unctad.org | Multi-year expert meeting on transport and trade facilitation: Challenges and policy options for transport and trade facilitation
Statement by Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
Multi-year expert meeting on transport and trade facilitation: Challenges and policy options for transport and trade facilitation
07 Dec 2011


Distinguished Experts and Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you to this fourth and last session of the Multi-year Expert Meeting on Transport and Trade Facilitation entitled: Challenges and Policy options for Transport and Trade Facilitation. This session is meant to conclude the deliberations of the first three sessions, and will help to orient UNCTAD´s work on these issues in the years to come.

The topics that you will be addressing during the next three days are highly pertinent, and they will only become more so in the near future. A growing (and in some parts of the world more affluent) world population, and consequent increased needs for mobility of goods and persons, will place increased pressure on existing transport infrastructure and services. As individuals in developing countries become wealthier, their demand for personal travel increases along with that of goods over the same networks, whether they are rail, road or other modes. Thus, the challenges surrounding the transport sector are likely to only increase in importance.

Firstly, there is the challenge to make international transport systems more sustainable. Already, high transport and commercial transaction costs are persistent challenges for many developing countries. In addition, it is now widely accepted that transport systems of the future will have to be economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. Such sustainability, often referred to as part of a greener economy, is becoming a key determinant of future trade competitiveness. Yet, many developing countries are ill equipped for sustainable transport; their transport and trade facilitation systems are often inadequate to meet both present and future demand. In this context, innovative ways to finance the development of sustainable transport has become a key issue.

One of the fundamental elements that is needed for the promotion of a more sustainable transport system is a shift in investment patterns. In particular, a collaborative approach between public and private investment partners - including multilateral ones - will be required to meet the large financing-needs required for energy-efficient and sustainable transport systems. Public-private partnerships can also help scale up and speed up access to resources, specialized skills, innovations and know-how necessary to build, operate and maintain environmentally sustainable and more resilient freight transport infrastructure and services.

Multilateral banks and development finance institutions have a major role to play in that respect. The Inter-American Development Bank, for instance, has already put in place a fund for the preparation of climate-resilient and sustainable infrastructure projects in Latin America and the Caribbean while the Asian Development Bank has launched the Sustainable Transport Initiative Operational Plan, mainstreaming sustainability in its lending portfolio and increasing support to recipient countries.

In addition to the need to help mitigate climate change, international transport also faces a major challenge resulting from the impact of climate change. Indeed, as discussed during the Ad Hoc Expert Meeting organized by UNCTAD in September this year, the current and predicted effects of climate change will affect transportation systems both directly and indirectly. This is particularly the case in coastal areas, which are endangered by rising sea levels. The associated risks, vulnerabilities and costs may be considerable, and a recent report estimates that more than USD 28 trillion might be needed by 2050 to secure coastal assets, if we assume a rise in sea levels of 0.5 meters.

This is a significant challenge, particularly so for developing nations with low adaptive capacity, especially the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Climatic factors that may severely impact coastal transport infrastructure and services also pose very serious threats to the development prospects of Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Transportation policy makers, planners and industry stakeholders therefore need to integrate the long-term impacts of climate change and its costs into their decision-making processes. Given the long life of transport infrastructure, the large amounts usually involved to set them up, and the strategic importance of avoiding any disruptions to the operation of global supply-chains, effective adaptation in transportation will often require re-thinking established approaches and practices. In your discussions, you may want to consider how to develop appropriate adaptation measures, based on a better understanding of the potential risks, vulnerabilities and associated requirements. In that respect, close cooperation among a wide range of public and private sector stakeholders at the national, regional and international levels will be crucial.

The third main issue covered in your meeting today relates to trade facilitation. With a growing share of trade in intermediate goods as well as intra-company transactions in global trade, global value chains are playing an increasingly crucial role in international trade. Indeed, more than 50% of the value of global trade is intra-firm. To effectively participate in these value-chains, developing countries need access to reliable and cost efficient connections to global suppliers and markets. In this context, trade facilitation has become a sine-qua-non condition for efficient connectivity. This has also been recognized in the negotiating process at the WTO.

The multilateral process has brought important benefits in the field of trade facilitation. Its share in ODA has grown significantly over the last five years. Trade facilitation has also recently been included as part of the G-20 working group on development, and the emergence of regional and multilateral commitments in this area has led to increased technical assistance and capacity building activities by the international community to support trade facilitation efforts.

That being said, however, let us not forget that the share of technical assistance assigned to trade facilitation remains much lower in LDCs than in non-LDC developing countries. Yet land-locked and transit developing countries will all need further assistance, including perhaps through a possible extension of the Almaty Programme of Action. I therefore hope that your discussions will allow you also to consider how progress in trade facilitation implementation could be achieved.

Finally, a number of challenges in trade facilitation result from increasingly demanding security rules governing the international supply chain. Indeed, safety and security for the movement of persons and goods create daily challenges for border control agencies as well as for the transport industry. In recent years, almost all participants in the supply chain have requested increasing exchange and processing of trade related data. This obviously entails an extensive use of information technologies relying on standard processes, and additional costs. This is not limited to customs clearance processes but also applies to a number of processes involving different public and private entities. This calls for broad-based solutions encompassing all the stakeholders that are part of the trade transaction, based on a "Single Window for international trade" approach. UNCTAD is working to develop such solutions, including through its ASYCUDA programme.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, I am confident that your discussions, as transport and trade facilitation experts, on issues related to innovative financing for sustainable transport, confronting the challenge of the impact of climate change, progressing in the implementation of trade facilitation measures and developing advanced standard solutions for the security of the international supply chain, will contribute to identifying policy options and supporting our efforts to enhance transport and trade facilitation for development.

I wish you every success in your deliberations.


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