“The nation state: apartheid without political incorrectness”, writes Nicholas Nassim Taleb in his recent collection of aphorisms. Keen to break down barriers, leaders participating at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012 in Davos considered a rough measure of border openness, cobbled together from trade and travel metrics.

The Global Enabling Trade Report 2012 and its Enabling Trade Index will be out on Wednesday, May 23rd, giving us a partial glimpse into how things are evolving. The good news seems to be that though barriers are still very much present, crossing borders is generally getting easier. There’s quite a variation in performance though, with some nations embracing globalization and others less keen on opening up.

Traditionally, travel and trade facilitation have been dealt with fairly separately, with the governing institutions and interested parties for each often separate. In fact, traders and travellers sometimes compete to squeeze through border chokepoints. The Forum has long organized discussions on easing travel and trade restrictions, but more recently has been addressing the two areas together to identify common priorities and bolster the case for action.

Academic research and data on the topics are quite compartmentalized. Last year, we quickly pulled together the overlapping data to build a common view on the openness of borders for both people and goods. As travel and trade are enabled by factors that extend far beyond the physical and administrative border, we tried to take account of these too, looking at the servicing of the traveller or goods to their final destination.

Interesting as this was, a major missing slice was migration. The people side of the analysis concentrated on short-term leisure and business travel. Taking a time-limited perspective, we could view these as a kind of parallel to imported goods, compared to the long-term questions of migration and production investment, in which the importance of the border crossing dwindles.

In our increasingly globalized world, both supply chains and lives span borders. The ways people think about, measure, and enable trade and travel are starting to change. Taxation systems, security controls, infrastructure and business need to become more supply chain and human-centric.

That great border ignorer, the Internet, gives us all an opportunity to make fast progress, reducing some of the biggest barriers: lack of information and the hassle factor. E-visas and E-customs can have major impacts, allowing data to move separately from people and goods, cutting out both waste and waits. We do need to be careful not just to digitize problems though, but use reform as an opportunity to rethink.

Let’s see what the Forum’s Enabling Trade report tells us.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Enabling Trade Report 2012 will be available at 15:00 CET on May 23rd at http://www.weforum.org

Authors: Thea Chiesa is Head of Aviation, Travel and Tourism Industries at the World Economic Forum. Sean Doherty is Head of Logistics and Transport Industries at the World Economic Forum.

Image: A man works at a container area at a port in Tokyo January 25, 2012. REUTERS/Toru Hanai