Statement to the Side event of the 83rd annual UNECE ITC session on the sustainability of transport and trade connectivity in the Caspian Sea region in the age of pandemics

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

24 February 2021 
New York, USA

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to be with you.

Your Excellency, Ambassador  Atageldi Haljanov,  thank you for inviting me to share some remarks.

First, I congratulate your country and its people on the 30th Anniversary of the Independence of Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan has followed along path of transformations since independence.

Your country and the Caspian Region have developed transport infrastructure networks  which have evolved into important gateway corridors connecting the East to the West.

The ability to transport is at the very origin of humanity and more than ever transport networks are the key to sustainable development.

With the economic crises, and I would go as far as to say tragedies which we face globally as a result of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, transport issues take on an even more important  role.

Pandemics know no borders and the transport and trade sectors have not been spared.

This is why this side event on Sustainability of transport and trade connectivity in the Caspian Sea region in the age of pandemics is a timely topic for our discussion.

The Caspian Region supports many LLDCs in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

The impacts of COVID-19 on transport connectivity and trade are felt most in LLDCs which heavily rely on the transit of goods through neighboring countries.

Lockdowns and cross-border restrictions aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19 affect the smooth flow of essential goods and services to landlocked developing countries. The resulting delays imply ever higher trade costs. The drop in trade volumes is evident.

Agenda 2030 recognizes how transport connectivity is a key enabler for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, LLDCs faced high transport costs, cumbersome border procedures, and challenges in advancing sustainable transport solutions and closing missing links.

The global community advocates for a sustainable COVID-19 recovery and building back better.

For the LLDCs we do have action frameworks and action should build on the Vienna Programme of Action for LLDCs for the decade 2014 to 2024. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, there is a need to act!

The Programme of Action calls for the promotion of unhindered, efficient, and cost-effective access to and from the sea of LLDCs by all means of transport, based on the freedom of transit.

It also calls for enhanced transport infrastructure development and increased trade facilitation.

The High level Midterm Review of the Vienna Programme of Action was held in 2019.

The Midterm Review revealed that despite efforts, LLDCs remain marginalized in global trade, and are not effectively connected to major centres of economic activity. The Political Declaration adopted calls for greater efforts to effectively implement all relevant international, regional, and bilateral agreements to improve transit; promote corridor development; develop regionally integrated, sustainable, and climate resilient transport infrastructure; enhance trade facilitation; and to deepen regional integration.

Now is the opportunity to scale up our actions and invest in innovative transport solutions in response to the disruptions the pandemic has brought about.

Now is the opportunity to help LLDCs recover, but also prepare for an inclusive and sustainable path for future progress.

A key ingredient will have to be the strengthening of multimodal transit transport systems.

They need to be efficient, effective and resilient while promoting the health and safety of all and lay the basis for greater connectivity of LLDCs including during likely future pandemics.

This also means that we must look into much greater use of digital tools and technologies.

We should leverage, for example, electronic cargo tracking systems, the electronic exchange of information, paperless solutions, the use of mobile banking and payment systems, and digital solutions for cross-border facilitation such as the e-TIR and e-CMR.  They are all means to shorten border crossing times and lower transport costs.

Some regions have set up coordinated common regionally harmonized approaches to border procedures and interventions in light of COVID-19.

They have enhanced transparency and information on transit and trade procedures to ensure the continued smooth flow of goods.

These are all initiatives we should promote as much as possible and they are in line with international standards.

Of course, in the immediate term, it is equally important to ensure fast access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for their systematic roll-out in the LLDCs, and with the COVAX initiative and the work led by WHO, we hope for this to happen sooner rather than later. 

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,

Last years Annual Meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers of Landlocked Developing Countries adopted a Ministerial Declaration that underscores the importance of enhanced coordination and solutions to the impacts of COVID-19 on transport connectivity and other sectors.

The General Assembly also adopted a Resolution on a Comprehensive and Coordinated Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Among the many issues stressed is the importance of facilitating transportation and logistical supply lines for LLDCs and enhancing the effective implementation of relevant international conventions and multilateral instruments on transport and transit.

UN-OHRLLS, on its part, will continue to advocate for enhanced transport connectivity of the LLDCs.

In 2020, we worked with the UN ECE, UN ESCAP, UN ECA, UN ECLAC, and UNCTAD on a joint statement to call for supply chains and transport networks for goods to LLDCs to remain open and functional and functioning, while being safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also issued a joint statement with World Customs Organisation  on facilitating trade and transit during the pandemic.

Quite importantly, we coordinated the development of a Roadmap for Accelerated Implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action.

The roadmap was adopted by the LLDC Ministers last year..

We now have a very concrete plan of action with clear activities and deliverables to accelerate the implementation of the Vienna Programme.

Development of transport infrastructure and transit and trade facilitation are amongst the key action areas, with concrete projects in the region.

We will continue to be your strong advocate for enhanced cross-border collaboration and the strengthening of regional cooperation between landlocked developing countries and transit countries during and beyond the pandemic.

In concluding my remarks, let me take this opportunity to once again wish the Government and the people of Turkmenistan happy independence. 

We look forward to a growing and productive relationship between Turkmenistan and OHRLLS.

I thank you.