29 March 2021
European Event Considers Platforms to Increase Post-COVID-19 Innovation, Trade
Photo Credit : M.B.M. / Unsplash
story highlights

Platforms bring supply and demand together, ensure trust, and provide a space for transactions while also reducing transaction costs.

The most important non-tariff measures for improving export competitiveness and resiliency of MSMEs are around building productive capacities of MSMEs, transitioning to paperless environment, conformity assessments and certification to export, and regional cooperation to facilitate trade.

A UNECE tool identifies common data required across multiple transport modes, and stands to provide a common language to exchange data in a multimodal corridor approach that allows for interoperability throughout the transport chain.

A side event held in the margins of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) 2021 Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (RFSD) discussed the nature of, and responses to, the short- and medium-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly as they relate to digital platforms, innovation, and trade.

Convened on 12 March 2021 and organized by UNECE in collaboration with the Geneva Trade Platform, the event titled, ‘Building Back Better after COVID-19: The Role of Innovation and Trade,’ sought to address three key topic areas relating to more productive, sustainable, and resilient economies in the post-COVID-19 era:

  • the role of innovation in driving recovery and progress towards the SDGs;
  • supporting export-oriented small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in bouncing back from the pandemic; and
  • making trade more resilient through electronic business standards.

Moderator Elisabeth Tuerk, UNECE, opened the discussion by noting that as a global crisis, COVID-19 requires global solutions, and that innovation and trade are cornerstones upon which the world can build back better. Highlighting that micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), representing 90% of businesses and responsible for half of gross domestic product (GDP) in UNECE countries, have been hit especially hard, Tuerk underscored the importance of responding in a manner that strengthens these businesses’ resilience and productive capacity.

UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova acknowledged that restrictions on economic and other activities have caused “great damage” in the form of declining GDP, job losses, bankruptcies, and trade disruptions, and that those suffering the most are populations that were already vulnerable. Emphasizing the importance of not just recovering, but building back better, Algayerova noted that UNECE has developed instruments and initiatives to support member States as part of a three-pillar strategic framework: 1) facilitating connectivity; 2) addressing transboundary issues; and 3) supporting a green and resilient recovery.

A panel on innovating to drive recovery and progress towards the SDGs pointed to instances where the pandemic has been a catalyst for change and has pushed innovation. Noting that the event itself was “the platform economy in action,” Anders Joensson, UNECE, flagged that while videoconferencing has increased as a result of the pandemic, the innovations have been less about new technology itself, and more about how it is put into practice to change the way economies and societies function. Platforms, Joensson described, “triangulate” by bringing supply and demand together, ensure trust, and provide a space for transactions while also reducing transaction costs.

Joakim Wernberg, Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum, described platforms as crucial to enabling digitalization and efficiency, including through the creation of business models that were not previously viable. He urged governments to enable job innovation through the platform economy.

Rounding out the first session, Wernberg and Joensson called on governments to enable experimentation, integrate platforms into existing systems, and learn by doing. They stressed the need for innovation policy to help build the right skills, create a feedback mechanism with the labor market, build digital infrastructure, enable cross-national growth, and ensure return on investment to keep experimentation high.

A panel on supporting export-oriented MSMEs in bouncing back from the pandemic highlighted how non-tariff measures (NTMs) can be used to build productive capacities and strengthen MSMEs’ resilience. Damegul Kabiyeva, UNECE, outlined a whole-of-government approach to gear NTMs such that they can be tools for recovery. Citing a UNECE study involving five national assessments and over 2,000 manufacturing MSMEs and freight forwarding companies, Kabiyeva noted that over the course of the pandemic, small businesses have exhausted coping mechanisms, increased debt and dipped into personal savings, and have lost traditional buyers and suppliers due to lockdowns. She emphasized the critical roles of regional and harmonized standards, trade facilitation, and tools to help MSMEs implement international standards.

Tatjana Sterjova Dushkovska, Western Balkans 6 Chamber Investment Forum, agreed that building trust and harmonizing standards, such as those relating to conformity assessments and other certificates, are key to reducing time spent navigating barriers associated with cross-border trade. Dushkovska stressed the need to focus on the fundamentals, and emphasized that the best way to recover is by solving issues that existed prior to—but have been made increasingly relevant by—the pandemic. These include, inter alia, overcoming regulatory and procedural barriers, preparing for border crossings through export controls and coordinating working hours for inspections, and reducing the overall amount of time spent waiting at borders. Dushkovska pointed to the introduction of “green corridors” in the Western Balkans and the Common Regional Market action plan as measures that governments can take to facilitate trade in the context of COVID-19.

During a session on how trade facilitation and tools can build more resilient trade systems, Aleksei Bondarenko, UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), called for an urgent response to disruptions in trade flows, noting that both public and private sectors should be considered. Bondarenko emphasized the importance of Single Window as a comprehensive trade facilitation tool. As an electronic facility that allows parties to submit the information needed to fulfill related regulatory requirements at once and at a single-entry point, Single Window can consolidate responses and leverage existing technologies to enable better coordination, he said.

Mario Apostolov, UNECE, presented a digital tool that aims to enable seamless flow of information throughout supply chains, and identifies common data required across multiple transport modes. Emphasizing that goods cannot move faster than the information about them, he showed how electronic tools can provide a common language to exchange data in a multimodal corridor approach that allows for interoperability throughout the transport chain.

Concluding the side event, an audience poll highlighted four main topics that trade policies need to focus on in order to achieve a more resilient post-COVID-19 trade recovery: 1) better private-public cooperation; 2) better exchange of information; 3) enhanced transparency and traceability; and 4) better inter-agency cooperation. [Building Back Better After COVID-19: The Role of Innovation and Trade] [Side Event Recording] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story about the Forum

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