Statement to the event Leveraging on AfCFTA to promote smooth functioning of Corridors for Sustainable Industrialization and Diversification during COVID-19

Statement by Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa‘Utoikamanu, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States

20 March 2021 
New York, USA

H. E. Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and pleasure to welcome you all to this ECA-OHRLLS joint side even on Leveraging on African Continental Free Trade Area to promote smooth functioning of Corridors for Sustainable Industrialization and Diversification during COVID-19 era.

My Office is highly appreciative of the support and partnership from the Economic Commission for Africa and I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to my colleague, executive Secretary, Ms. Vera Songwe for this excellent partnership. I also wish to recognize the contribution of the African Union Commission - a key partner on our common development efforts in Africa.

Africa is home to half of the 32 landlocked developing countries that face special challenges associated with their lack of direct territorial access to the sea resulting in high transport and transit costs.

Establishment of efficient transit transport corridors is critical for movement of goods, expansion of LLDCs’ trade, and increasing their connectivity and integration into regional and global trading networks.

Transport and economic corridors benefit both the LLDCs and transit countries to support and facilitate transit and trade, create linkages to regional and international markets and value chains, stimulate trade-induced industrial and value-added production and wider social and economic growth along the corridor and create investment opportunities.

The role of corridors worldwide has become more important today because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pandemics know no borders and the corridors and trade have not been spared. Thus, the focus of this side event is a very timely one. The impacts of COVID-19 on transport connectivity and trade are felt most in LLDCs.

Lockdowns and cross-border restrictions aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19 have affected the smooth flow of transport and of imported essential goods and services to landlocked developing countries, including those needed to respond effectively to the pandemic. Passenger and freight transport have slumped. Supply chains have been disrupted. Merchandise trade has plummeted. Reduction of export earnings have created balance-of-payment and fiscal challenges.

The Vienna Programme of Action for LLDCs for the decade 2014 to 2024 stresses the importance of corridors in promoting efficient and cost-effective access to and from the sea.

It calls for the development of enhanced transport infrastructure and increased trade facilitation and specifically calls for reducing travel time along corridors, with the aim of allowing transit cargo to move a distance of 300 to 400 kilometres every 24 hours and for significantly reducing the time spent at land borders.

The High-level Midterm Review of the Vienna Programme of Action was held in 2019. The Political Declaration adopted at the meeting calls for greater efforts to effectively implement all relevant international, regional and bilateral agreements to improve transit; promote corridor development and regional connectivity; develop regionally integrated, sustainable and climate resilient transport infrastructure; enhance trade facilitation; and to deepen regional integration.

The issue of transit transport systems in the corridors is linked to other priorities of the Vienna Programme of Action, in particular: regional integration, international trade and competitiveness of the economies, which is essential if the economies are to purse a structural transformation agenda.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the United Nations system has called for supply chains and transport networks for LLDCs to remain open and functional, whilst remaining safe.

May I take this opportunity to highlight possible experiences learnt from all regions with LLDCs that can help strengthen corridors to support sustainable recovery.

First, effective, efficient multimodal transit transport systems in the corridors should be at the core of efforts to enhance regional connectivity of LLDCs. Transit transport systems have to be sustainable, affordable and resilient, while promoting the health and safety of all, to help LLDCs respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and other potential disruptions.

Second, there is need to enhance coordination between trade and transport policy responses. Stronger regional trade facilitation mechanisms for resilient trade recovery from COVID-19 are needed and should be coordinated with freight transport policy responses. Member States along with development partners must work together to provide contactless, seamless and collaborative solutions on transport, trade and logistics operations in the age of pandemics. 

Third, it would be worth-while to scale up harmonization of border procedures and interventions at the regional level in light of COVID-19. This would ensure transparency and enhanced information sharing to enable continued smooth flow of goods and services. These policy harmonizing procedures can develop model provisions for trade in times of crisis and pandemic in regional trade and other agreements.

Fourth, the COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity for LLDCs and their neighbours to enhance the use of digital tools and technologies that lower transport costs and border crossing times along the corridors, but also address COVID-19-related border disruptions. These include electronic cargo tracking systems, electronic exchange of information, paperless solutions, use of mobile banking and payment systems and digital solutions for cross-border facilitation.

Fifth, the transport sector can be a driver of economic growth in the post COVID-19 world. Investment in corridor infrastructure should be a priority, as it has the potential to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19 and help LLDCs recover better.

Lastly, I also wish to stress that safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are urgently needed and are crucial for sustainable recovery and should be rolled out in the vulnerable countries like LLDCs.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

We are now faced with an opportunity to scale up our actions and invest in innovative transport solutions in response to the pandemic that will help LLDCs recover, but also prepare them on a sustainable path for future progress.

The establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area, its entering into force on 30 May 2019 and trading that started on 1st January 2021 brings positive prospects for African LLDCs. It offers an opportunity for LLDCs to integrate into the African market of over a billion consumers and can support promotion of industrial development and economic diversification and the enhancement of the participation of LLDCs in regional and global trade and ultimately achievement of SDGs. Effective participation of LLDC in the African Continental Free Trade Area will integrate them into the regional and global value chains.

For our part, UN-OHRLLS will continue to advocate for smooth functioning of corridors and enhanced transport connectivity and trade potential of the LLDCs during pandemics.

There is a lot to learn from each other today. I sincerely hope that this meeting will allow you to share knowledge, best practices and lessons learned in promoting effective functioning of corridors during pandemics.

Landlocked Developing Countries, by their very nature, are more reliant on global and regional collaboration than most. They cannot simply “go it alone”. Enhanced corridors are critical for their building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic. This requires all of us to do our part to support them.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you fruitful deliberations on this important topic.

Thank you.