UN Global Supply Chain Forum calls for resilience amid world trade disruptions

UN Global Supply Chain Forum calls for resilience amid world trade disruptions

28 May 2024

Efforts to decarbonize global shipping while promoting investments and digital solutions will be key to enhancing supply chain resilience for small island developing states.


The inaugural United Nations Global Supply Chain Forum, hosted by UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Government of Barbados, convened from 21 to 24 May 2024. The event brought together over 1,000 participants from around the globe to address escalating disruptions in global supply chains.

Global disruptions and supply chain vulnerability

UN Deputy-Secretary General Amina Mohammed, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley of Barbados, and UN Trade and Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan inaugurated the forum amidst a volatile global trade landscape.

Global disruptions are causing ships to spend more days at sea and emit higher levels of greenhouse gases, highlighting the growing unreliability and uncertainty of our interconnected world.

Against this backdrop, UN Trade and Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan spotlighted the urgent need to make global production and distribution networks more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient.

Secretary-General Grynspan was joined at the forum by the Trade and Transport Ministers from Barbados, Curacao, Fiji, Guyana, Marshall Islands, , Seychelles, and Tuvalu, representatives of UN agencies such as the International Maritime Organization, the International Labour Organization, the UN Industrial Development Organization, UN Global Compact, development banks, representatives of major ports, such as the Port of Seattle, as well as leaders from the shipping industry, port authorities, and the Panama Canal participated.

Context of urgency

The forum addressed the compounded effects of climate change, geopolitical tensions, and the COVID-19 pandemic on global supply chains, for which UN Trade and Development has provided critical analysis. Ports play a crucial role in maintaining global value chains through technology and sustainable practices.

Visiting the port of Bridgetown in Barbados, Secretary-General Grynspan highlighted the importance of ports remaining part of global value chains through technology and adaptation, showcasing Barbados as an example for other small island developing states (SIDS) in implementing sustainable practices.

Decarbonizing global shipping

The forum highlighted the complexities and opportunities in decarbonizing global shipping, focusing on developing countries with renewable energy resources. Ports are central to this transformation, with their authorities serving as facilitators and connectors for various stakeholders. Efforts to incentivize low- or zero-carbon fuels, establish safety frameworks for new fuels, and develop port readiness assessment tools were underscored as critical steps towards preparing ports for handling various fuels and ensuring safe bunkering operations.

The forum served as the ideal setting to launch the "Manifesto for Intermodal, Low-Carbon, Efficient and Resilient Freight Transport and Logistics". This manifesto emphasizes the urgent need for transforming freight transport to meet global climate targets and enhance socio-economic resilience. Key focus areas include transitioning to zero-emission fuels, optimizing logistics systems, and creating sustainable value chains, with the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C.

Strategic focus on SIDS

SIDS face heightened risks from climate change impacts on transport infrastructure, placing the transport and logistics sector at the forefront of their development priorities. These countries must improve connectivity within and between their nations, as well as to regional and global markets, through strategic investments in maritime and air transport infrastructure, efficient multimodal transport networks, and streamlined customs and administrative procedures.

Participating ministers from SIDS advocated for the transition to green and sustainable technologies in maritime transport to promote energy efficiency and combat marine pollution. In a joint statement, they called for international financial institutions, development banks, and donor countries to prioritize funding and investment in their transport and logistics sector, focusing on projects that promote resilience, sustainability, and inclusivity.

Digital solutions for resilience

Digital technologies will be key to strengthening global supply chain resilience. Innovations like blockchain-enabled traceability mechanisms and advanced customs automation systems were showcased as indispensable tools for optimizing trade facilitation processes, enhancing transparency, and mitigating operational risks. UN Trade and Development presented guidelines for developing an electronic single window for trade. Key industry voices emphasized the importance of collaboration and digitalization in the maritime sector, urging ports to become intermodal hubs integrating energy and digital capabilities.

Groundbreaking trade and transport dataset

The forum also saw the launch of the UN Trade and Development Trade-and-Transport Dataset. Developed with the World Bank, this groundbreaking repository of global data is the first of its kind. It covers all countries and trading partners, with data on over 100 commodities and various transport modes, offering a holistic view of trade, including mode of transport and associated costs. Accessible for free, the dataset is expected to significantly contribute to better understanding and optimizing global trade flows, as well as improving evidence-based policymaking.

Innovation and youth collaboration

In the run-up to the forum, UN Trade and Development held its first Supply Chain Innovation Challenge, aiming to inspire innovative solutions for making global supply chains greener, more efficient, and resilient. Almost 80 candidatures from around the world presented projects on these themes. The winning proposals were presented at the forum.

Speaking to students at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan emphasized that hope should come from those in power to inspire the youth. She highlighted progress in renewable energy, agriculture, and medical technology, as well as global efforts in sustainable development, climate action, and peacebuilding. Grynspan praised the resilience of Caribbean nations in the face of natural disasters and emphasized that the power to change the future is ageless, urging students to pursue their dreams and make a difference.

Collaboration and the road to Saudi Arabia 2026

During the forum, UN Trade and Development and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to expand their existing collaboration. This includes joint activities in trade and investment promotion, trade facilitation cooperation, supply chain-themed exhibitions, public-private dialogues, business matchmaking events, and facilitating exchanges between economic and trade experts, scholars, and think tanks.

The outcomes of this inaugural forum are expected to strengthen global supply chains and the resilience of SIDS. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will host the second forum in 2026. Omar Bin Talal Hariri, President of Saudi Ports Authority, stated that this reflected the Kingdom’s commitment to enhancing global supply chains and ongoing efforts to position the country as a leading logistics hub through the National Transport and Logistics Strategy.