The high cost of trade in Asia and the Pacific continues to rise but ongoing efforts to facilitate commerce will help keep goods flowing throughout region, said a new report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Despite COVID-19 pandemic, subsequent supply chain disruptions and surge in shipping costs, the economies in the region showed continued progress streamlining trade procedures. Implementation of 31 general and digital trade facilitation measures rose on average across the region to 64.9 per cent in 2021. about six percentage points higher than in 2019, the Asia Pacific Trade Facilitation Report 2021 said.
The report mentions that cross-border trade digitalization has great potential to help countries in Asia and the Pacific access critical goods especially those most vulnerable to trade uncertainty and crisis. If countries speed up their implementation of digital trade schemes, the average trade costs could drop by more than 13 per cent, the report said.
On the report, ESCAP Executive Secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana said; “in addition to digitalization, there is also a need to pursue business facilitation policies that make business more sustainable and inclusive.” She said that the measures were specifically needed to support small and medium-sized enterprises women and the agriculture sector to make recovery more sustainable.
RESILIENCE OF SUPPLY CHAINS
The ESCAP-ADB report underscores the need to strengthen the resilience of supply chains as the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the vulnerabilities of concentrated trade networks, limited inventories and financing shortages. High global value chain participation left Asia and the Pacific particularly vulnerable to restrictive trade policies.
ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Bambang Susantono said that border closures, export controls and health and safety protocols disrupted production and the flow of goods across international boundaries, with dire effects on the supplies of critical goods such as food, personal protective equipment and vaccines, especially for the poor and vulnerable.
COVID 19 PANDEMIC
In the report, the authors say that the COVID 19 pandemic highlighted the importance of global and regional support and cooperation to ensure continuous supplies of critical goods. About two-thirds of 20 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies implemented new trade facilitation measures to mitigate supply chain disruptions. Many countries in the region also accelerated measures related to transparency and institutional coordination, simplification of customs procedures and expedited clearance.
WTO FACILITATION AGREEMENT
The report also highlights the role of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and the related UN treaty on cross-border paperless business in Asia and the Pacific to accelerate recovery post-COVID-19. As the pandemic quickened the move to trade digitalization, more work is needed to leverage digital technologies to streamline customs procedures and electronic exchange of information, and implement national and regional single windows for document submission and clearance.
The biennial report was launched on October 6, 2021 at a webinar on “Supply Chain Resilience and Trade Facilitation amid the COVID-19 Pandemic,” co-hosted by ESCAP, ADB and the International Chamber of Commerce.