World-leading Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation launched

April 08, 2022

World-leading Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation launched

Centre for Digital Trade & Innovation

World-leading Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation launched to make UK trade “cheaper, faster, simpler, more secure and sustainable”

A world first Centre dedicated to accelerating the digitalisation of trade has been launched in the Tees Valley, United Kingdom. Digitalisation could cut trade costs by 80% and generate £25bn of SME export growth and an additional £1bn in SME trade finance, halving the country’s trade finance gap1 .

Coordinated by the International Chamber of Commerce United Kingdom and supported by the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority; industry and government, the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation will provide a focal point to bring together initiatives and expertise and enable industry and government to scale up efforts to digitalise and standardise trade systems. The Centre will work closely with innovation clusters across the UK’s freeports such as the Teesside Freeport, the UK’s largest and first freeport to be operational, as well as the City of London.

At present, trade suffers from fragmented, unconnected systems and billions of paper documents which results in an overly complex system and high trade costs. This acts as an unnecessary barrier for SMEs to benefit from trade opportunities. 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 £80,0002. Moving to a paperless system will create a system that is more secure and sustainable.

The Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation will be industry-led and promote an open digital trade system based on common, internationally recognised standards. It will connect the patchwork of systems and platforms across both the private sector and government to enable trade information to flow in standardised format and technology solutions to scale. It will also enable SMEs to benefit from modern digital trade corridors being forged by government such as with Australia, the EU, Kenya, New Zealand, and Singapore.

The Centre will be based in the Tees Valley and follows a number of significant public and private organisations to establish a presence in the Northern Powerhouse region in recent years. These include HM Treasury, bp, the Department for International Trade, GE Renewables, BEIS, SeAH Wind, the Department for Education, DHLUC, and the Office of National Statistics.

Set up in response to the government’s stated ambition for the UK to have an open trading system with the rest of the world, the Centre will identify barriers and drive innovation at scale across the whole of the country’s trading system. By digitalising the UK trading system, there could be £225bn in efficiency savings3.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said:
“Our region has always been an outward looking part of the UK that trades around the world, with the Teesside Freeport we are throwing open our doors to international trade like never before - taking advantage of all the opportunities of a truly global Britain."

“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 with the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation to streamline trade and boosting business. 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.”

Minister for International Trade Ranil Jayawardena, said:
“Digital trade boosts businesses, cuts costs, and expands consumer choice. I am delighted the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation has been launched here in Britain – keeping us at the forefront of the digital trade revolution.”

The Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, said:
"Technology and data insight have the potential to transform how UK businesses trade in the future and a key ambition of our 2025 Border Strategy. That is why I am delighted that the Centre for Digital Trade & Innovation will be working across industry and government to accelerate the digitalisation and standardisation of trade systems."

Paul Drechsler, Chair of ICC United Kingdom, said:
"Digitisation of international trade is the single biggest and fastest way to enable SME's to grow exports. The Centre for Digital Trade is a fantastic example of business led collaboration with government at a National and regional level that will also enable the UK to work in partnership with other nations around the world to accelerate progress."

Andrew Roughan, Managing Director at Plexal, said:
“Plexal’s excited to be supporting the ecosystem underpinning the Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation. The digitisation of trade will unlock powerful benefits across the entire country that will create jobs, secure supply chains, digitally connect us to global economies and drive a huge surge in SME exports worth billions of pounds.

At this critical moment in the UK’s history as we emerge from the pandemic and forge a new international role post-Brexit, the centre will enable Britain to lead the world through a digital transformation of trade. The Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation is a shining example of how industry and the government can work together to unlock new innovation opportunities.”

Tom Skalycz, Chief Digital Technology Officer at CDIO HMRC said:
“The UK has an opportunity to deliver the world’s most effective border by playing to our strengths – our conducive regulatory environment, our common law system and our vibrant technology and trade communities- and enabling truly digital trade. Public and private sectors need to work together to make the most of that opportunity and I am pleased to support the ICC Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation as it sets out to enable that.”

For media enquiries and requests for interview, please contact:
Michael Keating
07907 618 688

Notes to editors:
HMRC Technology Lead, Nick Davies, is being seconded into ICC to head up the centre, which will be based at ICC United Kingdom.

Sources 1 – 3: Creating a Modern Digital Trade Ecosystem – Research commissioned by ICC United Kingdom in partnership with ICC Germany, ICC France and the ICC Digital Standards Initiative. Economic research produced by Dr. Rebecca Harding, CEO, Coriolis Technologies (

The core functions of the centre are to:

  1. Identify and remove barriers to digitalising commercial trade documents, e-payments, e-invoices, legal entity identification, digital assets.
  2. Run end-to-end pilots to test systems, identify and remove pain points and share learnings, such as through Free Trade Agreement corridors and across border systems.
  3. Have the capability to drive adoption of standards and technology solutions at scale across the UK and internationally with a wide, inclusive supporter network of sector associations and business organisations.

Centre Partners

ICC United Kingdom will act as impartial convener

  • ICC United Kingdom will act as impartial convener
  • ICC Digital Standards Initiative – Global Knowledge Partner
  • Government partners include the Department for International Trade, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, HM Revenue and Customs
  • Plexal - Ecosystem Partner
  • British Chambers of Commerce - Network Partner
  • Deloitte - Delivery Partner
  • Institute of Export - Training Partner

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