Developing countries can learn through the platform how to implement reforms to ease trade despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNCTAD has launched a new e-learning platform for national trade facilitation committees (NTFCs), allowing it to continue building their capacity to keep trade flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In many countries, in-person learning is still either unsafe or impossible as pandemic-induced lockdowns and restrictions remain in place.
In the absence of face-to-face instruction, the platform provides a safe and effective alternative to the classroom, offering a convenient way for busy professionals to gain knowledge on trade facilitation matters.
"The platform is another concrete illustration of how UNCTAD is leveraging digital technologies to support developing countries in their efforts to keep trade flowing despite the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics.
She added: “While the pandemic has forced many countries to stop or limit face-to-face interactions, NTFCs will be able to continue their role in facilitating trade for development, thanks to the capacity-building and coordination provided through the platform."
How the platform works
The platform currently hosts nine modules on issues related to trade facilitation. Each module includes a series of short videos, quizzes, a digital handout, further reading material and a final examination.
The course is delivered through a blended approach: weekly webinars with UNCTAD experts allow students to discuss in depth the content of each module and ask any questions.
At the end of the course, successful participants receive a certificate of completion. The content of the platform is constantly being updated and will soon contain new courses.
Over 400 participants from Botswana, Cambodia, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe are the first beneficiaries to use the platform.
UNCTAD developed the platform with financial support from the United Kingdom. Course material will soon be available in French, Portuguese and Spanish.
The platform nurtures interaction and cooperation. Users can easily set up their profiles and within each national course, and NTFC members can interact with each other and stay connected between meetings.
Learners can discuss issues, ideas, suggestions and share experiences with each other. Their conversations can take place within a traditional online course or through group discussions and personal messages. Instructors can intervene to direct, enrich or moderate discussions as needed.
The platform allows members of NTFCs and their secretariats to learn through multi-layered networking and interactivity. It provides an agile, dynamic and effective way to learn, with learners receiving all the support they need to complete the course.
It also serves as a social platform for NTFC members from around the world. For instance, if a representative one country’s trade ministry would like to know how peers in other NTFCs are implementing some reforms, he or she could simply pose a question on the platform’s social network and get answers in real time.
The social learning aspect will boost knowledge sharing among NTFCs. It will also deepen the impact of learned content, as learning is more fruitful when it happens within an interconnected social network.
Supporting trade facilitation reforms
The platform seeks to empower NTFCs to successfully undertake their mandate to implement, in a coordinated manner, trade facilitation reforms, including the provisions of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The TFA requires member states to establish or maintain a coordination mechanism that will support the implementation of the trade facilitation provisions included in the agreement.
NTFCs, established as a coordination mechanism, are mandated to streamline trade procedures and implement trade facilitation measures nationally. Successful and efficient NTFCs help countries streamline their international trade.
The committees are collaboration platforms involving a wide range of public and private agents seeking to establish a transparent and consistent trade environment, advocating for simple and standardized border procedures and regulations.
Over the years, UNCTAD has assisted over 55 countries in drafting national trade facilitation plans, forming and training NTFCs, and creating roadmaps to guide the implementation of the TFA.
Empowering national trade facilitation committees
UNCTAD’s empowerment programme for NTFCs, an intensive, dedicated and professional capacity-building initiative for members of the committees and their secretariats, has been instrumental towards the achievement and successful implementation of all these activities.
As coordinators of the implementation of the provisions of the WTO trade facilitation committees, NTFCs’ members from developing and least developed countries should clearly understand trade facilitation.
They should also have thorough knowledge of the TFA, to oversee the execution of the agreement, including prioritization and coordination of reforms and technical assistance.