A world-first centre dedicated to accelerating the digitalisation of international trade is to be set up in the region, driving forward the government’s ambition for the UK to become the global leader on digital trade.

The Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation will be co-ordinated by the International Chamber of Commerce UK and supported by the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority, industry and government. Working closely with the Teesside Freeport it will provide a focal point to bring together initiatives and expertise and enable industry to develop the latest technologies and approaches to frictionless trade and remove barriers to growth.

The aim is to make the UK the first country in the world to establish the private sector infrastructure which will lead research and pilot and test new approaches to trade. It will bring together industry experts and thinkers to work alongside government to nurture a pipeline of opportunities to further digital trade growth.

Read more: Consultants launch digital toolkit for SMEs

It is expected that digitalisation could cut trade costs by 80% and generate £25billion of SME export growth and an additional £1billion in SME trade finance, halving the country’s trade finance gap.

The unveiling of the new Centre follows hot on the heels of recent announcements such as the government’s Darlington Economic Campus which will be home to senior civil servants from key government departments and agencies including the Treasury, the Business Department, the Department for International Trade, the Department for Levelling Up, the Office of National Statistics and the Competition and Markets Authority.

Private sector investment is booming too with bp-led projects such as Net Zero Teesside, H2Teesside and HyGreen Teesside, plus SeAH Wind’s new offshore manufacturing facility.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool now have a chance like never before to throw open their doors to international trade and take advantage of all the opportunities of a truly global Britain. This is thanks in no small part to the Teesside Freeport, the UK’s largest and first operational Freeport.  

Darlington and Stockton Times: Part of the vast Freeport sitePart of the vast Freeport site

“To make sure our SMEs - the lifeblood of our economy - can feel the full benefit, helping them to grow and create jobs, we need to cut red tape. Digitalising trade, with a joined-up approach, will reduce these barriers and make it easier, faster and smoother than ever for them to do business.

“We’re delighted to be working alongside the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation and feeding into their work. It’s once again showing how our region is thinking outside of the box, at the forefront of nationally significant strategies paving the way to transform trade in the UK.”

ICC United Kingdom, Secretary General Chris Southworth said: “The centre is an enormous milestone in making trade cheaper, faster, simpler and more sustainable. It will establish the capability we need to support the government’s ambition to be a global leader on digital trade and help us transform the UK trading system, bring it into the 21st century. For the first time, we will be able to connect initiatives and stakeholders and drive digital transformation at scale both across the UK and through our relationships with overseas partners.”

Director general of the Institute of Export and International Trade, Marco Forgione said: “The launch of the Centre is a major step forward for trade in the UK and beyond. Digitalisation offers the prospect of huge benefits to traders and consumers. Training is the key to unlocking those benefits – especially for SMEs - and we are looking to forward to helping traders unlock them.”

Currently a single transaction can involve 27 documents and 35 government agencies causing a wait of up to three months and imposing a cost as much as £80,000. Moving to a paperless system will create a system that is more secure and sustainable, bringing the convenience that digital technology has brough to countless other aspects of business and domestic life to this essential sector.

The public launch of the ICC Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation and a panel event is available to view online here.