Tajikistan’s Trade Facilitation Portal
The Central Asian republic of Tajikistan, landlocked and mountainous, has long faced challenges in trading beyond its borders. Uncoordinated policies and inaccessible information are a constant challenge, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.
A member of the World Trade Organization, Tajikistan ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement in July 2019. The agreement aims to make cross-border trade faster, cheaper and easier, and ascribes technical assistance to developing countries such as Tajikistan so that they can implement the agreement and set out shared rules for their cross-border procedures.
Under the agreement, WTO members must establish a public-private National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) to implement effective reforms. In Tajikistan, the existing NTFC was faced with disengaged stakeholders due to inadequate secretarial support, lack of a work plan, and poor monitoring and reporting. Unpredictable trade formalities were also a concern for private businesses in their daily trade activities, making access to information a growing priority.
To improve the transparency, predictability, and efficiency of trade, ITC worked with the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and other development agencies to:
establish an online Trade Facilitation Portal to make all trade-related information accessible as part of Tajikistan’s compliance with WTO trade facilitation obligations
reinforce the NTFC’s institutional and operational activities through a permanent technical secretariat to better engage stakeholders and improve coordination.
The Trade Facilitation Portal provides step-by-step descriptions of import, export and transit procedures of particular products from a trader’s point of view. It displays all the documents and formalities that businesses must submit or collect from each regulatory and border agency in a user-friendly way, and highlights the fees that traders are required to pay.
ITC worked with multiple government agencies to build the portal’s governance structure, including ministries dealing with health and safety standards, customs, and agriculture. This in itself further promoted inter-agency cooperation, extending ITC’s support so that: the NTFC secretariat collected, systematized, and digitized portal data the focal-point agencies updated the displayed information on the portal traders navigated the portal’s web interface in test mode.
A permanent technical secretariat was formed to reinforce the NTFC’s secretarial duties, with ITC training staff in how to enhance stakeholder engagement, including by holding better structured meetings, preparing a narrow agenda for focused discussions and designing awareness-raising materials to guide decision-making.
The secretariat also improved its communication with stakeholders and began closer engagement with private-sector representatives to reflect their needs and feedback, and designed a clear implementation plan and monitoring tool. Members of the secretariat were also trained to manage the portal to ensure the platform’s sustainability and boost its visibility.
The project fell within the scope of ITC’s GTEX programme in Tajikistan which aims to improve the international competitiveness of the country’s promising textile and clothing sector.
Tajikistan’s trade portal – the first in the Central Asian region – was launched in April 2019. It now comprises 53 groups of products equivalent to more than 2,000 goods.
ITC helped map a total of 714 real steps, 154 laws and regulations, 386 forms and requirements, and a directory of 45 civil servants in direct contact with traders.
Between April 2019 and January 2020, online activity totalled 53,000 visits catering to 10,700 unique users.
For traders, the platform has become an essential tool in cutting trade costs, reducing delays at borders, and increasing the competitiveness of their businesses.
For instance, Rahimjon Khotamov, director of CJSC Shiri Dushanbe, a milk producer, said: ‘We produce dairy products and use only natural milk, which makes the shelf life of products relatively lower. We have already joined and are using the new trade portal, which would enable us to export in future, in particular, cheese products with longer shelf life, efficiently.’
Faizali Rajabov, Chairman of the Union of Private Sector Development of Tajikistan, said: ‘The portal provides information on the documents necessary for the export products and has become a guide to our textile enterprises, on what document and from which agency one can get, and how much the service costs.’
Thanks to ITC’s collaborative efforts with the Tajikistan government, the Tajikistan Trade Portal was recognized as the best platform model for efficient and simplified trade in 2019 by the UN Economic and Social Commission and by the UN Conference on Trade and Development.
The portal is now run by an in-house technical team hosted by the permanent technical secretariat and managed by the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.
The establishment of a permanent technical secretariat significantly improved NTFC’s work programme, planning and coordination. In 2019, the secretariat supported the NTFC in drafting and submitting 22 decrees for approval to the Ministries and the Government of Tajikistan. More than 50 consultations with private and public sectors were also held, producing 22 working group meetings and reports.
As a result of extensive trade facilitation reforms within the NTFC, Tajikistan’s performance in cross-border trade significantly improved.
Tajikistan went from 189th place in 2015 to 106th place in 2019 in the World Bank’s Doing Business report. The country was also included in the report’s Top 20 of the most-improved economies in addressing critical business climate constraints and simplifying trade across borders.
As a next step, ITC is exploring the possibility of assisting Tajikistan to leverage the existing information on its portal to design simplification reforms in coming years.
ITC is also working to introduce similar trade facilitation reforms and establish portals in other Central Asian countries to promote an integrated trade system in the region.