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Recently I spoke at the Belt and Road Trade and Investment forum in Beijing attended by 70 countries. My focus was on the way the digital Silk Road and the Belt and Road Initiative enables communities to expand and join the 21st century economy. These communities include those in Central Asia reaching into Europe and the cluster of landlocked hinterlands in South East Asia, now connected by the Kunming-Laos high-speed railway.

Many of these are trading partners and markets for the Northern Territory. They are also trade competitors so it’s important we understand the changing trade environment.

The digital Silk Road is an integral part of the Belt and Road initiative. It’s the soft infrastructure that brings added benefits to the hard infrastructure so often associated with the Belt and Road Initiative. A fast rail system relies on software to manage the train on the rail tracks, to handle scheduling and co-ordinate ticketing. This soft infrastructure includes the use of digital Silk Road blockchain applications to reduce cross-border trade friction and speed up customs clearance processes.

A significant benefit is the potential use of China’s DCEP sovereign digital currency to enable frictionless cross border financial transaction processes. This reduces the cost of doing business and opens cross-border business to new participants, which in turn leads to expansion of export markets.

But just as importantly, the digital Silk Road brings opportunity to areas previously ignored by the world economy. These are trade competitors. The digital Silk Road allows these communities to move rapidly into the 21st century economy because of improved physical and soft infrastructure. It offers the ability to broaden their trade base so they can increase incomes and lift the common prosperity.

These expanding economies are also new markets for NT investors. The flow of capital follows the economic growth and this is enabled by access to 21st century digitally-based processes, which range from improving farm management to providing banking services.

The digital Silk Road delivers options for those who were previously unable to access bank services. It provides access to capital that breaks the grip of greedy money lenders. This helps to break the cycle of poverty because people can more easily invest in the growth and improvement of their business activities. The digital Silk Road empowers people by providing access to advanced services that use AI and block-chain technology that is delivered digitally.

The farmer is now able to sell his produce in a distant market place where there are better prices because the hard BRI road and rail infrastructure makes this possible. But it’s the soft infrastructure that delivers the real benefits. The digital Silk Road allows him to compare prices and select the best market and the best time to sell.

It allows exporters to easily complete transactions across borders, secure in the knowledge that blockchain technology will ensure that payment is swift, accurate and completed without onerous fees.

These same benefits in cross-border trade efficiency are available to larger companies, organisations, governments and to NT exporters. The digital Silk Road’s ability to replace paper documents with unique block-chain enabled secure certification eliminates border delays and corruption.

The digital Silk Road delivers the benefits of block-chain technology. It reliably certifies that the food you eat is grown sustainably and that it is healthy to eat. Food from far-flung places can now compete with food from more well-known sources such as the NT.

The digital Silk Road delivers the block-chain technology that enables your NT product, or service, to travel seamlessly across borders and meet all the necessary compliance requirements by using a single application rather than a fist-full of documents in multiple languages.

It allows the farmer to manage crops and livestock with the most modern environmental monitoring methods. This boosts agricultural efficiency and food production without damaging the environment. It makes an essential contribution to achieving COP 26 targets because it enables accurate measurement of baselines and progress.

These benefits are delivered most effectively when they are part of an agreed and accepted global digital infrastructure. The danger is the development of two competing but incompatible systems of digital standards.

The preferred solution is the promotion of digital Silk Road standards within RCEP ASEAN, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and other multilateral platforms involved in setting cross border trade protocols, block-chain and AI standards.

Peak business organisations, such as the China Chamber of International Commerce, the Australia China Business Council and the Silk Road International Chambers of Commerce play an important role by bringing together international business organisations to discuss these standards. The promotion and acceptance of standards is also enabled by the widespread use of BRI solutions by business in ASEAN so they set de facto standards.

The digital Silk Road is an essential component of the developing trade environment among the NT’s northern trade partners because it enables the full use of the physical Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure.