SINGAPORE - A single trade today can involve more than 25 parties, generating 30 to 40 documents and requiring 60 to 70 per cent of the information to be manually re-entered at least once.
But a new online trading service, which combines all customs and trade-related services into one platform, aims to cut back on such onerous paperwork.
The Networked Trade Platform (NTP), launched on Wednesday (Sept 26), brings together four government certification services required for trading in and out of Singapore, as well as another 25 value-added services by third-party firms geared towards trade. Three more government services will be moved to the new platform in the coming months.
The new service will eventually replace the Government's existing TradeXchange and TradeNet platforms. It aims to raise productivity by digitalising the paper trail, boost competitiveness by giving more accurate data analysis and create opportunities for the third-party service providers.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who launched the NTP at the Orchard Hotel on Wednesday, said the Government had sensed that more needed to be done with previous efforts in TradeNet and TradeXchange.
He noted that a single trade today can involve numerous parties and documents.
"Numerous digital solutions have sprung up around the world to address this. But, many of these function as either a purely regulatory or purely commercial platform," he said.
"If we can stitch the disparate standalone systems or digital islands together, and bridge the government agencies and business community, the potential value to the economy is significant and transformational."
First mentioned in Mr Heng's 2016 Budget speech, the platform went live in December last year, with around 800 companies from various industries joining it to date.
Originally known as the National Trade Platform, it was renamed at the launch event attended by close to 700 industry representatives from the trade, logistics and the public sector.
The NTP was developed by the Singapore Customs and the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) over four years, and supported by more than 20 ministries, government agencies and working groups.
Firms have to pay a monthly $40 fee to use the platform.
The Government had conducted discussions and workshops with more than 400 industry experts and 200 organisations, said Dr Tan Kim Siew, co-chair of the National Trade and Logistics Inter-Agency Steering Committee (NTLSC).
Many participants highlighted the industry's paper-based processes, which require time-consuming manual data entry. Coordination with multiple business partners, including banking, insurance and logistics services, also led some traders to develop expensive proprietary digital systems.
"The NTP must help to achieve paperless trade and greater operational efficiency for our traders. Traders must be able to transact digitally with all their partners," said Dr Tan.
The digital platform can also enable cross-border trade linkages through technology.
Mr Heng said the Singapore Customs is currently in discussion with China on linking the trading systems of both nations, and the Netherlands on trade regulatory processes.
Asean member states are also looking into extending its Asean Single Window initiative to transmit more trade documents, achieving greater economic integration and expand intra-Asean and intra-Asia trade, said Mr Heng.
Building on the NTP's capabilities, one workgroup is also developing a digital information exchange project to speed up agricultural trade by removing the requirement for traders to print hardcopy certificates, he added.
The NTP can be found at www.ntp.gov.sg.