Western Balkans countries on the way towards accelerating digital channels of trade through Single Window and Data Sharing

The global economy enters 2022 with new challenges. Almost two years into the Covid-19 pandemic the digitalization of transport and trade data flows is on top of the economic agenda. In response, UNECE organized its 4th workshop on trade facilitation, Single Window, and data sharing for the Western Balkans, in cooperation with the Customs Administration of North Macedonia, the World Bank, the European Commission, UNCTAD/ASYCUDA, and CEFTA and others.

The Single Window allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardized information and documents with a single-entry point to fulfill all import, export, and transit-related regulatory requirements, according to the recommendations of the UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), a UNECE subsidiary body.

After global GDP fell by 4.3% in 2020 because of the pandemic, in 2021, practically all countries demonstrated impressive growth figures. According to the January 2022 IMF World Economic Outlook, world economic output grew by 5.9% in 2021 and by 6.5% in Emerging and Developing Europe, to which the Western Balkans belong. Yet expectations for 2022 are more sober: 4.4% for the world and 3.5% for emerging and developing Europe. This situation creates new risks of inflation and increased inequalities.

Due to the pandemic and imposed restrictions on movement of people, global trade shifted rapidly to digital channels. The pandemic has also demonstrated that there is no point in fragmented efforts to digitalize trade and transport information flows. The simplification, standardization, harmonization and automation of trade-related information flows can help countries build back better their economies after the Covid-19 pandemic and be more resilient for future emergencies.

The UNECE workshop aimed to reinforce cooperation on the implementation of Single Window and multimodal transport data sharing using international standards in line with the drive of the Western Balkans towards European integration; the implementation of the World Bank’s project in support of Customs modernization and Single Window implementation in the Western Balkans; and the work of the European Commission’s DG TAXUD and DG MOVE, and the CEFTA Secretariat on digitalization of information flow and establishing Single Window systems. The workshop discussed the need to develop and implement a data model, and the use of the standards and reference data models of the UNECE and UN Centre for trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) for the digitalization of multimodal cargo information exchange.

The UN/CEFACT has been the focal point in the UN for developing and maintaining standards and best practice recommendations for trade facilitation and electronic business for seven decades. UN/CEFACT continues to be a key hub for developing semantic standards and reference data models, providing consistency in the digitalization of trade and transport information exchange globally. Single Window systems have a special place in the concept of a data pipeline on which UN/CEFACT currently works. A Single Window cannot be limited to one area of activities: information is collected from business, where it is generated. In this sense, integrating standardized data sharing in multimodal transport with the regulatory Single Window systems is essential.

The workshop developed a set of recommendations envisaging further work on data modelling and implementation of the package of UN/CEFACT standards for digitalization of multimodal transport data and document exchange, developed under a UN Development Account project during the pandemic. UNECE stands with its member States to support them in implementing and further developing this package of standards to accelerate digital channels of trade and harness the power of trade and economic cooperation in the digital transition.