The UK now has what is being tipped the “world’s first” hub dedicated to accelerating the digitalisation of trade, with the launch today of the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation (C4DTI).

The centre will be based in the UK’s Teesside region. Co-ordinated by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) UK as an impartial convener, it brings together a range of stakeholders in global trade, including the ICC Digital Standards Initiative (DSI), innovation company Plexal, the British Chambers of Commerce, Deloitte, the Institute of Export, the Department for International Trade, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, HM Revenue and Customs, and Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority.

Its primary aim is to bring together initiatives and expertise from industry and government to scale up efforts to digitalise trade, with the objective of solving for a key market failure holding back progress: the proliferation of fragmented systems and the lack of any mechanism to connect them.

According to the ICC, at present, a single trade transaction can involve 27 documents and 35 government agencies, taking up to three months to conclude at a cost of as much as £80,000. The international business organisation adds that digitalising the UK trading system alone could bring about £225bn in efficiency savings, thereby lowering barriers to access to trade for SME exporters.

“Digitalisation of international trade is the single biggest and fastest way to enable SMEs to grow exports. The C4DTI is a fantastic example of business-led collaboration with government at a national and regional level that will also enable the UK to work in partnership with other nations around the world to accelerate progress,” said Paul Drechsler, chair of ICC UK, in a keynote speech announcing the centre at the ICC Digital Trade Conference.

The centre’s activities will include research projects as well as pilots of new approaches to trade. The C4DTI will also promote the use of common, internationally recognised digital trade standards, such as those published last month by the ICC and World Trade Organization in an attempt to equip participants in global supply chains with the tools they need to go digital.

The industry and government participants in the centre say they will work to connect the patchwork of systems and platforms across the public and private sectors to enable trade information to flow in standardised format and technology solutions to scale – thereby helping exporters to benefit from modern digital trade corridors.

This last point is important in the wake of recent digital-focused trade deals signed by the UK. For example, last year, when the UK began its digital economy agreement negotiations with Singapore, a report released by the International Trade Committee noted that the nation needed an “overarching strategy” to achieve its stated aim of becoming a global leader in digital trade.

The centre will shortly commence work on identifying and removing barriers to digitalising commercial trade documents and adopting tools such as legal entity identifiers and digital assets, before running pilots to test systems and identify and remove pain points in trade digitalisation.