The COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted supply chains and global trade flows and affected delivery of public services. As part of the emergency response, governments worldwide adopted measures to fast-track imports of essential goods and medical supplies, and to provide public services while maintaining contact restrictions and changes in staff assignments. They also adopted provisional measures to digitalize information exchange or just receive scanned or photographed copies of documents, to verify content through electronic means and to reduce the frequency of physical inspections of goods and means of transport.
Getting out of the emergency phase, policy-makers and the business community seek to turn provisional simplification arrangements into long-term change and scale up their digitalization efforts. Limiting person-to-person contacts to avoid spreading the virus can be combined with searching for improved efficiency of international trade transactions and establishing official controls through the digitalization of trade information flows. The pandemic has precipitated a worldwide digital surge that has the power to transform cross-border trade and transport operations for the future. Yet this transformation must be based on long-term, established standards and rules. The UN Framework for the Immediate Response to the COVID-19 from April 2020 stressed that “The integration of international norms and standards in the design and implementation of socio-economic responses is as critical as ever.”
This is an opportunity for national trade facilitation bodies (NTFBs). They may become one of the mechanisms for coordinating the response to the COVID-19 challenge, including through the use of international trade facilitation standards.
The United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) produces trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards that governments and the business community can use to address their requirements. These instruments offer a basis for NTFBs to develop trade facilitation and simplification measures. This guide is intended to help NTFB members and staff understand how to use UN/CEFACT recommendations, standards and other guidance materials to support trade facilitation reforms in general, and paperless trade initiatives in particular. To make this guide more user-friendly, most of the important trade facilitation instruments mentioned are hyperlinked so the reader can follow those links and use the cited instruments.