Simpler Customs Procedures Could Boost Exports of Landlocked Countries, UN

Most of the high costs related to transporting goods from landlocked developing countries to international markets are avoidable, as they are caused to a large extent by cumbersome custom procedures, says a senior United Nations official.

Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said the problem could be solved through harmonization, simplification and standardization of rules and documentation, and international conventions on transport and transit were the main vehicle to achieve this.

Ms. Heyzer was speaking Wednesday at the conclusion of a two-day regional meeting in Bangkok which assessed progress in Asia and Europe since the adoption of the UN’s Almaty Programme of Action in 2003. The first global action plan aimed at helping landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), it provides a framework for cooperation between landlocked and transit countries, promising reductions in red tape and transportation costs and time.

The meeting was organized by ESCAP, along with the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS).

Cheikh Sidi Diarra, Under-Secretary-General and UN High Representative, told the meeting that much progress had been made since Almaty. He said that, on average, it took LLDCs 49 days to export a consignment of goods in 2007, down from 57 days in 2005.

Mr. Diarra emphasized the role of regional commissions in promoting transit transport cooperation. He cited two ESCAP initiatives -- the Asian Highway Network and the Trans-Asian Railway Network -- as good examples. The Highway covers 141,000 kilometres linking 32 countries while the Railway runs 81,000 kilometres in 28 countries.

Summing up the important points emerged from the discussion, Ms. Heyzer noted that ‘there are still remarkable infrastructure gaps which cannot be addressed without involving the private sector.” Public-private partnership would thus be very important.

Another point emerged was that “the landlocked and the transit countries share many common problems. Many issues have to be addressed in a framework of mutual cooperation, especially among neighbouring countries,” Ms. Heyzer said. She cited the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement, another initiative of ESCAP, as a tool which could help landlocked and transit developing countries to engage in dynamic trade and investment flows.

The meeting, which brought together 12 LLDCs and some neighbouring transit countries, serves as an Asia and Europe regional preparatory meeting for a high-level review of the Almaty Programme of Action which will take place in early October at the UN headquarters in New York.

The outcome will also be presented to ESCAP’s annual high-level Commission session which will start tomorrow in Bangkok and run until 30 April.