Trade Facilitation

As the international focal point for trade facilitation standards and recommendations, UNECE develops instruments to reduce, harmonize and automate procedures and paperwork in international trade. This work is supported by the UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT). UN/CEFACT additionally develops and maintains the only international standard for electronic data interchange (UN/EDIFACT - United Nations Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport).  This standard is used to exchange structured information between computers and is critical to the implementation of management techniques such as just-in-time manufacturing.

UNECE Trade Facilitation Recommendations - Summary Description

The full text of these recommendations can be found on the UN/CEFACT web page at:

1. United Nations Layout Key for Trade Documents

Provides an international basis for the standardization of documents used in international trade and transport, including the visual representation of such documents.  The UN Layout Key is intended particularly to serve as a basis for designing aligned series of forms employing a master document in a reprographic one-run method of document preparation; it can also be used to develop screen layouts for the visual display of computerized information.

2. Locations of Codes in Trade Documents

This text was incorporated into Recommendation No. 1, "United Nations Layout Key for Trade Documents".

3. ISO Country Code for Representation of Names of Countries

Known as the “ISO ALPHA-2 Country Code,” for use in representing the names of countries, dependencies, and other areas of special geopolitical interest for purposes of international trade whenever there is a need for a coded alphabetical designation.

4. National Trade Facilitation Bodies

Recommends that Governments establish and support national trade facilitation bodies with balanced private and public sector participation in order to identify issues affecting the cost and efficiency of their country’s international trade; develop measures to reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of international trade; assist in the implementation of those measures; provide a national focal point for the collection and dissemination of information on best practices in international trade facilitation; and participate in international efforts to improve trade facilitation and efficiency.

5. Abbreviations of INCOTERMS

Proposes abbreviations of the International Chamber of Commerce’s trade terms, known as INCOTERMS, for acceptance and use by Governments and international organizations whenever these terms are referred to in abbreviated form, including electronic data transmission and processing.

6. Aligned Invoice Layout Key for International Trade

Applies to the design of commercial invoices for international trade in goods.  The layout key can also be used as a basis for designing invoices in other instances.  Invoices based on this Recommendation are intended - to the extent possible - to present the required data in such a way that the invoice could complement or in certain cases replace existing documents (e.g. Customs invoices, consular invoices, declarations of origin, etc.).

7. Numerical Representation of Dates, Time and Periods of Time

Establishes a method for a standardized and unambiguous all-numerical designation of a given:  date, time of day and period of time.  It applies to all cases where these data are presented as separate entries in numerical form but not when they are part of a plain language text.

8. Unique Identification Code Methodology – UNIC

The Unique Identification Code Methodology is a unique referencing system for use between parties as a means of referring to a trade transaction and/or consignment. The objective is to reduce the number and different styles of references.

9. Alphabetic Code for the Representation of Currencies

Encourages the use of the three-letter alphabetic codes of International Standard ISO 4217, “Codes for the representation of currencies and funds”, for application in international trade and their use in commercial transactions when currencies are expressed in coded or abbreviated form.  The code is designed to be equally suitable for automated or manual applications.

10. Codes for the Identification of Ships

Recommends that participants in international trade, including ship owners, port authorities and other parties involved in maritime transport of goods, use the International Maritime Organization's Ship Identification Number Scheme for the unique identification of ships; and recommends to use only the final seven characters of the IMO number in EDI applications.

11. Documentary Aspects of the International Transport of Dangerous Goods

Sets forth actions to harmonize information requirements and to simplify documentary procedures for the transport of dangerous goods in order to decrease complexity and increase accuracy and efficiency.

12. Measures to Facilitate Maritime Transport Documents Procedures

This Recommendation aims at the simplification, rationalization and harmonization of procedures and documents used to evidence the contract of carriage in maritime transport.

13. Facilitation of Identified Legal Problems in Import Clearance Procedures

This Recommendation proposes solutions to various problems related to import clearance procedures.

14. Authentication of Trade Documents

Seeks to encourage the use of electronic data transfer in international trade by recommending that Governments review national and international requirements for signatures on trade documents in order to eliminate the need for paper-based documents by meeting the requirement for manual-ink signatures through authentication methods that can be electronically transmitted.  It also recommends examining business processes to identify where signature may be eliminated and for those processes where this is not possible, to pursue the electronic transfer of trade data and the adoption of authentication methods other than the manual-ink signature.

