UN program supports security

UN program supports security

This past month I had the unexpected pleasure of being invited by Renee Stein, global trade manager for Microsoft Corp., to attend an impromptu presentation at Microsoft by Carol Cosgrove-Sacks, director of the trade division of the Trade Division in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

Cosgrove-Sacks is responsible at the UNECE for supervising activities concerned with trade, investment and cooperation with the European Commission and the World Trade Organization. As director of the trade division, she supervises inter-governmental programs regarding trade facilitation, investment, electronic commerce, and technical harmonization and standards. In addition, and to the purpose of her presentation at Microsoft, she leads UNeDocs - United Nations Electronic Trade Documents, the UN's digital documentation program.

Born out of the continuing strain that paper places on the global supply chain, UNeDocs is an effort to define an electronic equivalent for paper-based trade documents. It would be based on existing electronic data interface standards, and serve as an enabler for companies of all sizes to exchange electronic trade documents. The restrictions that paper documents place on trade were recognized by the UNECE as early as the 1960s, leading to the initial work on harmonizing trade documents and to ISO 6422, the internationally recognized standard for such documents.

Though I had considered myself to be fairly well-read on the current state of paperless trade, I admit that I was unaware of the UNeDocs program, or of the impressive progress that the organization has already made toward standardizing a substantial number of universal trade documents. My prior understanding had been based exclusively on the capabilities of leading providers of global trade management software to print various import-export forms. The difference is that the UNECE is standardizing the actual data and documents itself so that each of the 55 member countries will be able to electronically exchange common trade data and documents, which can also be printed on demand.

Perhaps of even greater significance is the fact that UNECE is developing the data standards to be compatible with XML (Extended Mark-up Language), and has been working with Microsoft and the company's "InfoPath" Web application for the processing of XML forms on various Web services. Because one country's export is another's import, this can provide participating countries with the potential capability to begin preprocessing an import shipment the moment the export data is pushed to the importing country.

So what does all of this have to do with trade security? Plenty. The successful securing of international supply chains extends well beyond the hardening of physical assets and conveyances. It demands a layered approach across most all of the major security disciplines, including systems, or "cyber" security. After all, what could be a cleaner way to smuggle a weapon of mass destruction into the country than to compromise a legitimate importer's supply chain with a system-altered container number, piece count, description or other data element for a pending shipment?

Though perhaps not as sexy as many high-tech security controls, or as visible as many of the physical targets within international supply chains, ensuring the security of trade data will nonetheless remain one of the highest priorities in the war against terrorism. For example, the World Customs Organization's June 2005 release of its "Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade" cites as the first of the framework's four core elements the "harmonization of advanced electronic cargo information requirements on inbound, outbound and in-transit shipments." UNeDocs will help to put this requirement into practice, and improve overall security risk management through the exchange of enhanced trade data and the ability for an inbound country to request the inspection of selected goods before export.

And UNeDocs can provide quantifiable savings calculated on the elimination of paper alone, not to mention savings associated with an uninterrupted and seamless, end-to-end trade process. Cosgrove-Sacks believes that these economic incentives will indeed create the "tipping point" that will see the use of UNeDocs become a mainstay of international of trade.

If you hadn't already heard of UNeDocs, chances are that will change in the months ahead. Or, perhaps even as Cosgrave-Sacks herself half-jokingly asked, "Why not UNeDocs by Microsoft?"

For more information on UNeDocs, see the UNECE Web site, www.unece.org.

William G. "Jerry" Peck is president and founder of Global Trade Management Solutions. He can be contacted at (815) 462-1732, or at wgpeck@comcast.net.