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New United Nations survey highlights progress in global trade facilitation despite multiple crises

New United Nations survey highlights progress in global trade facilitation despite multiple crises

Un global trade survey

Persisting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical turbulence and high inflation continue to challenge international trade. Despite these global disruptions, countries are continuing to move towards a seamless and efficient trading environment by simplifying and digitalizing formalities in international trading.  

According to the fifth United Nations Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation covering 161 countries, progress has been observed in more efficient trade facilitation with the overall implementation rate of general and digital trade facilitation measures increasing by more than six percentage points between 2021 and 2023. The global average implementation rate currently stands at 68.7 per cent. The highest implementation rate is seen in developed economies (85.3 per cent), followed by countries in South-East and East Asia (76.6 per cent). Pacific Islands have the lowest implementation rate (42.3 per cent). 

In the UNECE region, average trade facilitation implementation increased from 76 per cent in 2021 to 80 per cent in 2023. Implementation rate is highest for those measures that are also included in the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. The 2023 UN Global Survey covers 48 countries in the UNECE region, with the addition of four new countries: Iceland, Latvia, Slovenia and Turkmenistan. 

Most progress has been made in Southeastern Europe, now standing at 71 per cent implementation rate, following an impressive 8 per cent increase since 2021. With 6 per cent increase, countries in the Caucasus and Türkiye also made significant progress, reaching 84 per cent implementation rate. The Central Asia sub-regional group, composed of five Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs), increased its implementation rate by 4 per cent, reaching 67 per cent. Implementation in Eastern Europe, in turn, remained at around 65 per cent.  

Implementation also differs across the different categories of measures captured in the Survey. Countries scored highest in the implementation of measures to increase transparency – almost 96 per cent. They all reached above 80 per cent when it comes to implementating measures related to formalities, institutional arrangements and cooperation, and paperless trade.  

With rapid developments in digitalization, measures of paperless and cross-border paperless trade facilitation warrant particular attention. Each category has improved by 6 per cent since the last Survey. The implementation rate of paperless trade is impressive, standing now at 82 per cent. For cross-border paperless trade, however, the implementation rate is still rather low, at only 55 per cent. In addition, the implementation level of these digital measures vary significantly among the countries across the region.  

“UNECE is stepping up support for the implementation of digital, paperless trade facilitation,” said Ms. Olga Algayerova, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of UNECE. “Improving trade facilitation performance is a key avenue for countries to increase the sustainable development benefits of international trade and global value chain integration. I am delighted that UNECE’s trade facilitation tools are used by UN member States and businesses in their day-to-day implementation efforts.” 

The UN 2023 Survey highlights the insufficient adoption of sustainable trade facilitation measures and inadequate support for vulnerable groups, including the agricultural sector, Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and women traders. “More concerted international collaboration is necessary. I call upon countries to actively implement sustainable trade measures highlighted in the Survey to foster inclusive and sustainable trade and development,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP). 

Recommendations on trade facilitation and standards on e-business developed by UNECE’s United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), provide key tools and instruments on digital and sustainable trade facilitation in this regard, and are available free of charge to countries globally.  

The survey was jointly conducted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, UNESCAP, UNECE, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 

The initiative supports the implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, as well as emerging regional and global initiatives on paperless trade or e-trade. The Survey also recommends cutting-edge paperless and cross-border trade facilitation measures, as well as those supporting more inclusive and sustainable trade, targeted at supporting sectors and groups with special needs.  

The results of the survey, including detailed data analysis, can be found at

Note to editors  

UNECE assists its member States to better integrate into the world economy and to harness trade, innovation and infrastructure financing and investment for sustainable development in the region. UNECE normative tools cover many diverse areas, ranging from trade facilitation and agricultural quality standards to ESG traceability of supply chains, innovation, and public private partnerships. UNECE also specifically supports its 17 programme countries in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe, in close cooperation with UN Country Teams.