The COVID-19 pandemic is a calamity for global trade. UNCTAD forecasts that merchandise trade will fall by 20% in 2020 and by 27% during the second quarter of 2020. During this outbreak, an increasing number of obstacles including trade restrictions, lack of coordination between national border authorities, between countries and with logistics and transport operators led to a major slowdown in trade flows.
In this context, trade facilitation (i.e. expediting the clearance of goods to reduce time and cost of import, export and transit procedures) proved crucial to ensure trade of essential goods.
National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) are multi-stakeholder coordination bodies established in most countries to advance trade facilitation and logistics policy reforms.
Although NTFCs existed in many countries prior to 2017, the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) made them mandatory, recognizing the importance of close coordination between Government entities and the business community to facilitate cross-border trade.
This article presents some of the challenges faced by the NTFCs during pandemic times. It is based on continuous contacts with NTFCs from developing countries and the Least Developed Countries, as part of UNCTAD’s close monitoring of the COVID-19 crisis to keep abreast of emerging needs from our member States. It is also based on emergency technical assistance programs implemented by UNCTAD to respond to these emerging needs. On this basis, this article shares lessons learned and recommendations to enhance the contribution of NTFCs during the recovery and to enhance their resilience in case of future crises.