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‘Keep Trade Flowing’ Amid Pandemic, UN Chief Urges Governments

The head of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has called for governments to “keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing” during the coronavirus pandemic.

As the world battles the coronavirus pandemic, the global maritime transport industry is playing a critical role in the response, UNCTAD secretary-general Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi said Wednesday. Around 80 percent of global trade is transported by commercial shipping, which moves the world’s food, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components, according to UNCTAD statistics.

“A call by the industry to all governments to keep maritime trade moving by allowing commercial ships continued access to ports worldwide and by facilitating the rapid changeover of ships’ crews should not go unheeded,” Kituyi said. “This includes vital medical supplies, which are sorely needed at this time, and items that are necessary for the preservation of many jobs in manufacturing, without which modern society cannot function.”

During the global crisis, he said, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and to allow maritime trade and cross-border transport to continue. This means keeping the world’s ports open for ship calls and the movement of ships’ crews with as few obstacles as possible.

“Shipping and ports hold the world economy together,” Kituyi said. “They connect countries, markets, businesses and people on a scale not otherwise possible. A vast array of goods and commodities are transported by sea to meet the demands of industrial and manufacturing sectors, energy needs, as well as business and consumer requirements.”

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These range from raw materials such as coal and iron ore, oil, gas carried as bulk, to manufactured goods of intermediate and finished products carried in containers, he said. Restrictions on trade and cross-border transport may interrupt needed aid and technical support, Kituyi warned,; and could disrupt businesses and have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries.

“To ensure that vital goods reach consumers and hospitals in destination countries, responsible agencies should coordinate and cooperate within and among countries so that indispensable goods reach the populations in coastal and landlocked countries alike,” Kituyi said.

“At the extraordinary G20 Leaders Summit on the COVID-19 pandemic, which meets virtually this week,” he added, “world leaders should embrace the call made by the shipping industry to keep maritime trade moving by allowing continued access to ports worldwide and the rapid changeover of ships’ crews.”

Also critical, Kituyi stressed, ports should treat seafarers as key workers and afford them the same flexibilities currently given to aircrew and health workers in boarding and leaving ships, as some 100,000 shipping crew members need to change shift every month, while observing necessary health protocols.

All available technological trade and transport facilitation solutions should be used to reduce the burden posed by COVID-19 on maritime and cross-border trade so that the health and economic challenge being facing are not compounded, he added.