UNCTAD launches real-time database on trade facilitation

02 February 2022

For the first time, aggregated trade facilitation data is instantaneously available to users including traders, investors, researchers and key partners worldwide.

The Port of Walvis Bay in Namibia.
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The Port of Walvis Bay in Namibia. © World Bank/John Hogg

UNCTAD has made its database for national trade facilitation committees (NTFCs) available online to provide real-time insights on how countries are implementing their commitments under the World Trade Organization’s landmark Trade Facilitation Agreement.

It launched the online database during the Global Forum for National Trade Facilitation Committees taking place from 1 to 4 February.

The database, which came into being in 2010, incorporates several new features and allows users to explore information on country-based NTFCs and compare statistics globally, regionally and by development groupings.

It helps users understand the differences in trade facilitation progress between different country groupings, or how a country is performing compared to others.

No more waiting

“In the past, interested parties needed to wait for UNCTAD to release new statistics in a separate study every two years,” said Arántzazu Sánchez, who works on UNCTAD’s trade facilitation programme.

“Now, they have the most updated data at the reach of their hands whenever they need them,” Ms. Sánchez added.

The online database – available in English, French and Spanish – is among UNCTAD’s latest efforts to help trade facilitation stakeholders benefit from its resources.

Comprehensive database

The database compiles data from NTFCs into a single, standardized repertoire to expedite research and comparisons.

Since 2013, the number of country cases in the database has almost doubled from 70 to over 130, making it one of the most comprehensive repositories in the world.

The database covers a wide range of topics on NTFCs, including the scope of responsibilities of a national committee, its institutional framework, membership, gender composition, communication, outcomes and sustainability measurements.

It also provides contact information for individual NTFCs, allowing all interested parties to acquire additional information straight from the source.

Sustainability score for each committee

As part of an upgrade of the database, UNCTAD has developed sustainability scores for individual NTFCs.

The score was calculated based on a series of factors that determine a committee’s capacity to be operational in the long run.

Therefore, the score not only focuses on the prerequisites to set up an efficient NTFC but also considers the current practices in each country.

Analysing an individual committee’s sustainability score will help highlight its strengths and weaknesses, followed by a technical assistance action plan, if necessary.

According to the most recent data released in January 2022, NTFCs got an average of 47 out of 100 points in the sustainability score.

Accelerating trade facilitation reforms

COVID-19-induced disruptions to trade since early 2020 have highlighted the importance of trade facilitation.

“Implementing trade facilitation reforms requires a high level of coordination among parties to simplify, modernize and harmonize import and export processes,” said Shamika Sirimanne, who heads the technology and logistics division of UNCTAD.

“That’s where NTFCs come in, with a role to support countries’ efforts to align with the historic Trade Facilitation Agreement of the World Trade Organization,” Ms. Sirimanne added.

However, experience shows that establishing and maintaining an NFTC is not as easy as it sounds.

Issues such as lack of awareness, frequent replacement of members and funding shortages are just the tip of the iceberg. Adding to the challenges is the COVID-19 pandemic hindering regular meetings and communication for many NTFCs.

With tools like the database, UNCTAD enhances transparency and information sharing to empower NTFCs in their role as coordinators of trade facilitation reforms.