International transport and supply chains key to COVID-19 recovery: UN agencies

17 September 2020

Eight UN organizations urge governments to take a risk-based approach to restoring maritime, air, and inland connectivity with minimal restrictions.

International transport and supply chains key to COVID-19 recovery
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Container terminal / ©bannafarsai

The social and economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting countries’ efforts to improve livelihoods and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The early responses to restraining the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted all transport operations, leading to severe disruptions of supply chains and trade flows worldwide. 

In a statement released on 17 September, eight UN organizations stress that international transport and integrated supply chains are critical in recovering from COVID-19 achieving the SDGs.

“Ensuring that ships keep moving, ports remain open and cross-border trade continues flowing requires further reforms into digitalization and the dematerialization of processes. Many of our UNCTAD solutions help to achieve this,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.

“It is important to highlight that these solutions help ensure smoother trade and the protection of transport workers and the population from the virus,” he added.

Dr. Kituyi signed the statement alongside the heads of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (UNECLAC), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA).

How to maximize contribution of international trade to recovery

The signatories call on all governments to maximize the contribution of international trade and supply chains to a sustainable socio-economic recovery through greater use of international legal instruments and standards, as well as strengthened regional and sectoral cooperation.

United Nations instruments – such as the UNCTAD Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA), UNECE-administered TIR Convention and its eTIR International System, the CMR Convention – facilitate the use of a safe and efficient trade and intermodal transport system. These instruments allow for moving cargo across borders without requiring physical checks and for reducing contact between people.

Single windows enable traders to communicate electronically with all agencies involved. International standards for data exchange, such as those developed by UN/CEFACT also help reduce physical contact and enhance streamlined processes.

The signatories support further digitalization of trade and customs procedures, using global United Nations standards, to ensure the fast and secure exchange of data and information concerning cargo and means of transport and contactless clearances.

They encourage all governments to take a risk-based approach to restoring air, inland and maritime connectivity with minimal restrictions, while preventing the spread of COVID-19, protecting the health and safety of drivers, crew and border agency personnel, as well as strengthening public confidence in trade and transport means. 

They call upon governments to embark on the process to review international and regional trade agreements, as deemed necessary, and ensure they contain provisions to facilitate trade and transport in times of crisis and pandemics.

They urge countries to take appropriate action in facilitating and dematerializing trade and transport value chains.

They also reiterate support to countries to ensure a sustainable socio-economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.