The TOA platform

The Trade Obstacles Alert (TOA) platform is an interactive tool designed to facilitate the identification and elimination of trade obstacles encountered by trade operators.

This web-based platform allows trade operators to report obstacles they face when exporting or importing their products. Via an alert system based on email notifications, the relevant national authorities are informed of these obstacles and can provide timely solutions. In addition, users can choose to receive alerts of the obstacles encountered by other operators for the products and markets of their interest.

The overall objective of the TOA platform is to address the need of exporters and importers for enhanced transparency in trade regulations and business processes. The private sector often lacks information, infrastructure and/or technical support to meet the complex requirements imposed to them. In addition, policy makers do not always have a clear understanding of the main obstacles to trade affecting the private sector, which makes difficult the development of appropriate trade policies.

The International Trade Centre (ITC) conducts large-scale company-level surveys to identify regulations that companies find burdensome, known as the NTM business surveys. Despite the efforts of national authorities to improve the business environment of their country, many obstacles remain. They derive, on the one hand, from regulations adopted by partner countries and national authorities and, on the other, from the procedures required to implement said regulations. The NTM business survey aims to improve the understanding of trade obstacles affecting the market and facilitate the implementation of trade policies that can effectively tackle them.

The TOA platform ensures the continuity of the public-private dialogue on trade obstacles triggered by the NTM business survey in order to improve the country business environment.

The TOA mechanism

1. Definition

The trade obstacles alert mechanism is the public-private dialogue that is created through the Trade Obstacles Alert (TOA) platform. The platform provides a direct link between trade operators and public authorities, with the final purpose of identifying and tackling obstacles to trade. The main actors of the mechanism are:

  • Trade operators who use the platform to report the obstacles they face to the public and semi-public authorities involved in the drafting and implementation of trade regulations and related procedures;
  • Public and semi-public agencies that, through their respective focal points, answer to the reports submitted by trade operators and proceed to remove the obstacle;
  • The National Focal Point (NFP), which ensures the transmission of information between public and private actors in respect of anonymity. The NFP also oversees the correct functioning of the platform and its promotion;
  • The National Monitoring Committee (NMC), an assembly of representatives from public or semi-public agencies involved in the enforcement of procedures and trade regulations within the country. The NMC oversees the correct functioning of the mechanism by ensuring the dialogue between the different parties and monitoring the resolution process of the obstacles reported through the TOA platform.

2. Functioning

All users registered to the TOA platform can report a new trade obstacle through an online questionnaire, which is then sent to the NFP. The latter then checks the validity of the submitted obstacle report.

  • If the report is considered valid, it is automatically emailed to the agency concerned so that it can respond. After this initial step, the report becomes "public" and therefore will be visible to all users that access the TOA platform (including unregistered users).
  • If the report is considered not valid (e.g. it does not meet the requirements to be defined a trade obstacle within the platform), the user will receive an email informing him/her about the non-validity of the report. The report will not be visible to other users of the platform.

When a report is valid, the agency concerned has to submit a response to the NFP who will then publish it online as a part of the obstacle report. Any update concerning the status of the report and/or the actions taken by the concerned agency will be communicated by email to the user who reported the obstacle. Additionally, all registered users will be notified of any modification or update in those reports that concern the products and the markets of their interest. The chart below illustrates how the mechanism works.

3. The obstacle reports

Each obstacle report on the platform is associated with a specific colour-coded status. The status indicates the progress of the reported obstacle through the resolution process. The different statuses of a report are described in the table below.

The above-mentioned statuses of the obstacle report can be categorized as public (i.e. visible to all users of the TOA) and confidential (i.e. accessible uniquely to the user that reported the obstacle, the NFP and to the members of the NMC). In order to view the obstacles reported that are associated with a confidential status, users have to access the page View my reports within the module My account. Changes to the obstacle report status are validated by the NFP and for each change the user who reported the obstacle will receive an automatic email notification. The obstacle report resolution process is represented in the graph below.