The Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused severe strain in international trade worldwide and in Asia and the Pacific, highlighting the need for more resilient and efficient cross-border transport and trade connectivity, including via greater regional cooperation in legal and technical and operational efforts.
Most countries have managed to maintain a critical mass of freight flows. Cross-border trade of goods has continued through most borders and along most regional transport corridors. Faced with the pandemic, many countries have intensified their digitalization and facilitation efforts. However, additional health and other requirements, as well as the consequences of containment measures, often implied additional costs and delays in cross-border operations. This was amplified by pre-existing connectivity challenges in Asia and the Pacific. In this context, a coordinated regional response would be more cost-effective and impactful, especially in case of a prolonged crisis. Regional cooperation could focus on risk sharing, early responses and rapid alert mechanisms, which will help maintain the predictability of trade and transport of key supplies in times of crisis.
“Streamline, harmonize and digitalize” could be considered as the guiding principles of the trade and transport response during the pandemic and in its aftermath. The existing cooperation mechanisms for transport and trade connectivity in Asia and the Pacific should be mobilized to provide stronger momentum to facilitation, harmonization and digitalization of cross-border trade and transport. 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 regional, subregional and bilateral trade and transport agreements.