A national single window refers to a facility where actors involved in trade and transport share standardized information and documents to fulfill regulatory requirements related to trade. Single windows allow traders and government agencies to exchange information regarding trade procedures such as permits and licenses, certificates and necessary approvals, customs clearance, and port exit. The World Customs Organization (WCO) provides more information in its document entitled “Understanding Single Window Environment“.
In the absence of a single window, businesses typically must submit the same documents to each relevant authority, which represents significant costs. National single windows simplify procedures and provide businesses with a single point for submitting all required information to all authorities involved in export, import, and transit requirements. This approach can significantly reduce costs, thereby benefitting MSMEs. For more information, see the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe’s (UNECE) Recommendation No. 33 on Establishing a Single Window and the International Trade Centre’s (ITC) SMEs and the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Single windows can provide a range of services depending on their design and coverage. Mostly, they comprise electronic platforms where business users register to submit customs declarations and applications for import and export licenses and licenses for strategic products. The ITC has developed a training manual for policymakers to understand the scope of national single window services in relation to measures aiming to facilitate trade.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has described three general models for single windows on its Recommendation No. 33 on Establishing a Single Window:
ISMIT, or Integrated Services for MSMEs in International Trade, is in the same vein as single windows. According to the UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), which has written guidance on ISMIT, “ISMIT is an integrated, end-to-end eCommerce trade services platform for MSMEs that want to trade across borders. It provides a framework that complements existing trade facilitation instruments and makes them more accessible to MSMEs.”
By using the ISMIT framework, it is possible to link together a variety of stakeholders from the private sector and government to provide services such as tracking payments or transmission of trade documents. For more detailed information, see the UNECE ISMIT white paper.
ITC provides a toolkit that policymakers can consider to support SMEs through trade facilitation reforms, including actions on streamlining national single windows. The toolkit offers two policy recommendations in mainstreaming small business needs to the design of national single windows. The World Customs Organization (WCO) also provides a framework on modern customs administration that suggests principles for regulatory authorities in coordinating border management procedures to cut time and costs involved in implementing single window requirements.