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Connecting the trade ecosystem

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Wai Yee is Director, The Networked Trade Platform at Singapore Customs. In this article, she discusses “Connecting the trade ecosystem.”

The Networked Trade Platform (NTP) is a trade platform owned and operated by Singapore Customs. It was launched in 2018. Their vision is to become part of a globally connected place where different stakeholders from the trading ecosystem can interact.

More than 6000 companies use the platform. These companies are of various sizes and in various businesses, but they are all involved in a trade. Banks provide trade finance, insurance companies provide cargo insurance, and traders are involved in import and export. They have their agents, custom brokers, service providers, freight forwarders, freight booking platforms, etc.

NTP ecosystem 

Government as a neutral, non-commercial facilitator and convenor 

  • Provide utility layer with basic functionalities
  • Provide enabling ecosystem environment, legal framework, and data governance
  • Bring various stakeholders together to collaborate


  • Enable participation from private sector service providers
  • Non-exclusivity


  • Low cost of digitization, adoption, and usage of NTP
  • Focus on wide-spread adoption and deep usage
  • Support competitive pricing among service providers

Trade is not just about customs, the importer, the exporter, the freight forwarder, or his customs brokers. There are other regulators involved. For example, the Singapore Food Authority regulates food imports into Singapore. Right. Depending on the types of products you’re importing or exporting, you may work with one of our partner agencies called competent authorities.

On the platform, we have Singapore importers or exporters as service providers. But there is also something beyond Singapore. Trade in Singapore’s context is cross-border by nature, and so we have foreign customs and foreign platforms as stakeholders as well. This is where the complexity arises as the combinations grow exponentially.

We’re not there yet; we have some cross-border connectivity. But we’re working hard at making that ecosystem a little bit denser.

The NTP ecosystem has some legacy systems because some companies still prefer older technologies.

Services provided by NTP

We provide many services because technology without service without benefit is quite hollow to the customer. We may not provide all services ourselves, but we will work with the relevant providers.

For example, consider freight booking. We don’t provide any freight booking service. We don’t carry freight inventory; we don’t set the price. We’re not a marketplace. But we will work with the freight booking marketplaces to provide the service. And that’s what we mean by value-added service with the Government. We provide government transactions and leave it to the market to buy the other services.

Three focus areas

Government-to-government digital connectivity 

  • Collaborations with partner countries to identify use cases and build cross-border digital connectivity
  • Enabling the re-use of data resulting from cross-border digital connectivity to facilitate digital trade

For example, China is a major trade partner for Singapore. To leverage an FTA that we have with China to get preferential tariffs for their goods when imported into China, we need a preferential Certificate of Origin issued by Singapore customers. And that says these goods meet the rules of origin, and they are from Singapore and therefore entitled to lower tariffs under the FTA. Previously, it was a piece of paper issued and then sent to China. But now, it is 100% digital. There is no loss of documents or delay. There is no doubt about the authenticity as it is directly from the issuer and cannot be tampered with. But this is not with APIs and is a direct data-to-data connectivity as both parties need to be ready for API connectivity.

Business-to-Government Interactions

  • Streamline business-to-government processes for traders to transact easily with the Government.
  • Explore trade-related processes of traders’ transactions with the Government to facilitate and enhance traders’ compliance with other regulatory requirements.

For example, consider an electronic bankers guarantee program (BGP). The electronic banker’s program allows traders to place a bank guarantee with us. So that if he does not pay duties, for example, there is a way to cover that revenue. Earlier, the bank issued a piece of paper, which was reviewed physically for legal obligations, etc. But now, it is via the bank’s APIs and is done digitally. Some banks use our portal to upload the data. The benefits of this are –

  • Eliminates manual review
  • Removes the need to safeguard physical documents
  • Saves manpower and costs
  • Reduces errors
  • Reduces risk of fraud

Government Data Services

  • Facilitate and enable the use of Government trade data for re-use and better decision making.

This is based on blockchain. Leveraging on the fact that blockchain allows us to decentralize, nobody owns a central database. Every party is involved, and each has a piece of a puzzle.

In an ecosystem, we need to use various technologies to achieve the results we eventually want. Our ecosystem is very large and complex. It has a lot of documents flowing to and from, and ideally, all of that should be replaced with digital connectivity. Ideally, it should be data on demand and API. It will take time to get there. It will be a combination of API technologies, not just with our external stakeholders but also between our internal systems and internal stakeholders.

To conclude, ecosystems are complex. They move at an uneven pace. Connecting it all up together requires a good combination of not just technologies but a nice dose of luck and timing and finding the right partners to collaborate with.

Wai Yee Choo
Wai Yee joined the National Trade Platform (NTP) Office in 2017, and she oversees the development as well as operations of the NTP. Her responsibilities spans the spectrum of NTP’s business covering both domestic and cross-border transactions, and ranges from driving the commercial and engagement strategies and programmes, innovation and the introduction of new capability in trade digitalisation for both regulatory and non-regulatory transactions, to the day-to-day operations of the NTP. Wai Yee has experience starting new teams and structures, in data analytics, socio-economic policy and industry engagement in various roles in the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Manpower. Prior to joining the public sector, Wai Yee worked in shipping with a focus on emerging markets of South Asia, Africa, Central and South America trade.

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