Trade facilitation can help protect public health while minimizing disruptions to trade as a result of COVID-19.
Crowded border posts and longer truck lines lead to delays during a time when efficiency and speed are of the utmost importance to respond to the pandemic.
UNCTAD urges agencies to coordinate and cooperate within and among countries to ensure that critical goods reach consumers and hospitals, in coastal and landlocked countries in particular.
Border agencies are implementing unprecedented measures to accelerate the import, export, and transit of goods while dealing with restrictive measures imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report published by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The report titled, ‘How Countries Can Leverage Trade Facilitation to Defeat the COVID-19 Pandemic,’ highlights the need to protect public health while minimizing disruptions to trade as a result of the pandemic. Underscoring the need to ensure that relief goods and other essential products can freely move across borders, the paper describes crowded border posts and longer truck lines leading to delays during a time when efficiency and speed are of the utmost importance to respond to the pandemic.
To address such challenges, the report presents trade facilitation solutions in areas related to 1) process optimization, 2) cost reduction, 3) transparency and cooperation enhancement, and 4) full use of technology to ensure cross-border trade continues while reducing face-to-face interaction. The report underscores the importance of government policies and measures, joint efforts from public and private entities, and cooperation with regional and international partners. It concludes that, at the national level, trade facilitation committees could act as a focal point to coordinate initial response to the pandemic and lead to further cooperation at the regional and international levels. The paper also details examples of measures that countries are implementing in these four areas.
Inequalities in digital readiness hinder the LDCs from taking advantage of technologies that help cope with the pandemic.
On process optimization, the report highlights measures to accelerate and streamline the release and clearance of essential goods, namely:
- expediting import procedures to ensure aid reaches those fighting COVID-19 on the frontlines through, among others, pre-arrival processing, fast track lanes, release upon arrival, and prioritizing relief supplies;
- relaxing procedures, such as simplifying goods declarations, minimizing requirements, flexibility regarding inspections, and ensuring low-risk shipments enjoy more flexibility;
- temporary admission of medical, surgical, and laboratory equipment; and
- more flexibility regarding transit measures, which may be impacted by COVID-19 transit procedures such as health screening tests for drivers.
On cost reduction for traders, the report proposes flexibility regarding payments, interests, and guarantees, such as deferring tax and duty payments without interest charges, as well as tariff reductions.
On increasing transparency, the report emphasizes the need for timely and accurate information, highlighting a dedicated COVID-19 page on UCTAD’s website, which compiles online repositories with up-to-date trade-related information, and the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) dedicated page, which is publishing a regularly updated list of countries that have adopted temporary export restriction measures for medical supplies in response to COVID-19.
On strengthening cooperation, UNCTAD urges agencies to coordinate and cooperate within and among countries to ensure that critical goods reach consumers and hospitals, in coastal and landlocked countries in particular. The report highlights case studies from countries illustrating national, regional, and international coordination to address the pandemic’s consequences.
Finally, the report highlights that fully using information and communications technology (ICT) ensures the continuity of cross-border trade and reduces direct contact among people, including by enabling cross-border agencies and traders to electronically submit and exchange data and documentation and to computerize procedures to expedite the clearance of imports, exports, transits, and other trade transactions. However, the report points out, inequalities in digital readiness hinder large parts of the world from taking advantage of technologies that help cope with the pandemic, particularly the least developed countries (LDCs), which are most vulnerable to the human and economic consequences of the pandemic. Thus, the report urges increased attention and a coordinated multilateral response to to help overcome digital divides. [Publication: How Countries Can Leverage Trade Facilitation to Defeat the COVID-19 Pandemic]