Multi-Year Expert Meeting on Transport, Trade Logistics and Trade Facilitation, tenth session (Opening plenary)

Statement by Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD

Multi-Year Expert Meeting on Transport, Trade Logistics and Trade Facilitation, tenth session (Opening plenary)

17 July 2023

Dear Matthew Wilson, Chair of this expert meeting and Permanent Representative of Barbados,
Dear Christopher O’Toole, Vice-Chair of the meeting and Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Canada,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The cascading crises of our time have made even more evident the importance of transport, trade logistics and trade facilitation for global supply and value chains.

Millions of tons of grains have left the ports of Ukraine and fed people in developing countries thanks to effective trade facilitation.

Essential goods to fight the COVID-19 pandemic have reached hospitals and people around the globe thanks to resilient transport systems.

Nevertheless, trade disruptions have become more regular, creating shortages, bottlenecks and delays in several goods. As a consequence, and in conjunction with the surge in energy and fuel prices, transport costs soared. Freight rates on some routes increased up to five-fold between 2020 and 2022.

Trade facilitation – the focus of today’s expert meeting – offers means to deal and neutralize some of these disruptions. Let me highlight three areas.

First, we have several international legal instruments that can assist countries in facilitating cross-border trade, most notably the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement – the TFA. The Agreement can improve a country’s competitiveness, boost revenue collection, strengthen governance or formalize the informal sector.

It also offers developing and least developed countries the opportunity to take advantage of the Special and Differential provisions of the Agreement. But to reap these benefits, many countries need to implement reforms.

Currently, the implementation rate of the TFA is around seventy-seven (77) per cent. But there are large gaps between country groups. While all developed countries have fully implemented the agreement, only forty-four (44) per cent of least developed countries could do so. It is thus important that these countries obtain assistance to implement the agreement.

The Agreement also provides for important coordination mechanisms – notably the establishment of National Trade Facilitation Committees - and cooperation between border agencies. UNCTAD has supported more than sixty (60) National Trade Facilitation Committees around the world, making the case for involving all relevant public and private sector stakeholders in international trade procedures as a critical element for success.

Cooperation on borders is important to ensure harmonized and streamlined processes for the clearance and transit of goods and ensure that all national safety and security compliance controls are undertaken. If such controls are not well coordinated, they often result in delays, bottlenecks and additional costs for the business sector and can provide a fertile environment for corruption.

My second point is on the opportunities of automation and digitalization for enhancing trade facilitation. Automation and digitalization can create transparency, availability and access to information which enhances predictability and help traders navigate in cross-border trade. For instance, our Trade Information Portals provide a platform to publish rules and procedures for cross-border trade in a transparent and user-friendly manner, and help countries simplify their international trade procedures.

It is no surprise that our largest technical assistance programme is on automation. ASYCUDA is an integrated and automated Customs and trade clearance and management system. The system ensures that customs and trade comply with international standards on import, export and transit procedures. The programme assists countries in making procedures more efficient, and it also helps countries collect more revenues. Today, ASYCUDA operates in over one hundred countries.

The recent crises have been a catalyst for automation and digitization. There is new political will to make the necessary investments to implement automated solutions to facilitate and accelerate cross-border trade. To maintain that will, it is important to hold discussions on how the benefits of automation are shared and how to deal with agencies at borders that may lose out.

And third, trade facilitation can make a contribution to deal with possibly the biggest challenge we face – climate change.

Climate and sustainable development are now at the center of all policy discussions. Trade in goods and thus transport are carbon intensive. The transport sector is responsible for approximately a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Looking at it from a trade facilitation perspective, there is room to reduce emissions at the borders by cutting long waiting times or repeated visits to offices and offering paper-less procedures through automated and digital – or climate-smart solutions.

To foster a better understanding on the relationship between trade facilitation and climate change, we are conducting innovative research that we want to discuss with you during this meeting. 

Dear friends,

Global supply chains cannot function well without effective and efficient coordination and operation at borders and ports and of transport networks. In other words, trade facilitation is essential. And trade facilitation can contribute to broader objectives, such as regional integration, by reducing trade barriers and increasing opportunities for intra-regional trade and investment flows.

This is why at UNCTAD 15, our membership asked us to redouble efforts in this area.

In May 2024, Barbados and UNCTAD will co-host the first Global Supply Chain Forum in Bridgetown. The Forum will offer a global platform to discuss and seek solutions to many of the global trade logistics challenges of today and the future. I would like to invite you all to join us in Barbados.

I wish you a fruitful meeting and thank you for your attention.