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Digital trade

Leveraging electronic documents for sustainable trade

Published 15 August 2023

Digital technology can provide much needed answers to questions surrounding technical barriers to trade and capacity of small businesses to navigate stringent requirements. But the shift toward cross-border paperless trade is laden with obstacles on legality and standardization. The global agricultural trade, with its diverse and unique set of challenges, is a prime example.

For trade in general, electronic documents are a ‘game changer’ for businesses of all sizes. More specifically for agricultural trade, electronic certificates present a new basis for enterprises to adhere to rigorous health and safety demands while fostering trust and transparency with governments. This reality is taking hold, but there remains four billion physical sheets of trade documentation circulating worldwide that cause delays and waste of agricultural products in an already-weakened global food system.

In this paper, trade development specialist Craig Atkinson lays out the constraints governments and traders face in adopting electronic documentation. Understanding how to move forward hinges on knowing the differences between the digitization of trade documents and unlocking their potential through new digital infrastructure and tools. Looking at existing benchmarks can help to overcome impediments to these efforts, Atkinson writes. A more sustainable future for agri-trade requires stakeholders from international standards bodies, governments, and the private sector to establish aligned measures for issuing, accepting, and using electronic certification.

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Craig Atkinson is the Founder/Director of Lexmerca International Trade and a Trade Development Specialist with the International Trade Centre (ITC), the joint agency of the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Before joining the UN in 2012, Craig began his career in commercial diplomacy with two national government agencies: the Australian Trade Commission and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. He has also served as a consultant for the Commonwealth Secretariat and in the private sector (banking, finance, and technology).

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