The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have published a comprehensive map of digital trade standards, frameworks and initiatives, in an attempt to equip participants in global supply chains with the tools they need to go digital.

The Standards Toolkit for Cross-border Paperless Trade, published today and seen by GTR, addresses feedback received through the ICC’s Digital Standards Initiative (DSI) from the public and private sectors that suggests more companies and government agencies would digitalise trade processes if they knew what standards they need to align to. The issue is not a lack of standards – in recent years, an almost uncountable number of organisations have been actively working on developing trade standards – but rather a lack of awareness of those that exist, due to the complex and fragmented nature of the standards landscape.

With this standards map, the ICC and WTO aim to solve for this problem. They have identified close to 100 available standards, frameworks and initiatives that offer the potential to enable all parties in global supply chains to speak the same, universal language – regardless of the tools used to automate processes – by leveraging a core set of standardised trade-related document and data formats.

“Our toolkit provides an easy-access guide to the many existing standards for trade digitalisation,” says Hannah Nguyen, director of digital ecosystems at the ICC’s DSI, who co-authored the document. “We hope that building awareness and understanding of these will drive convergence across international supply chains and thus promote genuine interoperability for paperless trade processes.”

The document starts by covering foundational standards that govern the sharing of basic data. Examples include the United Nations Units of Measure standard – which, in a trade context, is used to quantify inventory items – and the ISO 20022 standard, which describes a common platform for the development of financial messages.

It then goes on to cover master references for the cross-border supply chain, such as the Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language, commonly known as e-business XML, which can provide an open infrastructure that enables the global use of electronic business information in an interoperable, secure and consistent manner by all types of organisations.

A section on identifier standards lays out all of the standards for naming products, packages, persons, entities, carriers, containers, trade documents and any other physical or digital items in supply chain and related data exchanges.

“Anyone can create their own identifier and identification for their closed applications and systems. However, using globally accepted and standardised identifiers and code schemes can unlock great advantages for trade partners as they participate in the global economy and international trade,” the co-authors say. “This would facilitate the creation and sharing of unique ‘end-to-end’ identification of subjects and objects, resulting in richer, high-quality data in the international supply chain. It would also increase the ability to track-and-trace, be it locations of particular objects or status and tracking events such as receiving, packing, shipping and transporting, which occur to the traceable object during its lifecycle across different supply chain actors’ processes.”

These standards include the Legal Entity Identifier (LEI). The 20-character, alpha-numeric code that uniquely identifies participants in financial transactions is seen by numerous industry players as potential transformative to trade, since it gives confidence around who is who, who owns whom and who owns what in a way that is quick and effortless.

Also flagged up by the ICC and WTO is the ISO 14533 series for electronic signatures, which allow for the validation of a digital signature for a long time after its generation.

As well as creating a definitive list of fundamental standards that govern the basic nuts and bolts of trade, the co-authors have put together starting toolkits for various types of supply chain actors, from corporates and SMEs, to carriers, freight forwarders and logistics operators, as well as customs authorities and other regulatory agencies.

The starting toolkits were produced in consultation with a wide-ranging group of stakeholders including the Baltic and International Maritime Council (Bimco), the Digital Container Shipping Association, Enterprise Singapore, GS1, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (Fiata), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, MonetaGo, Singapore Standards Council, Swift, the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), and the World Customs Organization (WCO).

“Our objective is to equip every supply chain participant with some of the most notable and widely used standards to help push trade digitalisation to the next level,” says Emmanuelle Ganne, senior analyst at the WTO and report co-author.

Finally, to give supply chain actors a steer on which digitalisation frameworks they can leverage when using electronic trade documents, the ICC and WTO have mapped initiatives such as the Bankers Association for Finance and Trade’s (Baft) Distributed Ledger Payment Commitment (DLPC) and the International Trade and Forfaiting Association’s (ITFA) Digital Negotiable Instruments (DNI) Initiative.

“This toolkit provides an overview of existing standards to help drive adoption, identify potential gaps and promote interoperability,” say the report’s co-authors, adding that they hope the document will enable the international trade community to “unlock the benefits of cross-border paperless trade by moving to a future of secure, trusted and seamless connectivity between parties in supply chains”.

Both the ICC and the WTO say they will now work to promote use of the new toolkit through their respective networks, continually updating the standards covered to ensure the toolkit remains relevant to all intended users.