Early evidence shows international trade is collapsing, says UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), threatening access to goods and critical supplies. In a policy brief, the UN body echoes an earlier call by UNCTAD secretary general, Mukhisa Kituyi, to keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing.

UNCTAD proposes 10 policy measures to cover maritime transport, customs operations, transit, transparency and legal issues, as well as technology to enhance paperless trade processes. The plan calls for policies that: • Ensure uninterrupted shipping • Keep ports open • Protect international trade of critical goods and speed up customs clearance and trade facilitation • Facilitate cross-border transport • Ensure the right of transit • Safeguard transparency and up-to-date information • Promote paperless systems • Address early-on legal implications for commercial parties • Protect shippers and transport service providers alike • Prioritise technical assistance.

The policy brief calls on governments to ensure health measures are implemented in ports and border crossings in ways that minimise interference with international traffic and trade. It also emphasises the need for people involved in the movement of trucks, ships, and planes to be given the status of critical personnel.

For ports, in particular, the brief calls for ports to remain open to ships and intermodal connections. Staggered working hours and non-stop operations, if not already practiced, can help spread workloads and physical contacts. Certain restrictions – for example, on weekend operations – may need to be lifted during the current emergency.

Developing countries face particularly challenging conditions, says UNCTAD, and need enhanced support from the development community, as well as cooperation to keep trade moving. UNCTAD already works with developing countries to support their trade and transport facilitation efforts. For example, the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) programme offers a technology solution for customs automation and a single window for trade. UNCTAD also trains officials to build port management capacity, works with national trade facilitation committees and provides technical assistance to improve transport transit in developing countries.

Filed: 2020-04-29