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Across the globe, the advent of ecommerce has broken down geographical barriers, connected buyers and sellers, and spurred economic growth for many sectors. In a space where international giants like Alibaba, Amazon and Barnes & Noble dominate, SMEs are able to be competitive, tapping into the global market by transforming themselves in fundamental ways. From technology adoption to creative strategies, SMEs are making major changes to their business models to level the playing field with bigger players.

Over the years, however, cross-border trade has become exceedingly challenging due to the ever-increasing complexity of the global supply chain. Despite the proliferation of the ecommerce sector, microenterprises and large corporations have faced trouble entering and competing in the international marketplace.

Why is this happening? In order to understand the challenges of trading globally, we must first comprehend what is cross-border trade.

Global commerce is a complex network of exchanges, involving many moving parts and is the lifeblood of the many economies that connects buyers and sellers across the world. Modern day trade has extended far beyond a simple interchange between buyer and seller to include a vast network of partnerships between various interwoven parties from different locations, time zones and business cultures. As such, businesses are met with highly complicated infrastructure, systems that lack sufficient integration and a myriad of bottlenecks in the global supply chain.

As businesses cross borders, more than 50% of goods being shipped are met with red tape, arising mainly from lengthy manual paper-based procedures, overcomplicated interparty transactions, use of different siloed systems across these parties and different means of doing things. All of these issues culminate in delays, inefficiencies, errors and additional costs. In fact, clearing physical paperwork alone often surpasses the time it takes to ship the goods themselves while processing costs can reach up to 20% of the total transportation cost. To top it all off, enterprises are also hindered by knowledge gaps, regulatory imbalances and limited access to competitive technology.

These barriers to international have stifled many SMEs, restricting them to doing business solely within local communities and geographies. Removing these roadblocks is more crucial than ever, if there is to be sustainable and inclusive access to new overseas markets, network building and sustainable growth for SMEs.

Combining cutting-edge technologies and trade facilitation to form a consolidated cross-border platform will help harmonize the movement, release and clearance of goods. This reduces the burden of importing and exporting goods across borders, thus, preventing borders from becoming barriers. With a single consolidated platform connecting and integrating all domestic and international players – be they importers, exporters, logistics providers, freight forwarders, financial institutions, customs agencies or regulatory authorities – trade facilitation and cross-border trading will be simpler, swifter and commercially sensible.

A virtual trade facilitation platform will be able to help overcome current challenges while positioning businesses ahead of the competition. It allows each one of them to connect and work together in a streamlined, efficient and undisrupted manner within an interoperable, supportive and secure environment. With participating partners and comprehensive digital services, local traders and manufacturers can utilize the platform to apply for permits, financing and insurance, source and arrange for logistics, track shipments, and self-declare goods. This speeds up the approval and clearance process as predeclared goods can enter ports more efficiently, turning red tape into red carpet.

As a platform that caters to the current and future trade needs of all parties across the supply chain, businesses will no longer need to submit documents manually or repetitively. Everything is done electronically in a safe, digital space, creating consistency and predictability in cross-border processes, reducing the need for lengthy physical inspections and paperwork.

Furthermore, by using the trade facilitation platform as a central portal, businesses will be able to synchronize and reuse data and commercial information with other trade ecosystem players in a secure, accurate and efficient way. It also enables them to digitalize and automate processes to uplift productivity, lower costs, reduce errors, and enable best practices without having to worry about compromises in data security and confidentiality.

Through engines of innovation that support, facilitate and disrupt the current means of carrying out cross-border trade, a digital trade platform has the capability of providing a global marketplace for buyers and sellers across all industries and geographies. By utilizing a wide array of AI technologies, businesses will be able to leverage state-of-the-art matchmaking and networking features, connect with foreign business partners, and access new sales and business opportunities. Not only does it empower SMEs to expand into new markets, it brings new markets to SMEs.

For governmental and regulatory bodies, the platform needs to introduce more efficient operations, reduction in red tape, higher compliance levels, secure revenue collection and an enticing environment for foreign investment. By enabling increased transparency, the platform can foster higher interagency cooperation, building trust between regulatory bodies and private enterprises.

Finally, the platform’s operability itself must be simple, intuitive and straightforward, alleviating any onboarding reservations newcomers may have. The cross-border data exchange provides traders and customs agents with real-time visibility and allows for up-to-date monitoring of declarations and approvals by customs officers.

In order to advance trade into the digital era, where speed, accuracy and reliability are the norm, an intelligent virtual trade facilitation platform needs to streamline processes across the chain, simplify importing and exporting, exponentially grow international trade, promote local brands and increase competitiveness in cross-border trade. By creating a true one-stop hub for getting goods across the border, it fulfils the need for inclusive growth and competition in the global economy.

With proper implementation and supervision, everyone can benefit from the platform whether you are a government agency or public body looking for support to facilitate trade or a local SME with a keen eye on becoming a global player. In the end, the winners will always be those who have the chance to unlock all the benefits of international commerce.