The countries of Central Asia and Azerbaijan, which participate in the UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), have a growing shared interest in promoting trade and transport facilitation and strengthening digital connectivity along trade corridors between Europe and East Asia. Developing digital connectivity among the SPECA countries requires innovative solutions, using international standards and best practices.
Developments in this area build on years of work for trade facilitation in Azerbaijan, Central Asia, and the broader UNECE region, notably on streamlining procedures, Single Window, port community systems, implementation of trade agreements, and digitalization of multimodal transport data and document exchange.
Representatives of the SPECA participating countries gathered in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 31 October 2022, for the International High-level Conference on Digital transformation of Information Exchange in Supply Chains Using United Nations Standards, to discuss progress. Participants looked in particular at the needs for enhancing the digitalization of supply chain data sharing along trade routes using various modes of transport between Europe and East Asia, crossing the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.
UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova, who opened the Conference with Mr. Rashad Nabi oghlu Nabiyev, Minister of Digital Development and Transport of Azerbaijan, noted that standardized digitalization of information exchange along digital corridors in the region improves the quality, speed, and transparency of information exchange. “Fragmented digitalization of separate elements of the supply chain does not make sense. This is exactly where the UNECE and UN/CEFACT can provide standards as international public goods. It is important that the digitalization of trade and transport document procedures are aligned to a common reference,” she said.
Minister Nabiyev noted that the current geopolitical situation has increased the strategic importance of Azerbaijan, leading to drastic increase in the volume of transit cargo through the country. The digitalization of the Middle Corridor is an important avenue, where much progress can be achieved. The question now is “how can we apply international standards and best practice to enhance digital connectivity along transport routes crossing the SPECA countries?”, he said.
Seamless flow of information, using UN/CEFACT standards for digital data sharing, already facilitates trade and transport in the European Union, notably in the areas covered by the future Single Window and Electronic Freight Information (eFTI) Regulations, and the Conference brought the concept of this innovative approach to the SPECA countries.
Speakers shared information on progress in the application of a new package of standards based on the reference data models of UN/CEFACT, which aim at a standardized digital transformation of data and document exchanges in multimodal supply chains. The Conference noted the launch of a new UN Development Account project on the implementation of this package of standards and started discussions on support for relevant initiatives and pilot projects in the region. The President of Azerbaijan recently stressed the increased importance of the “Middle Corridor” between East and West, which encompasses Azerbaijan and Central Asia across the Caspian Sea.
The results of this Conference, organized by UNECE and the Ministry of Digital Development and Transport of Azerbaijan, will feed into the preparations for the Azerbaijani chairmanship of SPECA in 2023 and the 25th anniversary SPECA Economic Forum and session of the SPECA Governing Council in 2023.
The conclusions and recommendations on the next steps covered the contribution of UN standards and the role of the international organizations and the private sector in this endeavour.