cross Industry Track and Trace.  

UN/CEFACT is developing these, and many other standards, through consensus building among representatives of all UN Member States. The virtual 37th UN/CEFACT Forum, which takes place 4-15 October 2021, is advancing the development of international standards and trade facilitation recommendations across the following topics: 

  • Single Window Assessment Methodology 

  • Engaging private sector in National Trade Facilitation Bodies 

  • Integrated, multimodal track and trace 

  • eNegotiation 

  • Open Finance for Trade Facilitation 

  • Sustainable Tourism 

  • Use of Artificial Intelligence in Trade Facilitation 

  • Cross Border Management Reference Data Model 

  • Waste Management and Waste Analysis. 

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