Streamlined customs could boost exports by poorest countries – UN official

24 April 2008

Cumbersome customs procedures are adding unnecessary costs to the transport of goods from landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) to international markets, a senior UN official has told a meeting held to measure progress on the issue.

Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said yesterday that international conventions on transport and transit could solve the problem by harmonizing, simplifying and standardizing rules and documentation.

Ms. Heyzer was speaking at the end of a two-day meeting in Bangkok which assessed progress in Asia and Europe since the UN’s Almaty Programme of Action was adopted in 2003. The programme aims to help LLDCs by supporting cooperation between landlocked and transit countries, and by cutting red tape, transport costs and time.

The meeting was organized by ESCAP, along with the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), and the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS).

Cheikh Sidi Diarra, the UN High Representative, told the meeting that much progress had been made since 2003. He said that, on average, it now takes LLDCs 49 days to export a consignment of goods, down from 57 days in 2005. He also cited two ESCAP initiatives as good examples of better transit cooperation: the Asian Highway Network and the Trans-Asian Railway Network. The Highway covers 141,000 kilometres and links 32 countries, while the Railway runs 81,000 kilometres in 28 countries.

Ms. Heyzer noted that “there are still remarkable infrastructure gaps which cannot be addressed without involving the private sector.” But she added that “the landlocked and the transit countries share many common problems” and cited another ESCAP initiative, the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement, as a tool that could help these countries engage in dynamic trade and investment.

 

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