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Digital tricks of trade

Pic Credit : Image Credit: Singapore Customs

The Networked Trade Platform (NTP) was launched on 26 September 2018 by Minister for Finance, Mr Heng Swee Keat. An open digital platform, the NTP taps on the latest technologies to better serve the business needs of the trade and logistics community.

NTP: Key Node for Digital Trade Connectivity

The Platform’s inception began two years ago, when Minister Heng announced plans for it in his Budget 2016 speech. Back then, it was announced as the National Trade Platform.

Nomenclature aside, the aims of the NTP remain the same. To improve businesses’ operational efficiency and boosts competitiveness. As a one-stop trade and logistics ecosystem, it supports the digitalisation efforts and connects players across the trade value chain – in Singapore and abroad. The connectivity it promotes enables end-to-end digital trade.

NTP aims to provide the foundation for Singapore to be a leading trade, supply chain and trade financing hub.

In his keynote speech, Minister Heng said, “NTP is a transformational platform, which will take us from a traditional single window which gives traders a one-stop interface for all trade related regulatory transactions, to a one-stop interface that will enable them to interact with all business partners, stakeholders and regulators on trade related transactions.”

A Community Effort

As an open digital platform, service providers can develop new applications and foster innovation within the trade ecosystem.

Through NTP, traders can utilise a range of trade-related value-added services (VAS) such as cargo freight booking, trade financing, and cargo insurance on a single platform. This ensures the needs of the industry are addressed from end-to-end. Currently, 25 VAS are available on the NTP. About 90 more VAS will be added in due course.

Items on the VAS were identified and curated in consultation with key stakeholders across the relevant sectors. Dr Tan Kim Siew, Co-Chair of the National Trade and Logistics Inter-Agency Steering Committee (NTLSC), said that workshops and discussions with more than 400 individuals and 200 organisations across multiple industries were conducted. From there, the Committee began to develop a better understanding of pain points and business needs.

Many complained about the volumes of time-consuming paperwork and manual data entry processes. They also faced difficulties in coordinating with multiple business partners. This required the formation of many digital connections with different vendors to access the different types of trade-related services like banking, insurance and logistics. To top it off, the fragmentation of the trade ecosystem hindered a trader’s end-to-end visibility of transactions. This proved challenging in responding to changes real-time.

Wins by Change

Taking these into consideration, the NTP necessarily is a single digital platform. Minister Heng outlined three benefits NTP can bring to Singapore’s trade scene: Raise in productivity; boosting competitiveness; and creation of new opportunities.

In going paperless, the one-stop trade platform which is Government-owned and operated. This makes it trusted. Data exchange can be done with peace of mind. Furthermore, as NTP is open to all service providers and not-for-profit organisations, traders have access to third-party service providers whose offering include trade news, logistics planning and execution logistics, financing, customs declarations and payments reconciliation. Companies can re-use and share data from permit declaration with these services, thus accelerating coordination. By streamlining business processes, trading relationships will not be jeopardised.

Secondly, the trusted data found on NTP provides users more accurate analysis on planning. In turn, preventable losses and wastage can be cut faster, thus boosting competitiveness.

Thirdly, NTP will create new opportunities for both logistics and digital trade related service providers by providing access to the wider trading community. Startups can jump on the bandwagon to become a value-added service provider. The Minister highlighted that almost a third of current businesses offering trade related services on the NTP are by startups.

Moreover, the digital platform will help match demand and supply in the trade supply chain. The data analysis helps user identify new opportunities and maximise their capacities.

Currently, four government services are available on the NTP: Certificate of Free Sale, Certificate of Non-Manipulation, Import Certificate and Delivery Verification, and Landing Certificate. Three more will be added in the coming months. These include the Cargo Agent’s Import Authorisation Scheme, Vessel Registration, and the Kimberley Process Licence.

One Connected Future

Talks on strengthening trade linkages of the NTP are ongoing.

There are ongoing discussion with China Customs to link up the single window systems to facilitate trade declarations and smoothen trade flow for businesses.

Second, together with the Customs Administration of the Netherlands, the Singapore Customs are seeking new ways to boost connectivity in trade regulatory processes by leveraging on technology.

Third, the Singapore Customs is collaborating with MUFG Bank and NTT Data Corporation on a Proof-of-Concept prototype using blockchain technology.

The NTP has already bagged international recognition. It is recognised as the best Smart City Project, under the Economic Development category of the International Data Corporation’s 2016 Smart City/Asia Pacific Awards. NTP also won the e-business category of the World Summit on the Information Society Prizes 2017. In July 2018, NTP won the Public Sector Transformation Awards 2018, Best Practice Award (Stakeholder Communications and Engagement).

NTP is developed by the Singapore Customs and GovTech, with Whole-of-Government support from ministries and agencies. Close to 800 companies from various industries, including wholesale trade and logistics, have signed up as NTP users.

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