The question Australian businesses and policymakers should be asking is how and when Australia will participate in what is clearly a regional shift towards digital integration.
The Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth's Inquiry into Trade and the Digital Economy reported in September 2018. It recommended making the 'single window' for trade a priority, promoting digital trade standards. However, DHA's submission to the Inquiry was talking about introducing a single window over the course of the next decade – more than 10 years behind counterparts in Singapore and New Zealand.
The business and economic case for digitising trade is simple: it speeds up trade and automates compliance, reducing trade transaction costs (TTCs) and making trade more efficient.
The compliance case is also compelling. Digitisation holds the potential for regulatory agencies to gain better data on transactions, with a view to preventing fraud, specifically trade-based money laundering (TBML). This can include misrepresenting the price of goods or shipping nothing at all with false invoices.
Regional trade hubs such as Singapore and Hong Kong thrive on trade; they are among the busiest ports in the region. It is absolutely vital they maintain their competitiveness and efficiency.
Australia is an export-oriented economy. This is one of the reasons Australia has pursued relatively aggressive trade liberalisation strategies over the past decades. However, streamlining trade transactions, and moving ahead with the best technology, is essential to Australia's immediate and long-term interests.
In a time of trade policy uncertainty, making trade cheaper for Australian exporters - from trade finance to customs clearances - will go a small way to offset growing protectionism around the world.
Khalil Hegarty is Associate Director and Tyler McDonald is a Consultant at ITS Global