Sparking Innovation

Developing Creative Ideas to Speed Trade Facilitation

Persistent problems demand novel solutions and this is particularly the case for trade facilitation, given many of the challenges confronting the movement of goods across borders have endured for decades.

Despite the rapid march of automation in many fields, especially in the business-to-business context, paper processes and physical inspections of goods are still the norm in many developing countries, hampering their trade competitiveness and denting business confidence. We think it’s time to look for fresh ideas.

The Alliance is leveraging today’s technologies to deliver new solutions to seemingly intractable problems in border and customs processing, discovering innovative answers by looking further afield.

One of our approaches to innovation is to concentrate minds from different backgrounds on quickly resolving specific trade facilitation challenges, complementing our project work in dozens of countries worldwide.

Through innovation sprints (otherwise known as hackathons), for example, we are tapping the creativity of sectors such as academia, tech start-ups and entrepreneurs who traditionally have had little to do with trade problems but who nonetheless might offer new perspectives and insights that can save time and cut costs in getting goods across the world.

We also want to discover what benefits might flow from wider use of new technologies, such as blockchain or artificial intelligence, to reduce the strain on public sector authorities, for example in establishing product origins and tracking goods throughout the supply chain.

As a public-private partnership, the Alliance can readily reach and convene the key actors in trade facilitation reform and connect them to those who are pioneering new approaches to making trade simpler and less costly. Those pioneers participating in the Alliance’s innovative work can try out their ideas in ways that stand to win recognition and support from both the public and private sectors.

Our outreach to wider audiences also allows local companies and communities to contribute to trade facilitation reform in their own countries, where previously they might have struggled to get the access to offer suggestions and ideas.

Ultimately, the Alliance is building a community focused on an array of trade facilitation challenges that will benefit from our ongoing support and encouragement. Companies and individuals are able to brainstorm ideas and refine them in a collaborative environment, honing their proposals to give them a better chance of adoption.

We invite all stakeholders in trade facilitation to consider ways that the Alliance might work with them and this growing, global community of innovators to apply leading edge thinking to steep trade challenges.


Our Innovation Initiatives

Trade Facilitation Innovation Days 2023

Trade facilitation experts, including government officials, policymakers, logistics providers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, software developers, academics, and other stakeholders, gathered online September 19 & 20 at Trade Facilitation Innovation Days (TFID) 2023, to focus attention on some of the hottest topics in world trade.

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Trade Facilitation Innovation Days 2022Urgent Need For Innovative Solutions Sparks Novel Trade Facilitation Event

Almost 700 participants in over 100 countries participated in Trade Facilitation Innovation Days 2022, a joint initiative held by the Alliance and UNCTAD to provide a platform for the cross-fertilisation of ideas from trade experts, government officials, border agents, logisticians, academics, and other specialists.

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Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation Smart Port Challenge 2022Smart Port Challenge 2022 

The Smart Port Challenge virtual hackathon was relaunched in 2022 by the Alliance in partnership with National Port Agency (NPA) and PortNet following the overwhelming success of the first edition in 2020. In 2022, the Smart Port Challenge regrouped over 150 participants from all over the world into 46 teams, competing for 4 winning spots.

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E-Waste Innova(c)tion Sprint 2021

In collaboration with the Government of Rwanda and Enviroserve, the Alliance hosted an e-Waste innovation sprint to deliver fresh ideas to improve the collection and cross-border movement of e-waste. During the event, experts from different disciplines and fields gathered virtually for 60 hours to work on solutions that spark creativity, innovation, and growth.

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Graphic announcing the 2020 Morocco Smart Port Challenge HackathonSmart Port Challenge 2020

In Morocco, the Alliance collaborated on a hackathon that showcased the possibilities in taking an unconventional approach to solving stubborn trade hurdles. Held over December 2020 and January 2021, the Smart Port Challenge attracted 590 participants from more than 30 countries, generating over 70 ideas.

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Alliance Valencia Port HackathonValencia Port Hackathon 2020

At the Valencia Port Hackathon in 2020, the Alliance sponsored a challenge focused entirely on trade facilitation , attracting 41 proposals from 245 participants from 39 countries. Winning solutions focused on how payments can be automated, how governments can increase the use of eSignatures and how supply chains can become more visible.

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The Benefits

We felt [the Smart Port Challenge in Morocco] was a great opportunity to showcase more innovative technologies and approaches to the field of trade facilitation – the whole team was excited to be working with the right stakeholders and decision-makers. As innovation is not just a sprint, we hope to engage deeper beyond the hackathon,” said Jens Munch, Head of Global Trade & Supply Chains, IOTA.



“The [Smart Port Challenge in Morocco] created a space for creativity, the exchange of ideas. It has also provided a competitive platform for start-ups students, academics, and professionals to showcase their talents and use them for the good of the community,” said Mohamed Benatik, Information Technology Manager at MARSA MAROC, Port of Casablanca.