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Highlights from the UNESCAP-WCO-ICC-ADB Webinar on ‘Digitalizing Certificates of Origin – Trends and challenges for Advancing Paperless Trade’

electronic Certificate of Origin
Trade Facilitation
Paperless Trade
CO Accreditation Chain
rules of origin

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the World Customs Organization (WCO), recently concluded its webinar series on accelerating cross-border paperless trade facilitation.

The final webinar in the series covered the digitalization of certificates of origin (COs). During the two-hour session, panelists from the WCO, ICC, ADB plus other origin certification practitioners presented eCO initiatives and case studies, and discussed the latest trends and challenges in digitalizing COs.

With essCert being a leading solution for certifying preferential and non-preferential electronic certificates of origin (eCOs), members of our Team naturally attended the recent webinar – which provided an excellent update on eCO initiatives that are at the forefront of a wider move to paperless trade facilitation. Below are some highlights from the recent session.

Webinar Highlights

According to Mr. Yann Duval, Chief, Trade Policy and Facilitation Section, Trade, Investment and Innovation Division (TIID), UNESCAP, the CO was one of the first documents that countries tried to exchange electronically as part of their cross-border paperless trade initiatives. However, at the global level, it is estimated that only ∼37% of the 130 economies featured in the latest UN global survey on trade facilitation have started electronically exchanging COs.

Commenting on recent developments for non-preferential COs, Julie Sonladuangchanh, Project Manager, ICC World Chambers Federation (WCF) put forward the importance of the CO Accreditation Chain and the ICC CO verification website, which is adding credibility and security to electronic certificates of origin issued by chamber-members of the chain[1], removing key barriers for adoption globally.

Martin van der Weide, Chair, International Certificate of Origin Council, on the other hand, showcased the success story of the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce (KVK), citing its path towards achieving 100% digital non-preferential certificates of origin and the challenges the chamber encountered in this process, since ‘’an eCO issued by KVK can go to more than 150 destination countries.” KVK mandated eCOs in the Netherlands in 2014. Van der Weide added: “We had a lot of exporters or importers coming to us saying we need a wet stamp and signature even though we had clarification from the importing country that the wet stamp and signature was no longer needed. If we hadn’t closed the counters, we would still have now today 30 or 40% manual documents. So it's not only about digitalizing the document but how to make sure that your exporters are using it.”

Moreover, chambers of commerce have started trialing innovative solutions to leverage and unlock the benefits of digitizing COs using blockchain and AI technology. Two case studies were presented during the webinar:

  1. In 2019, the Belgian Chamber of Commerce partnered with Deloitte and implemented a proof of concept with the aim to digitize the entire CO exchange process based on blockchain infrastructure. Singapore was the first destination country. Today, another four countries have joined the pilot as destination countries, including South Korea, Egypt, Malaysia, & UAE
  2. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce successfully launched the world’s first blockchain-AI based eCO platform in May 2018, mentioning that the Chamber experienced a boost in operational efficiency from implementing the system

Pramila A. Crivelli, PhD, Economist, Regional Cooperation and Integration Division, ADB, presented the results of her study on how preferential eCOs can help reduce rules of origin compliance costs and delays, outlining how eCOs are a key driver in making progress towards paperless trade facilitation. Among all methods of preferential certification, the most efficient is self-certification[2], which is strongly encouraged as a practice since there are minimum data requirements basis the WCO guidelines on preferential certification of origin and the WTO Nairobi ministerial decision.

The ASEAN single window (ASW) could serve as the best example in the application of eCOs, according to Sapphasuk Wijaiworakit, Chief, International Cooperation Unit, Thai Customs Department, who provided some interesting findings to back this position. According to Wijaiworakit, over 80% of the ASEAN Trade In Goods Agreement (ATIGA) e-preferential forms in more than half of the AESEAN countries were issued electronically in 2020-2021. Thailand and Vietnam are leading the way with up to 98% electronic coverage of ATIGA forms, followed by Malaysia and Indonesia. 

The ASW roadmap was also outlined during the webinar, with key upcoming capabilities including: the restructuring of the ATIGA form for automatic routing to agencies or national single windows of recipient member countries, back-to-back COs to be accompanied by original reference data (such as the original CO from the exporting country), additional processes for the utilization status of the ATIGA form (customs at the receiving country responding to the issuing agency), cancelation/replacement, and verification.

Speaking on behalf of the World Customs Organization (WCO), Konstantinos Kaiopoulos, Tariff and Trade Affairs Director, WCO, underlined that over the last years an increasing number of WCO members have started using and/or accepting electronic certificates of origin mainly in response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, reiterating the wide acceptance of eCOs in almost all countries globally[3].

In addition, Chunxiao Xu, Technical Attaché, Tariff and Trade Affairs Directorate, Origin Sub-Directorate, WCO, outlined the importance of automatic data exchange systems for exchanging preferential certificate of origin data between customs authorities. In her example, after issuing the certificate of origin, the exporting Customs authority transmits the data to the importing customs authority. Consequently, according to Xu, importers and exporters would only need to indicate the certificate number on the customs declaration, while customs would also use the system for subsequent electronic verification of origin, enabling them to focus their controls more on the goods and less on the authenticity and validity of the certificate.

1essCert eCOs can be verified at the ICC Verification Site if the Chamber is a member of the ICC WCF CO Accreditation Chain; additionally, all essCert eCOs can be verified using the essCert CO verification site.

2essCert supports self-certification. Contact us to find out more about this feature.

3essCert eCOs are accepted across 190 countries.


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