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Digital tech, key to trade finance access in the APAC region

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) have recently launched a report highlighting that financial technologies can enhance the efficiency and availability of trade finance, especially for SMEs in the Asia and Pacific region.

As reported, technologies can help cut costs, eliminate manual documentation, and enable accumulated digital information on SME profiles for lenders to assess risks.

How can digital technology help?

E-commerce platforms and cloud-based invoicing can allow direct transactions between buyers and sellers.

Meanwhile, blockchain technology and artificial intelligence (AI) can facilitate due diligence and payments for SMEs.

These technologies offer solutions to improve efficiencies at various stages of international trade. The cloud computing advantages for blockchain, for instance, offers an added layer of security.

The Asia-Pacific Trade Facilitation Report 2019 emphasises the need to address the largely unmet demand for trade finance globally, estimated at US$ 1.5 trillion, of which 40% is from the region.

SMEs are the most affected as they tend to have higher rejection rates for trade finance applications, compared with larger firms.

There is an enormous untapped potential in the rapidly evolving digital technologies.

Emerging new technologies can help address long-standing issues of high transaction and processing costs, while mitigating the huge trade finance gap.

The report notes the digitalisation process is far from complete.

What are the challenges hindering its utilisation?

Challenges include the high cost of adopting some new technologies and the lack of international rules and standards covering digital trade.

Fragmented digital technologies also make it difficult for all parties to be compatible and interoperable.

Blockchain technology is not free of risks related to incorrect information input, cyber security, and operations.

Enabling widespread technology adoption

The report supports three initiatives that can enable widespread technology adoption. These are:

  1. Digital Standards for Trade initiative to develop trade ecosystem standards
  2. Global Legal Entity Identifier system to issue unique identifiers for both large and small firms at low cost and help enhance transparency
  3. Model laws on electronic transferable records, electronic commerce, and e-signatures under a UN system to help countries implement legislation in a concerted fashion towards digital trade

It also calls for governments to collaborate with private sector and other partners to expand technology adoption to enable cross-border trade financing.

It highlights the importance of reducing the knowledge gap by improving awareness of trade finance products as well as building more databases to help SMEs tap trade finance.

UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP explained that cross-border trade digitalisation will help all firms in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly SMEs, which are the most vulnerable to trade uncertainty.

It could cut trade costs by 16%. However, this will be difficult to achieve without closer regional cooperation.


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