Standards for cross-border paperless trade

What are standards for cross-border paperless trade?

Have you ever wanted less paperwork for doing business and for engaging in international trade? Running a business can entail filling lots of forms and printing documents for managing procedures and relationships with customers, suppliers, government offices, and other stakeholders. This is even more so when making international trade to play a role in business operations. According to some studies, cross-border transactions require exchanging 36 document and 240 copies on average. To reduce paper waste and enhance business efficiency in international trade, business support organizations have been mapping out standards that can support small businesses to go paperless. Like other standards (see guide on standards), standards for cross-border paperless trade are the result of collaborative efforts among public- and private-sector institutions to validate best practices in using digital means for commercial transactions, logistics, payments and other operations involved in trade. This guide will further discuss aspects of standards for cross-border paperless trade covered by the Standards Toolkit for Cross-border Paperless Trade developed jointly by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Types of standards for cross-border paperless trade

Standards for cross-border paperless trade can be transversal in nature or specific to the actors participating in supply chains. The Standards Toolkit provides a list of the most commonly and widely adopted paperless trade standards and identifies five types of standards that are more practical for small businesses. These are summarized below:

  • Foundational standards: Support businesses to meet requirements on data sharing, reporting, due diligence and compliance. Some examples include country, language and currency codes, units of measure, and standards on financial messaging and freight containers.
  • Identifier standards: Refer to names or IDs for any element involved in supply chains and data exchanges, such as products, persons, entities, carriers, and other physical or digital items.
  • Standards for “Buy,” “Ship” and “Pay” processes: Set guidelines for digitizing documents for commercial transaction, transport and logistics, and payments.
    • Commercial transaction documents: Include catalogues, purchase orders, commercial invoices, packing lists, and dispatch advice, among others.
    • Standards for transport, forwarding and cargo handling document: Relate to shipping-related documents, such as standards on bills of lading, air waybill, and documents for rail and road transport.
    • Standards for payment documents: Facilitate the payment process that businesses manage by using payment confirmations, bills of exchange and promissory notes, among others.

How can standards for cross-border paperless trade support your business to engage in international trade?

Adopting standards for cross-border paperless trade can save your business from significant costs associated with managing operational procedures in paper format. For example, formstack statistics indicate that managing paper files can take up to 40% of workers time in addition to high expenses that companies have to spend in printed forms and documents. Paperless trade standards can also help your business to access finance and facilitate data and information exchanges between supply chain actors that may be relevant for your current and/or future international business activities. As these standards aim to digitalize your key information flows and present them in widely recognized formats, your business can reduce costs and improve efficiency while gaining trust with business partners and customers in new markets. By moving from paper to digital, you can amplify your business opportunities to engage in international trade.

Where can I access further resources on standards for cross-border paperless trade?

  • ICC’s Digital Standards Initiative: The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) offers a collaborative platform for businesses to engage in standard-developing efforts and keep up to pace with standard adoption trends in business areas related to the digital economy. Visit this ICC website.
  • ICT Standards for SMEs: The European Digital SME Alliance has a set of guides, a toolkit and resources on standards across digital domains that provide insights and considerations for businesses. Visit the Alliance website.