Since the outbreak of COVID-19, governments, border agencies, logistics companies and traders have been exploring how they can leverage existing trade and transport facilitation measures to keep goods moving across borders. The crisis has also accelerated the implementation of trade and transport facilitation in the region, in the areas of transparency and institutional coordination; simplification of customs procedures and expedited clearance; digital trade and transport facilitation; transport and transit facilitation; business facilitation measures; and trade finance. Many international and regional organizations are actively promoting international best practices. This presents an opportunity to turn temporary trade and transport facilitation measures implemented in response to COVID-19 into sustainable and streamlined practices for the long-term; strengthen regional connectivity; spur the development of paperless trade; and build back better.
“Coordination, digitalization, harmonization and partnership” could remain as guiding principles of the trade and transport response during the pandemic and in its aftermath. The existing cooperation mechanisms for trade and transport connectivity in Asia and the Pacific should be mobilized to provide stronger momentum for facilitation, harmonization and digitalization of cross-border trade and transport procedures. This includes the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific, and the intergovernmental agreements on the Asian Highway and the Trans-Asian Railway Networks. Complementing this, regional coordination in times of crises can also be institutionalized in future negotiations of relevant regional, subregional and bilateral trade and transport agreements.