Single Windows and National Portals

What is a national single window?

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.

Which services do national single windows provide? 

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.  

Types of single windows

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

  • Single authority: This authority receives paper or electronic information that it later disseminates to the relevant government authorities. The single authority also coordinates actions to facilitate the logistical chain.
  • Single automated system: This system integrates the electronic collection, use, dissemination, and storage of trade-related data disseminating the required information to all relevant authorities.
  • Automated information transaction system: This system enables traders to submit electronic trade declarations to the relevant authorities for processing files and obtaining approvals in a single application. 

What is ISMIT?

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.

How can policymakers support small businesses to use national single windows? 

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. 

Where can I access resources on policy frameworks, guidelines, and tools?

  • Building a Single Window Environment: The WCO provides a compendium of frameworks, guidelines, and tools that policymakers can use to design a national single window. Visit the WCO website.
  • A WCO Guidance on National Committees on Trade Facilitation: This guidance presents resources and action plan examples on single window environments and data harmonization for national committees on trade facilitation. Visit the WCO website
  • Single Window Planning and Implementation Guide: The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) offers a guide to assist policymakers in planning, developing, and managing single window systems. Visit the UNESCAP website

Where can I access best practices and national examples?

  • Morocco’s PortNet is an example of a national single window platform. For information on the design and implementation process, see this 2017 brief on PortNet in Morocco.
  • Singapore’s Single Window TradeNet System: Singapore has a single integrated permit processing system that counts with document services centres specialized in preparing and submitting trade documents on behalf of small businesses. Access TradeNet.
  • Single Window for Trade Facilitation: UNESCAP has compiled best practices of single window systems developed in Asia and the Pacific. Visit the UNESCAP website.
  • Senegal’s Experience in Single Windows: Senegal created a national single window (known as ORBUS) in 2004. It designed a single window environment with the broader objective of enabling paperless trade through complementary measures on digital signature and electronic interconnectivity. Learn more about ORBUS.
  • WCO case studies and other information: The WCO maintains information on single window initiatives that are currently at various stages of implementation. Visit the WCO website.
  • Informal Working Group on MSMEs: After reviewing recommendations submitted by business associations, the Informal Working Group on MSMEs  prepared a consolidated document that includes the topic “single windows.”