• English

Geneva, 28 March 2001

Keynote speech by Ms. Danuta Hübner
UN Under-Secretary-General
and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe

Mr. Chairman,
Dear colleagues and friends,

I am here, at the opening of the 7th Session of the UN/CEFACT to thank you for your work and to encourage and invite you to go on, to continue your endeavours which support business, trade and administrative organizations from developed, developing and transition economies in their effort to improve their performance, and to exchange products and relevant services efficiently and effectively to the benefit of the society as a whole. My gratitude goes to the colleagues in the Working Groups and initiatives in the UN/CEFACT who work for the simplification of trade procedures and create new standards for electronic business. As we all know, there are enormous changes around us. Economic progress and trade have dramatically changed the world economic landscape over the last decades. Yet not all countries have fully benefited from this. Trade liberalisation, regional integration, the technical revolution and globalisation offer great opportunities but they also generate great challenges to all of us. Your work greatly facilitates overcoming them.

We all also know that trade liberalisation alone, crucial as it is, cannot bring full benefits without simplifying trade procedures. Multilateral trade negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organization have resulted in a substantive reduction of overall tariff protection worldwide. As tariffs become less important, but trade procedures remain complex and complicated, full benefits from trade liberalisation are unlikely to be attained. Therefore, there is a growing interest among actors in the multilateral trade negotiations in reducing or eliminating procedural barriers in order to simplify and thereby stimulate international trade.

This is what the UN/CEFACT is doing: identifying, simplifying, harmonising and aligning public and private sector practices, procedures and information flows relating to international trade transactions in goods and related services. I hope you would agree with me that the last year was a good year in your work. New key deliverables of the Centre were prepared and submitted for adoption to this Plenary. Let me note here the revised Recommendation 18: Facilitation Measures Related to International Trade Procedures and the Addendum and Informative Annex to Recommendation 1: the UN Layout Key for Trade Documents and a new version of the Compendium of Trade Facilitation Recommendations. The earlier version of the Compendium enjoyed wide popularity in trade diplomacy circles, and I believe that the new one will be equally useful. What we need now is to bring these products closer to the user community by a broad promotion campaign. We know, however, that what really matters is the implementation.

Let me mention another area in which the UN/CEFACT has made some progress, too - information and communication technology. It is the driving force in the transition from resource-based economies to economies and societies that are based on information, skills and knowledge. Particularly, for economies in transition in our region and for developing economies, information and communication technology (ICT) is an opportunity to leapfrog some long and painful stages in the development process, thereby saving time and resources. We highly appreciate the work done in the framework of the electronic business XML initiative, from which small and medium sized enterprises throughout the world, particularly in the transition and developing countries, will benefit. The EDIFACT Working Group, which maintains the only global and internationally recognised standard for electronic business, also recognises the need to make a bridge to the fast-moving development of technologies. It is important to include the products of this and other efforts undertaken within the UN/CEFACT into our overall work on simplification and harmonisation of international trade processes, through providing interoperability based on open standards that can work together. Another positive development is the drafting by the Legal Working Group of the UN/CEFACT of a new Recommendation on the use of self-regulatory instruments which can add reputation leverage to the position of trading parties. This draft Recommendation is also submitted to you for adoption.

What also strongly matters in our work is reaching out to others, is working together with other organizations who have the same objectives – to make trade a driving force for economic and social development. The UN/ECE and the UN/CEFACT maintain a large network of external contacts in the area of multilateral trade diplomacy. I would like to emphasize here the importance of the Memorandum of Understanding between the UN/ECE, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The Business Object Summit, hosted by us last November, was an excellent manifestation of the collaboration of the four standard-setting institutions. The text of a new Memorandum of Understanding between the UN/ECE and the World Customs Organization (WCO) has been submitted to this Plenary for adoption and I will be happy to sign it with Mr. Michel Danet, Secretary General of the WCO, in the near future.

You will make important decisions on future activities of the UN/CEFACT. This Plenary Session is expected to discuss a new strategy for the development and implementation of open, interoperable global standards and specifications for electronic business. The Centre is also seeking the reassessment and intensification of its work on trade facilitation in economies in transition, which gradually evolve into equal participants in the standard-setting process in this field. The ECE Secretariat is fully supportive of both trends in the development of the UN/CEFACT, and I believe that the United Nations, the UN/CEFACT and the broader user community will benefit from the continuation of this work within the framework of the United Nations.

Before I close my remarks, I would like to thank so much Mr. Henri Martre for his excellent work as the chair of the UN CEFACT. Let me also thank Mr. Ray Walker for working with the Secretariat in preparing the UN/CEFACT Conference we have just had. I want to thank all speakers. The Conference has contributed greatly to your decision making debate of today and tomorrow. I wish you an efficient and useful meeting.