Hon. Mr. Liao Xiaoqi, Vice Minister of Commerce, People's Republic of China,
Ladies and gentleman,
Ladies and gentleman,
It is my great honour and pleasure to be here today at the Opening Ceremony of the 2005 APEC Symposium on the Assessment and Benchmark of Paperless Trading. Allow me to express my heartfelt appreciation to the Government of the People's Republic of China, the co-sponsors and organizers for hosting this important Symposium. On behalf of the APEC Secretariat, I warmly welcome representatives from public and private sectors and academic circle to this APEC event, which represents a valuable opportunity for us to discuss how to further promote paperless trading in the APEC region.
Paperless trading - important factor of trade facilitation
The twin process of globalization and liberalization has, over the past decades, generated an ever strong push to strengthen trade flows across the globe. Trade among economies has increased in both volume and the range of goods exchanged. As a consequence this trade has become increasingly complex to administer and the use of traditional methods of processing export/import procedures is often proving less productive. At the same time, the rapid advance of Information and Communications Technology, or ICT, has made paperless trading not only feasible but a cost-effective and imperative. International trade can now derive enormous benefits from incorporating aspects of paperless trade into its supply chains. Paperless trading processes can, along with other ICT advances, significantly reduce transaction costs and provide increased efficiency for both Governments and the private sector. Paperless trading minimizes the time required for customs clearance and reduces unnecessary delay along supply chains. This is most vital for business. Paperless trading, which has been perceived widely as a driver of business facilitation, has nowadays become a priority and paradigm in the contemporary international trade. The growth of paperless trading has been led by Governments with active response from the business sector. Great importance has been attached to paperless trading by many global and regional organizations with a large number of high profile paperless trading projects already under way. These are taking place through the World Trade Organization (WTO), the European Union (EU), Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the Asia-Europe Alliance for e-Commerce (ASEAL) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The United Nations Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) is also working very actively on this area.
Paperless trading in APEC - implementing a mandate
One of the core APEC priorities is to build a paperless trading environment to enhance trade facilitation in our region. The 10th APEC Ministerial Meeting that was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 was a pivotal milestone in initiating paperless trade in the APEC Region. At this meeting Ministers endorsed the Blueprint for Action on Electronic Commerce and agreed that "Member Economies should endeavor to reduce or eliminate the requirement for paper documents needed for customs and other cross-border trade administration and other documents and messages relevant to international sea, air and land transport." The target dates set by ministers were 2005 for developed and 2010 for developing economies, or as soon as possible thereafter. At the 11th APEC Ministerial Meeting in Auckland in 1999 Ministers encouraged economies to incorporate the paperless trading initiative into their Individual Action Plans (IAPs) and increase efforts to achieve their 2005 and 2010 targets.
Following this, at the 13th APEC Ministerial Meeting in Shanghai in 2001 Ministers "welcomed Individual Action Plans on Paperless Trading submitted by some member economies, and encouraged APEC members to reduce regulatory and institutional barriers to paperless trading."
Finally, at the 16th APEC Ministerial Meeting last year in Santiago, Chile, Ministers endorsed APEC's Strategies and Actions towards a Cross-Border Paperless Trading Environment and its ultimate objective to establish a comprehensive paperless trading environment across the APEC region by 2020.
With this mandate, Member economies have demonstrated a strong willingness to implement paperless trade. The Electronic Commerce Steering Group, or ECSG, was set up in 1999 to promote "the development and use of electronic commerce by creating legal, regulatory and policy environments in the APEC region that are predictable, transparent and consistent". Domestic regulations and trading systems have been adjusted towards paperless trading. Pilot projects have been initiated and implemented, including the Electronic Certificate of Origin Pathfinder and the Electronic Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Certificates Pathfinder. In September 2003, the APEC Paperless Trading Symposium was organized to discuss impediments to and development of cross-border paperless trading. The Symposium considered pilot projects and capacity building initiatives to accelerate establishing a paperless trading environment within APEC. In 2004, the ECSG set up the Paperless Trading Subgroup to coordinate APEC's strategies and actions toward cross-border paperless trading. In June 2004, the APEC E-Commerce Business Alliance, which was formed in 2001 on the proposal of China to encourage e-commerce across the Asia-Pacific, organized the 1st Electronic Commerce Business Alliance Seminar. This was aimed at promoting closer public-private partnership to achieve the APEC paperless trading goal. Other activities such as the establishment of the APEC Public-Private Partnership Dialogue on Paperless Trading, application of the web-based single window systems using paperless trading technologies including Electronic Business eXtensible Markup Language, collaboration between APEC and other international institutions, including the WTO, EU, UN Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business will be conducive to the e-commerce development in APEC region.
Beijing Symposium - an important step forward
Despite great efforts to adopt paperless trading, there still exist a huge amount of work and many barriers to overcome such as lack of legal and institutional infrastructure, psychological inertia and propensity to maintain the status quo. Other factors relating to the broader acceptance of paperless trading include the need for increased coordination among agencies, some unwillingness to accept electronic documents without the original signature, concern about information privacy protection, the absence of unified standards to assess and benchmark the implementation of paperless trading, differences in paperless trading and e-commerce due to members' policies, legal and technical frameworks.
Against this background, it is significant that the 2005 APEC Symposium on the Assessment and Benchmark of Paperless Trading is taking place in China, one of the fastest growing Internet and e-commerce markets. It is also important that the Symposium will focus on evaluating paperless trading in APEC, discussing APEC Paperless Trading Assessment Benchmarks, summarizing valuable experience of member economies in developing e-commerce and paperless trading, identifying challenges and issues APEC economies may face in implementing paperless trading. The outcomes of this Symposium will certainly contribute in a meaningful way to accelerating the process of paperless trading development and trade facilitation in the Asia-Pacific Region. This contribution is particularly significant given the fact that APEC Member Economies account for around 50% of world trade.
I am confident that this Symposium will add important momentum for China's contribution to APEC in the area of e-commerce development and trade facilitation. This in turn will add vital impetus to further enhancing economic growth and prosperity in the region towards realization of the goal of an Asia-Pacific community.
APEC will continue playing an active role in creating an environment conducive to the development of paperless trading and e-commerce in the Asia-Pacific region. This goal will only be attainable through the strong commitment and cooperation among member economies and all stakeholders from both public and private sectors involved in this complex process.
I wish all participants a very fruitful Symposium.