15. Simpler Shipping Marks

Describes a simple and standardized approach to identify cargo in order to reduce costs, mistakes, confusion and shipment delays.  The Standard Shipping Mark established in this Recommendation should be used for marking on packages moved internationally by all modes of transport, for reproduction in related documents, and for data elements in trade data interchange.

16. UN/LOCODE - Code for Trade and Transport Locations

Recommends a five-character code for representing the names of locations of interest to international trade, such as ports, airports, inland freight terminals, and other locations which are used for goods movements associated with trade (for example locations where Customs clearance of goods can take place) and whose names need to be represented unambiguously in data interchange between participants in international trade.  The UN/LOCODE’s code list currently contains some 100,000 codes for locations around the world. Existing codes can be reviewed and new codes submitted through the UN/LOCODE web page at:

17. PAYTERMS – Abbreviations for Terms of Payment

Provides abbreviations for certain terms of payment, referred to as “PAYTERMS”, for use in international trade transactions as appropriate. The “PAYTERMS” apply to commercial transactions relating to the provision of goods and/or services.

18. Facilitation Measures Related to International Trade Procedures

Outlines a series of measures related to the movement of goods, presented in groups covering different phases of a common international trade transaction, which on their own would not justify an independent formal recommendation, but which Governments should consider implementing. Each section describes the application area, outlines the procedures and documents covered, and describes the particular problems for which facilitation measures are provided.

19. Codes for Modes of Transport

Establishes a one-digit numerical code for representing transport modes and provides for a second digit for subdivisions which might be required.  This Recommendation applies to all cases where mode of transport is represented in coded form in international trade documents and where a simple code structure suffices.

20. Codes for Units of Measure used in International Trade

Provides three character alphabetic and alphanumeric codes for representing units of measurement for length, area, volume/capacity, mass (weight), time, and other quantities used in international trade.  The codes are intended for use in manual and/or automated systems for the exchange of information between participants in international trade.

21. Codes for Passengers, Types of Cargo, Packages and Packaging Materials

Presents the lists of coded representations of passengers, types of cargo, packages and packaging materials' names used in international trade.

22. Layout Key for Standard Consignment Instructions

Presents a layout key, based on the United Nations Layout Key for Trade Documents, for the design of Standard Consignment Instructions intended to convey instructions from either a seller/consignor or a buyer/consignee to a freight forwarder, carrier or his agent, or other provider of service, enabling the movement of goods and associated activities.  This Recommendation is relevant to the movement and handling of goods, Customs, distribution of documents, allocation of charges and special instructions.

23. Freight Cost Code - FCC

Provides a naming system to be used for the establishment of harmonized descriptions of freight costs and other charges related to the international movement of goods.  It also specifies an unambiguous coded representation of those descriptions. This Recommendation applies in all cases where descriptions of freight costs and other charges have to be stated in plain language or in coded form in trade data interchange, be it in paper documents or by electronic means.

24. Trade and Transport Status Codes

Provides Transport Status Codes to satisfy requirements for exchanging coded information about the status of consignments, goods or means of transport at a certain time or place in the transport chain. Representation of transport status codes can be given in plain language or in coded form. The codes provided for in this Recommendation are intended for use in manual and/or automated systems for the exchange of information between all participants in international trade.

25. Use of the UN/EDIFACT Standard

Recommends coordinated action by Governments to promote UN/EDIFACT as the single international standard for electronic interchange of data (EDI) between public administrations and private companies of all economic sectors worldwide. There are currently over 200 UN/EDIFACT messages available for the exchange of data between organizations that can be found through the UNECE website at:

26. The Commercial Use of Interchange Agreements for Electronic Data Interchange

Promotes the use of interchange agreements between commercial parties using Electronic Data Interchange in connection with international commercial transactions. The Recommendation includes a Model Interchange Agreement for international use. Though designed for bilateral agreements between two trading partners, the Model Interchange Agreement, with adjustments, can be implemented in multilateral relationships such as in a trade community or association.

27. Preshipment Inspection

The UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) undertook to produce a recommendation discouraging the practice of preshipment inspections (PSI) in general while supporting the WTO instrument regarding preshipment inspections where such inspections are considered necessary as an interim measure.

