Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP),
Mr. Albert Park, Chief Economist and Director General of the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department of the Asian Development Bank (ADB),
Distinguished Guests, Speakers, Ladies and Gentlemen, and those watching via Zoom,
1. Good morning. It is my pleasure to be here at the 10th Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum (APTFF). I am very glad that we are finally able to hold the APTFF in person this year after a short hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Being able to interact and speak face-to-face increases the engagement level of the forum positively. A special and warm welcome too, for our overseas delegates. I hope you will have the time to explore the rest of Singapore and discover our unique food offerings and multi-racial culture.
Next Generation Trade Facilitation for Sustainable Development
2. This year, the forum’s theme on “Next Generation Trade Facilitation for Sustainable Development”, and to me, this theme is very timely and very apt, and is a topic many businesses and governments are keen to explore and gain new insights on. We have all experienced first-hand over the last three years, the disruptions and challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given this, it is vital to consider how trade facilitation can evolve to help us all better address current and future challenges, and how countries can come together and work together to achieve more sustainable and inclusive development at the same time.
3. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, global trade and supply chains have been disrupted by border closures and the fight against the virus. The usual way of moving goods across countries based on signatories, physical trade documents and forms became more challenging and slowed down trade flow. In fact, we have seen how during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the movement of critical goods such as food supplies, medical equipment, and personal protective gear was also impacted. This has heightened the urgency for governments and businesses to ramp up digitalisation to better facilitate trade and to ensure smoother movement of goods, especially essential and critical goods.
4. Today, governments and businesses recognise the need for greater use of technology to improve and facilitate trade. In fact, I can say this – with digitalisation, we can make trade processes and transactions more agile and flexible, and enhance business resilience, leveraging digitalisation. In fact, the 2021 UN Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation revealed that from 2019 to 2021, which means during the pandemic period, “paperless trade” and “cross-border paperless trade” have grown by about 5.7 and 7.4 percentage points respectively. This progress is admirable, considering the recent challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
5. However, much more must be done for digital trade facilitation to become more pervasive and to become the norm in the long run. Besides raising the level of efficiency in international trade, digital trade facilitation can also help with economic recovery, and boost trade resilience amongst the countries. In addition, digitalisation can help reduce trade costs and in fact, lower the barriers to entry. This will, in turn, lead to more inclusive participation from all economies, big and small, especially the less-developed ones as well as enterprises, especially SMEs and micro enterprises.
Singapore’s Efforts in Digital Trade Facilitation
6. For an open economy like Singapore, trade and digitalisation are vital for our future and survival. We constantly innovate our trade facilitation processes to ensure that Singapore remains a relevant node and partner for the flow of international goods and services. Some of you may know, because you have been friends with us for a long time, in Singapore, we started our digital journey in 1989, 33 years ago, with the launch of Singapore’s National Single Window – or what is known as TradeNet. We were among the world’s first countries to start an integrated system linking businesses to the government for cargo clearance. Since then, we’ve continued to digitalise our trade facilitation.
a. On the Government-to-Government (G2G) front, Singapore now has the Networked Trade Platform (NTP), which allows us to link up with our trade partners’ systems to exchange data directly. You can imagine this became very helpful during the pandemic. Through the NTP, trade documents such as preferential certificates of origin issued by Singapore Customs can be sent directly to our counterparts for overseas customs. These preferential certificates of origin enable Singapore exporters to pay lower tariffs under our FTAs at the importing country. This helps traders reduce the lag from documentation delays. If you think about it, it also mitigates risks and provides greater certainty for their trade transactions. This, in turn, allows them to manage their operations with higher accuracy, and be able to assure their customers of timely arrival.
b. On the Business-to-Business (B2B) front, the Singapore government has been working closely together with the private sector to facilitate trade between businesses. One of the recent initiatives is the Singapore Trade Data Exchange (SGTraDex). Some of you, as you were interacting at the foyer, may have seen the booth. If not, please check it out. The SGTraDex is a common data infrastructure for the supply chain ecosystem. In a secure environment, stakeholders can easily ‘plug and play’ to exchange data and information with other companies and parties along the supply chain. We aim to onboard more stakeholders on SGTraDex, especially smaller firms, to be part of this digital journey. And you think about it, with today’s supply chain delays and disruption, this will go some way to help strengthen trade facilitation, especially for SMEs.
Strengthening International Collaboration on Digital Trade Facilitation
7. Singapore’s efforts in digital trade facilitation go beyond our city-state. We are constantly looking for ways to strengthen our international collaboration on digital trade facilitation. This will benefit more businesses, more consumers, and stakeholders across many borders. We hope to tap on our various networks to collectively raise the standards and advantages of digital trade facilitation.
8. An example is the ASEAN Single Window. The ASEAN Single Window is a regional initiative that connects and integrates the National Single Window of ASEAN Member States by enabling the electronic exchange of cross-border trade-related documents. The ASEAN Single Window has been operational in all ten ASEAN Member States since 2019, three years ago. Apart from exchanging documents for claiming preferential tariffs under the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) or the ATIGA e-Form D, our ASEAN Member States have started work on the exchange of more electronic documents for the longer term. ASEAN is also exploring exchanging trade documents with our Dialogue Partners such as Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the United States. Through the ASEAN Single Window, businesses can save time and costs via simplified and expedited customs clearance. This not only improves the flow of goods but also helps companies to lower administrative and time-to-market costs for businesses.
9. Singapore continues to work closely with like-minded partners to forge Digital Economy Agreements (DEAs). This morning, I had a very good discussion with Mr. Albert Park on this as well. This enables open and trusted use of data as well as provide greater confidence in digital systems. This is achieved through an alignment of rules, standards and policies so that companies can engage seamlessly in cross-border digital trade without onerous compliance costs. The DEAs also seek to facilitate the exchange of electronic trade documents at the border by connecting National Single Windows and enabling data exchange between countries. Happy to share with you that to-date, we have concluded DEAs with Australia, Chile, South Korea, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
10. Ladies and gentlemen, in closing, I would like to congratulate ESCAP and ADB on the 10th anniversary of the APTFF. And again, I want to thank the leadership of ADB and ESCAP for choosing Singapore as the host for this significant milestone event. Over the next few days, as participants attend the webinars in person and on Zoom, as you exchange insights and share best practices throughout the week, I trust you will be inspired with fresh ideas to expand and deepen digital trade facilitation. Together, we can forge new frontiers, and create a better trading environment that benefits many countries, and the companies in the countries, whether big or small, and the people in participating countries.
11. I wish everyone a fruitful time ahead. Thank you.
 https://www.unescap/org/kp/2021/untf-survey-2021-regional - Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation in Asia and the Pacific 2021 –