A concept whose time has come: why I believe the Single Trade Window is key to smarter borders

Mon 25 Oct 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton

single trade window

'Single Trade Window' is a term that will become a lot more familiar in the coming months and years, writes IOE&IT director general Marco Forgione.

As a concept, it does what it says on the tin: a Single Trade Window allows the trader to submit documents such as bills of lading and commercial invoices once only, for all agencies to access them, rather than dealing with multiple parties in different locations.

It’s an enticing prospect.

So much for the ‘what’: why is the Single Trade Window such a current topic among policy makers and traders alike?

Government backing

It’s because trade, like many other sectors, is increasingly progressing towards a more digital model, helping businesses move goods and services more easily and with less red tape. Recent supply chain disruption underscores even more strongly the imperative to digitise trade documents.

The digitalisation of trade has been slower to happen but is inevitable, being one of the main priorities of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Customs Organisation (WCO).

A Single Trade Window, part of the Digital Trade Principles agreed by the G7 countries on Friday 22 October, is a way for different government agencies to collaborate on customs and trade. Indeed, the Single Trade Window is a pillar of the government’s 2025 UK Border Strategy ambitions.

How we move to digitalised trade models will be a product of many different factors, of which the alignment of documentation is probably the most important.

IOE&IT: addressing the challenge

At the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) we have been involved in discussions and developments around the digitalisation of trade. We stand ready to help government and businesses transition to this new way of doing things.

We have also been using our expertise to help develop projects, particularly with our partnership with TradeMark East Africa in Kenya: the Trade Logistics Information Pipeline (TLIP) project.

There we are building on the economic partnership agreement between Kenya and the UK. A clause in this agreement was to create a more digital trade environment, so we're helping to create a trade corridor with a focus on traceability and supply chain effectiveness.

For example, you could be a grower of green beans Kenya, supplying the major supermarkets in the UK. Our system will trace the origins of that product from the grower to the supermarket shelves. Why would you want this level of traceability in the supply chain you might ask?

From farm to fork: a complex journey

Well, there are many steps these products take on their journey from the grower to your dinner table.

There are many different players who engage with the product on its journey through the supply chain. Around nine different actors are involved with these products before they hit your plate and all of these actions in the supply chain require documentation to move the goods along on their journey.

You have the grower, the exporter, the wholesaler, logistics, customs agencies and so on. All these stops along the supply chain create paperwork. The trade corridor we are creating will enable all of them to view the documentation along its journey. Why this is so important, you might ask?

Traceability = easements

Well, firstly with full traceability in a supply chain you will gain access to customs easements, effectively you’re reducing your time to export by 30% and the cost by about 40%.

It is estimated that digitisation of trade documentation, alone in the G7 nations, will generate more than £6 trillion-worth of growth, cutting 81% of the time spent on trade transactions and reducing processing time from 25 days to a single one.

This is a huge saving straight off the bat and of course with more traceability of goods, we can simultaneously look at greener ways of trading, reducing our carbon footprint in the process.

What must happen now

A lot of things must happen first to make this a reality, with a particular focus on standards, but we are making progress. What we have achieved so far with Kenya is a good first step, but much more needs to happen to make this commonplace.

Inter-governmental organisations are working to try to establish a common standard enabling trade windows to be commonplace in international transactions. The WTO and WCO are driving this change and helping inter-governmental organisations find the right formula to allow this to take place.

Many countries are already developing their own trade windows and the UK has made its intentions clear that it will be doing the same. The UK can have a strong voice in helping to shape how these trade windows will work, but it is essential that we don’t do this in isolation.

Taking the lead

The IOE&IT has been taking the lead on helping and supporting both government and businesses to realise this vision.

We have developed training around the digitalisation agenda, including on digital trade documentation and digital identities.

In addition, we have promoted the government's Single Trade Window public consultation to our Business members, interviewed leading policy makers at live events and hosted webinars on the future of international trade for our membership, featuring top speakers from business and government.

We will be paving the way for the digital revolution in trade, and we’ll make sure that the UK is ready to take full advantage of the opportunities that STWs will create.