28. Codes for Types of Means of Transport

This Recommendation establishes a common code list for the identification of the type of means of transport. It has particular relevance to transport organizations and providers, Customs and other authorities, statistical offices, forwarders, shippers, consignees and other parties concerned with transport.

31. Electronic Commerce Agreement

UN/CEFACT is proposing with this Recommendation a model for a contractual approach of electronic commerce operations. This approach takes into consideration the need for a framework of basic provisions to be agreed by business entities combined with the flexibility required to conduct day-to-day commercial transactions.

32. E-Commerce Self-Regulatory Instruments (Codes of Conduct)

This Recommendation emphasizes the need for the development, support and promulgation of voluntary codes of conduct for electronic business so as to support the development of international trade, and calls on governments to promote and facilitate the development of relevant self-regulation instruments, national and international accreditation schemes, codes of conduct and trustmark schemes.

33. Single Window Recommendation

This Recommendation responds to the need to harmonize and simplify the exchange of information between government and trade. It encourages Governments and those involved in international trade and transport to establish a ‘Single Window’ facility for lodging standardized information and documents to fulfil all import, export and transit-related regulatory requirements. Such a facility can simplify and expedite information flows between trade and government and can lead to better harmonization of data across governmental systems, bringing gains to all parties involved in cross-border trade. The Recommendation indicates how authorities and agencies involved in a ‘Single Window’ facility can coordinate their inspections and controls and provide facilities for payment of relevant duties, taxes and fees, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing the administrative overheads associated with international trade.

34. Data Simplification and Standardization for International Trade

It recommends a simple four-stage process to achieve a national simplified and standardized dataset to meet government information requirements. The recommendation adds to the suite of products offered by UN/CEFACT to assist with the establishment of a Single Window.

35. Establishing a legal framework for international trade Single Window

This Recommendation responds to the stakeholder request to provide advice and guidance in the form of a Checklist of the common legal issues encountered when introducing a Single Window facility. The Recommendation is applicable to each of the different models of Single Windows described in Recommendation 33. However, the more complex a Single Window solution is, the more urgent is the need to consider legal aspects for the planning, implementation and operation of a Single Window facility. The Recommendation reflects general legal concerns, drawing on the experience from the Single Windows models documented in the United Nations Single Window Repository as well as experiences from diverse Single Window development efforts around the world.

UNECE Trade Data Elements Directory (TDED)

The standard data elements included in the Directory are intended to facilitate interchange of data in international trade. These standard data elements can be used with any method of data interchange, on paper documents as well as with other means of data communication; they can be selected for transmission one by one, or used within a particular system of interchange rules, e.g. the United Nations syntax rules for Electronic Data Interchange For Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/EDIFACT) developed within the UNECE and published as International Standard ISO 9735. Sections 1, 2, 3, 4 and 9 of the Directory constitute International Standard ISO 7372.


UN/CEFACT Technical Specifications

The UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business has prepared a number of Technical Specifications:

Business Requirements Specifications aim at standardizing business processes, business transactions and information entities used by industries in a supply chain. A business process is the detailed description of the way trading partners intend to play their respective roles, establish business relations and share responsibilities to interact efficiently with the support of their respective information systems. Each business transaction is realized by an exchange of business documents (also called messages). The business documents are composed of Business Information Entities (BIE), which are preferably taken from libraries of reusable business information entities.


The UN/CEFACT Core Components Technical Specification is an approach to information interoperability between applications in the e-business arena. Traditionally, standards for the exchange of business data have been focused on static message definitions that have not enabled a sufficient degree of interoperability or flexibility. A more flexible and interoperable way of standardizing Business Semantics is required. The UN/CEFACT Core Component solution described in this specification presents a methodology for developing a common set of semantic building blocks that represent the general types of business data in use today and provide for the creation of new business vocabularies and the restructuring of existing business vocabularies.


Core Components developed using the Core Components Technical Specification can be found in a UN/CEFACT database. The Core Component Library is available at the UN/CEFACT webpage.


The UN/CEFACT Modelling Methodology (UMM) is a Unified Modelling Language (UML) approach to designing the business services that each business partner must provide in order to collaborate. It provides the business justification for the service to be implemented in a service-oriented architecture (SOA). The steps for implementing UMM and the resulting artefacts are explained in the UMM description on the UN/CEFACT website.


As of 29 December 2014