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UN/CEFACT standards can pave the ‘digital silk road’ and streamline trade for the ‎Sustainable Development Goals

By aligning with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) spearheaded by the government of China has the potential to enhance connectivity as a catalyst for trade and development from Asia to Europe, stretching down to Africa. To make the most of this opportunity, physical connectivity needs to be complemented by digital connectivity. The trade facilitation recommendation and electronic business standards developed at UNECE can help make this a reality.

The simplification and harmonization of trade procedures are key to information and communication technology (ICT)-based cross-border connectivity. International standards are at the core of this harmonization process.  Through its United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), UNECE acts as a focal point within the UN system to develop key standards on trade facilitation and electronic business aiming to streamline international trade. For instance:

  • The United Nations Layout Key is the basis for nearly every single international trade document in the world.
  • The UN/EDIFACT standard for electronic data exchange is widely used in international supply chains, transport and logistics. Shipping companies and terminals exchange more than 1 billion UN/EDIFACT messages per year, covering more than 75% of sea-freight worldwide.
  • Most National Single Windows in the world – which streamline customs procedures for international trade – use UNECE’s recommendation.
  • Over 100,000 locations are registered in 249 countries with UN/LOCODE - the unique code for identification of ports, airports, inland depots, freight terminals and other transport locations.

During 25-28 November, a series of events took place in Xiamen, China, jointly organized by UNECE and the China National Institute of Standardization (CNIS). Chinese authorities expressed their intention to strengthen their participation in UN/CEFACT and to work on a digital Belt and Road based on open, international standards for sustainable trade and greater regional integration. Over 150 participants attended the meetings, including representatives from Chinese governmental agencies, domestic experts and representatives from international organizations.

Highlighting the contribution of trade to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), Ms. Maria Ceccarelli, Officer-in-Charge, Economic Cooperation and Trade Division of UNECE said, “By facilitating global trade, UN/CEFACT’s work can support the three pillars of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.”  

An opening ceremony was held on 25 November to celebrate the publication of the UNECE glossary of trade facilitation terms which was prepared jointly with the China National Institute for Standardization and which is now available in Chinese in addition of English, Russian language, in both paper and electronic version.

Xiamen also hosted the third meeting of the UN/LOCODE Advisory Group. The Advisory Group decided on a new, streamlined UN/LOCODE maintenance process and the development of an Internet based, open UN/LOCODE maintenance system which will be developed in 2020.