Traders and transporters of goods across borders can face a plethora of regulatory barriers that increase both the cost and difficulty of doing business. They may have to submit quarantine-related information to health and agriculture departments, shipping documents to transport authorities and duty information to customs services.

Single window systems allow traders and transporters to lodge their information with a single body to fulfil all import- and export-related regulatory requirements. By streamlining the flow of information, single window systems expedite and promote the flow of goods and enhance supply chain security. That's why the development of trade single window systems is a priority for APEC and its trade facilitation agenda.

In 2007, APEC's Sub-Committee on Customs Procedures (the SCCP) adopted a vision for single window that identifies two key stages:
  • Stage 1: achieving data sharing within APEC economies
  • Stage 2: establishing links that enable seamless data sharing between single window systems in different APEC economies, through the identification and use of international instruments and standards.
International trade interactions have developed over the centuries and the result is a complex and challenging web of regulations. The simplification and modernisation of procedures therefore requires innovation.

Key factors in the design and development of single window systems include the availability of quality and timely information, domestic and international collaboration, as well as the harmonisation of rules and transparency of decisions.

Tackling these challenges generates benefits over and above trade facilitation and supply chain security. Most importantly it establishes global partnerships to facilitate paperless trading and international interoperability. It also promotes active engagement with industry, early advice of overseas developments and a whole-of-government approach.

APEC SCCP Single Window Working Group
For two years the SCCP's Single Window Working Group (SWWG), chaired by Australia, has been advancing the single window vision within APEC.

The SWWG's activities have been informed by the recommendations outlined in the APEC SCCP Single Window Strategic Plan, published in June 2007.

Key deliverables of the group to-date include:
  • The delivery of capacity building workshops in Chinese Taipei, Australia and Singapore which provided learning opportunities aligned to the needs expressed by economies in 2007;
  • The establishment of an information repository to capture and share the outcomes of pilot projects designed to test new reporting methods and technologies; and
  • The work on international standards and instruments, led by Peru in 2008, which brought greater clarity and understanding to what is available and used in single window design, build and implementation.

Central to the process has been the engagement of the private sector, a priority identified when the Phase 1 single window workshop was held in Sydney in April 2007. During Phase 2, industry involvement was enhanced by giving member economies the opportunity to nominate relevant private sector stakeholders to provide comments and advice on the outputs developed by the working group.

These public-private sector information sharing sessions have furthered the long-term goal of international interoperability and have opened the way for system improvements that are advantageous to both government and business.

The SWWG's Phase 2 mandate is now drawing to a close and the last workshop was held in Singapore in April. It brought together industry, government and relevant experts to finalise work on the Single Window Implementation Guide and the Single Window Working Group Phase 2 Final Report which will be tabled at the SCCP's meeting in Singapore in August.

The Guide includes a framework diagram linking the development of single window systems to the two stage vision and provides information for decision makers about the business processes and technical components that can be incorporated when designing a single window system. The Guide also includes a roadmap to assist APEC economies as they move through all stages of a project lifecycle including project planning, system design and development, stakeholder engagement, governance, implementation and post implementation.

The Future of the APEC SCCP Single Window Working Group
At the workshop in April, a list of areas where further work is required by members was drafted, and options for taking the single window agenda forward were discussed. Options include:

  • Moving the working group to a Phase 3
  • Renaming the group the 'Single Window Implementation Advisory Group'
  • Formulating a new SCCP Collective Action Plan (CAP) or modifying an existing one to include future single window-related activities.

The resource commitment required to Chair the working group was discussed and the option to discontinue a formal work plan under the 'single window' umbrella was also considered. This would enable complete flexibility for economies to pursue single window developments at their own pace and on an ad-hoc basis.

The future of single window activities will be considered by the Sub-Committee on Customs Procedures Plenary in August 2009.