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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

02 December 2020

Opening Remarks


Pak Bambang Susantono, Vice-President, Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, ADB,

Distinguished panelists, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the High-Level Meeting on Regional Cooperation for Trade and Transport Connectivity in the Age of Pandemics in Asia and the Pacific, jointly organized by ADB and ESCAP.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added strain to the already weakened trade dynamics. Member States are putting in place effective measures for international trade transactions to mitigate the disruptions caused by border closures and restrictive measures imposed since early 2020.

We should work together to ensure resilient and seamless cross-border trade and transport connectivity in Asia and the Pacific in times of this pandemic, the ensuing recovery and beyond

In this context, we are pleased to organize this high-level meeting with ADB and have prepared a joint note.

Please allow me to share four guiding principles on model provisions for trade and transport within the broader framework of regional cooperation:  

First, to enhance coordination between trade and transport policy responses. A recent ESCAP’s survey on trade facilitation in times of COVID1-19 pandemic has indicated that stronger regional mechanisms for resilient trade recovery are much needed. Similarly, our survey on freight transport policy responses to COVID-19, also indicated that the movement of goods is a top priority for member States in the region, especially for the landlocked developing countries.

Second, to scale up policy harmonization. Growing need for harmonization of trade and transport rules and regulations is essential to make use of the newly built physical infrastructure and to enable resilient trade and transport connectivity during crisis. By promoting transparency and sharing of information, these policy harmonizing procedures can develop model provisions for trade in times of crisis and pandemic in regional trade and other agreements.

Third, to accelerate digitalization. Electronic documentation and processes, especially for trade and transport facilitation, have helped reduce disruptions in trade and economic activities since the outbreak of COVID-19. Digitalization also requires a regional approach to minimize interoperability issues and additional costs. By cutting trade costs by 25% across the region, there is a greater need now to facilitate both trade connectivity and supply chain resilience in our region.

Fourth, harness regional and subregional partnership. Member States along with development partners must work together to provide contactless, seamless and collaborative solutions on transport, trade and logistics operations in the age of pandemics. By promoting solutions-oriented initiatives, member States should ensure timely application of the UN’s conventions, standards, tools and instruments for resilient trade and transport connectivity. Such initiatives may be applied at the sub-regional level or among several countries that have reached common agreement.

Ladies and gentlemen,

ESCAP has been at the fore front of building regional platforms to meet the growing needs of member States to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

We are partnering with UN DESA, UNCTAD, OECD, ESCAP Sustainable Business Network (ESBN) and the International Chamber of Commerce, to name a few, to step up our support to member States on trade and transport connectivity related initiatives in the time of COVID-19 pandemic.  

Notably, ESCAP developed eight transport facilitation models to enable seamless movement of international transport across borders and has also recommended implementation of specific sets of trade facilitation measures targeted at SMEs, women traders, and the agricultural sector as part of a joint effort with other UN Regional Commissions.

The Framework on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific is another significant initiative since 2012, to pursue trade digitalization at the regional level. This UN treaty is now set to enter into force on 20 February 2021 after the ratification by China and Bangladesh.

In this regard, ESCAP and the World Customs Organization are supporting a Task Force to discuss technical details for the seamless exchange of electronic data and documents between China, Mongolia, Republic of Korea and Russian Federation.  

The Asian Highway network is also embracing digitalization. ESCAP, in collaboration with countries and economies, are promoting smart connectivity along the Asian Highway Network, in its future strategic development, as well as related regional cooperation and arrangements.

Moreover, recognizing the importance of the international freight transport along the corridors of the Trans-Asian Railway network, ESCAP is continuing to support and strengthen members comparative advantages by developing and implementing smart railway solutions and deepening digitalization.

Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to take this opportunity again to reiterate the importance of regional cooperation for the achievement of resilient and efficient trade and transport connectivity for building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic in our region.

I wish you a very successful meeting.

Thank you for your attention.


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