Coronavirus: UNCTAD advocates continuation of cross-border trade

• Restrictions may interrupt needed aid and technical support

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has called on governments to keep maritime trade moving by allowing commercial ships continued access to ports worldwide and by facilitating the rapid changeover of ships’ crews should not go unheeded.

The United Nations agency, in a statement on Wednesday, said “around 80 per cent of global trade is transported by commercial shipping, which moves the world’s food, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components.

“This includes vital medical supplies, which are sorely needed at this time, and items that are necessary for the preservation of many jobs in manufacturing – without which modern society cannot function.”

UNCTAD said, in this time of global crisis, it is more important to keep supply chains open and to allow maritime trade and cross-border transport to continue.

It added: “This means keeping the world’s ports open for ship calls and the movement of ships’ crews with as few obstacles as possible.

“Transit needs to be facilitated, too. Landlocked countries need access to food and medical supplies through neighbouring countries’ seaports.

“Shipping and ports hold the world economy together. They connect countries, markets, businesses and people, on a scale not otherwise possible.

“A vast array of goods and commodities are transported by sea to meet the demands of industrial and manufacturing sectors, energy needs, as well as business and consumer requirements.

“These range from raw materials such as coal and iron ore, oil, gas carried as bulk, to manufactured goods of intermediate and finished products carried in containers.

“Facing the current pandemic, cross-border movements of relief goods such as food and medical supplies will increase dramatically.”

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According to the body, restrictions on trade and cross-border transport may interrupt needed aid and technical support, disrupt businesses and have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries.

It said: “Governments should therefore continue to facilitate the movement of not only relief goods, but goods in general, to minimize the negative impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“To ensure that vital goods reach consumers and hospitals in destination countries, responsible agencies should coordinate and cooperate within and among countries so that indispensable goods reach the populations in coastal and landlocked countries alike.”

While noting that seafarers have come under increased checks and scrutiny in various ports as a result of the pandemic, UNCTAD said, ports should treat seafarers as key workers and afford them the same flexibilities currently given to aircrew and health workers in boarding and leaving ship.

According to UNCTAD, “Without functioning ports, cargoes including those with life-saving supplies cannot be transported to where they are needed.”

It noted that, “All available technological trade and transport facilitation solutions should be used to reduce the burden posed by COVID-19 on maritime and cross-border trade. We cannot afford to compound the health and economic challenges facing us.”


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