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New UN treaty to facilitate paperless trade in Asia and the Pacific to support Trade Facilitation Agreement implementation

A new UN treaty, entitled Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific, will open for signature on 1 October 2016. It is expected to provide countries of Asia and the Pacific with a new tool and “digital” complement for better implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and the development of cross-border e-commerce. Grounded on a common set of general principles and a dedicated intergovernmental platform, the regional treaty will provide Parties with enhanced opportunities to exchange and harmonize practices, build each other’s capacity, and multilaterally develop, adopt and implement more specific and detailed technical and/or legal protocols needed to achieve safe and secure cross-border paperless trade. Implementation will build upon existing international standards as well as on-going bilateral and subregional initiatives, such as the ASEAN Single Window.

In May 2012, Member States of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) adopted a Resolution on Enabling Paperless Trade and the Cross-border Recognition of Electronic Data and Documents for Inclusive and Sustainable Intraregional Trade Facilitation. In May 2016, after four years of consultations and negotiations, the text of a new UN treaty to facilitate cross-border paperless trade in Asia and the Pacific was adopted. Participation in the Agreement is open to all 53 ESCAP Member States regardless of their level of development.

The potential increase in Asia-Pacific exports from implementation of cross-border paperless trade measures is estimated at between US$ 36 billion and US$ 257 billion annually. In tandem, the time required to export would fall between 24% and 44%, and the direct costs between 17% and 31%, depending on the reform scenario considered. Furthermore, the total direct cost savings across all trade in the Asia-Pacific region would be approximately US$ 1 billion annually for partial reform, and US$ 7 billion annually for full implementation, further building on gains expected from basic compliance with the WTO TFA.

The new Framework Agreement will open for signature by all interested ESCAP Members on 1 October 2016 at United Nations Headquarters in New York. It will enter into force after 5 member states have ratified it.

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