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UN Seeks to Build Trade and Transport Resilience in COVID-19’s Wake

The United Nations Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD) and the five UN regional commissions have joined forces to help developing countries tackle trade and transport challenges arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

The new joint UN project aims to help governments and businesses keep transport networks and borders operational, and facilitate the flow of goods and services while containing the spread of COVID-19. The project will implement UN solutions, standards, guidelines, metrics, tools and methodologies to help developing countries build stronger transport, trade and logistics capabilities.

The initiative brings together UNCTAD and the five UN regional commissions for Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, and Western Asia with funding managed by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The project puts emphasis on global reach and regional presence and international cooperation, as well as exchange of knowledge and good practices from all over the world.

The initiative seeks to equip governments in developing and least-developed countries to adapt to new post-COVID-19 conditions by tapping into UN expertise, standards, tools and guidance, while considering their specific and local conditions. It comprises three clusters designed to match existing and emerging standards and best practices in transport and trade facilitation with new concerns and demands arising from COVID-19 on cross-border freight transport operations and trade transactions.

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One cluster focuses on contactless solutions and good practices. It aims to reduce physical contact among people in cross-border supply chains by facilitating the flow of goods without spreading the virus. This will be accomplished by implementing UN conventions and standards for seamless harmonized electronic exchange of data in digital transport corridors, border crossings and trade operations, and developing smart rail and road connectivity.

A second cluster is geared toward maximizing seamless connectivity. It focuses on eliminating obstacles to cross-border trade and transport operations arising from the coronavirus crisis. It also aims to promote synergies among border agencies by empowering national trade facilitation committees, improving customs automation and identifying non-tariff barriers.

A third cluster focuses on collaborative solutions on transport, trade and logistics operations by strengthening regional and sectoral cooperation to facilitate joint actions and solutions. This area will give special attention to international transit issues that are multilateral, and sectoral cooperation for ports as hubs of the global maritime shipping network.

The three clusters build on established platforms such as UNCTAD’s Automated System for Customs Data, the eTIR International System (TIR Convention) carnet (an international customs and temporary export-import document) and trade data exchange standards of the UN Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business, as well as the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade.

The clusters will also tap into regional intergovernmental cooperation platforms, analytical work and capacity-building programs of the five UN regional economic commissions.

The project comes in response to UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s call for action to tackle the many socio-economic dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis. It seeks to make a difference in line with the UN framework calling for improved connectivity and lower transaction and transport costs, and lies at the heart of UN efforts to implement solutions for contactless, seamless and cooperative transport and trade.

These efforts are expected to promote prosperity, help national economies recover better from COVID-19 and accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.