Discussion |February 28, 2018

Technology, e-commerce, and trade: Private sector views on trade facilitation and logistics trends

Containers at Bangkok commercial port. Photo by ake1150, stock.adobe.com

On January 16, 2018, the World Bank Hub for Infrastructure and Urban Development in Singapore (home of the GICA Secretariat) hosted a discussion, which featured the private sector perspective on technology, e-commerce, and trade. Moderated by Yin Yin, Lam, Senior Transport Specialist, World Bank’s Transport & Digital Development Global Practice, Desmond Tay, CEO, vCargo Cloud, A Declout Group Company and Shiumei Lin, Vice President, Public Affairs, Asia Pacific Region, United Parcel Service (UPS), shared the trends they see in how technology and ecommerce is impacting trade facilitation and logistics and discussed the implications for policy and regulation.

Charles Kunaka, Lead Specialist, Connectivity, and Marcus Bartley Johns, Senior Private Sector Specialist, both from the World Bank’s Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment Global Practice, served as discussants.

Background

Technological change is having a major impact on all industries, and cross-border trade and logistics is no exception. E-commerce is growing rapidly and at a much higher rate than overall trade. In China, for example, cross-border e-commerce grew at an estimated 63 percent annually between 2010 and 2014, compared with 10 percent annually for overall trade.

At the same time, a dramatic increase in the number of small parcels crossing borders through e-commerce is putting pressure on trade facilitation and logistics systems. Technology solutions continue to offer new ways of streamlining trade facilitation at ports, airports, and border crossings, as well as offer new platforms for collaboration between the private and public sectors. Logistics companies are utilizing data in more sophisticated ways to improve the speed and reliability of deliveries. For developing countries, these changes provide new opportunities to participate in trade and connect firms to global markets; while also presenting challenges in remaining competitive in a time of rapid change.

Key Messages

Discussing the trends, challenges, and possible solutions of technology in logistics, Mr. Tay brought out three key inter-linked takeaways:

  • Technology platforms are changing global trade. A number of one-stop international logistics service platforms (e.g., Alibaba’s eWTP, vCargo Cloud’s CamelOne and Yun Qu Na), have emerged recently with value propositions of cost reduction and improved data flows in acquiring customers, documentations and track and traceability of containers. 
  • Technology platforms are creating opportunities for SMEs and emerging markets. E-commerce platforms have proliferated in recent years and lowered barriers for SMEs to participate in the global value chains. For example, typical SMEs have limited resources to fulfill small orders or low-cost products cheaply and cost-effectively. An initiative in Singapore in collaboration with TMALL and JD helped small-sized food exporters to expand their reach in China by consolidating orders for warehouse consignment and bulk shipment through freight forwarding. Malaysia’s partnership with Alibaba to establish DFTZ and become the first country outside China to implement eWTP to increase the participation of SMEs in cross-border trade is another example.
  • Global trade has become more dependent on a technology-based platform. Aside from the growing influence of e-commerce and logistics service platforms, emerging technologies such as blockchain and fintech are poised to disrupt the traditional and linear approaches to global trade. For example, blockchain has the potential to improve transaction verification (e.g., certificate of origins, bill of landing (B/L)), prevent fraud and eliminate intermediaries.

Ms. Lin focused her presentation on trade facilitation and changing regulatory environments, drawing on UPS’s experiences:

  • As traditional B2B customers of courier operators (e.g., exporters, tech companies such as Intel and Dell-EMC) have started to individually customize and deliver their products directly to the end-users instead of through distributors, courier operators have also become more B2C-centric by route-optimizing solutions to meet customer needs.
  • E-commerce has introduced new challenges to how packages are handled by border agencies. For example:
    • An increase in low-value volume has increased volumes at the borders and affected the performance of some border agencies.
    • The profile for risk management has changed: There is an increasing number of new and small enterprises and individuals sending parcels, instead of large manufacturers or consolidators.   
    • Varying rules (e.g., taxation) around postal services and freight-forwarders adds complexity to the competition between physical shops and e-commerce players.
    • Potential solutions to today’s challenges in trade facilitation would involve the following: 
      • Establishing neutral regional/global level trade platforms to improve data and document exchange to enhance visibility and efficiency of global supply chains
      • Developing segmented approaches to shipments (e.g., applying simplified documents, taxation and customs clearance for low-value packages)
      • Utilizing data to build capacity of SMEs (e.g., a trader compliance program for MSMEs) and border agencies

The Q&A session and the discussion that followed drew out the following key considerations for policymakers, industry and the World Bank alike:

  • The pace of disruption is different for different parts of the supply chain. For example, the speed at which information and finance moves within the supply chain has changed drastically while the movement of goods and trade facilitation issues have remained the same principally.
  • There is a need for a new paradigm in trade facilitation, one that caters for  'old issues' while also adapting to the emerging needs of the tech-driven economy.
  • Trade platforms will not wholly replace middlemen in the near term, but it is time for existing intermediaries to review their value propositions to remain competitive.
  • Governments need to keep pace with the rapidly changing landscape: the role of the government in trade facilitation remains significant despite the democratization of trade. Any new regulations should not stifle innovation.
  • Regional level initiatives such as BRI and ASEAN present valuable opportunities for policy coordination.

 

 

Meeting Materials

SPEAKER PRESENTATIONS

Mr. Desmond TayMs. Shiumei Lin

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