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Recent Australian Experience in Trade Facilitation and Modernisation

Andrew Hudson


  • Countries are modernizing trade procedures at borders to meet commitments under the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).
  • Current systems for the movement and reporting of goods are inadequate, causing inefficiencies and increasing risks of dangerous and illegal goods crossing borders undetected.
  • Notable internation developments include the European Union Implementation of a Single Window for Trade reform to streamline processes, and the UK’s transition to electronic documentation to replace paper documents.
Recent Australian Experience in Trade Facilitation and Modernisation
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In recent years, there has been movement by many countries to adopt measures to facilitate and modernise international trade at the border. Much of this work reflects commitment by member countries to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) established by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The work also reflects that current arrangements for the movement and reporting in the supply chain are not adequate to handle the increasing levels of trade, the inefficiencies caused by current regime for the reporting and movement of goods through the supply chain and the increasing risks of dangerous and illegal goods being able to move across borders without being identified.

Some recent international developments on these issues can be found with the significant reforms to be implemented by the European Union, including mandating a Single Window for Trade along with other initiatives, and the reforms in the United Kingdom to adopt the use of electronic documentation in lieu of paper documents.

Recent Australian experience with TFA implementation has included the establishment of the National Committee on Trade Facilitation (NCTF) and its various advisory bodies, such as the Compliance Advisory Group, the Trade Facilitation Initiatives Working Group and the Trade and Technology Working Group. The NCTF is convened and administered by the Australian Border Force (ABF), Australia’s customs service. Membership includes the ABF and other “border agencies” such as the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Australia’s biosecurity agency) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The NCTF and its advisory bodies also include representatives from the private sector operating in the supply chain, including industry associations. The NCTF has been active for several years and was a key engagement body for our government and the private sector to collaborate on changes to procedures required to address specific supply chain issues arising during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ABF and the other parties to the NCTF have been working on various initiatives to facilitate and modernise trade, both by legislative and procedural amendments. One of the major developments has been the passage of legislation to allow for a “Regulatory Sandbox”, where the ABF and others can conduct “controlled trials” of procedures which may be contrary to certain provisions of the Customs Act 1901 to determine whether they are appropriate to adopt by way of amendments to that Act.

Other border agencies have also been engaged in their own actions to pursue the outcomes contemplated by the TFA. However, our federal government has also established a separate body known as the “Simplified Trade System Taskforce” as a “whole-of-government” body to coordinate trade facilitation work across the border agencies. The Taskforce established that there were 32 agencies operating at the border, administering approximately 200 pieces of legislation, as it mapped out the import and export processes. The Taskforce has engaged extensively with the border agencies and private sector, releasing several reports, and convening an Industry Summit late in 2023. At the Summit, Ministers, border agency officials and private sector representatives addressed a large audience on topics relevant to the work of the Taskforce into the future.

The Simplified Trade System Taskforce recently released a further Consultation Plan, which described work undertaken by the Taskforce in relation to certain key features of border regulation across border agencies and their governing legislation. The Taskforce identified three main areas of possible reforms: the “Trade and Policy Framework”, the “Fit and Proper Person Assessments Reform” and the “Border Controls Policy Framework”. We are hoping that the federal government continues funding of the Taskforce and retains the Taskforce as a new permanent agency with statutory powers to continue to “deliver a simpler, more effective and sustainable cross-border trade environment that will ensure Australia remains a globally competitive trading nation”.

Through my membership of the NCTF and its advisory bodies (as a practitioner and as a director of several industry associations), I have been able to be involved in much of this facilitation and modernisation work described above, the ongoing work of the ABF and other border agencies and engagement with the work of the Taskforce. I look forward to continuing that involvement in the development of reforms in Australia to facilitate and modernise trade.