With the COVID-19 pandemic, Trade facilitation has acquired even greater importance for the land-locked countries of Central Asia, as it helps remove burdensome formalities for their trade and transport operations. Simplifying and digitalizing procedures helps diminish physical contacts along transport and supply chains, while increasing their efficiency.
UNECE, working with the Partnership for Transport and Logistics in Central Asia, assisted the countries participating in the UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) in the implementation of several measures of the SPECA Trade Facilitation Strategy and the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) through a series of activities, including:
- an assessment of the current readiness of Uzbekistan to implement the TFA with recommendations on what still must be done to support the country’s bid to join the WTO;
- a study on border-crossing procedures and recommendations how to harmonize them;
- support for the establishment of National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) and their regional cooperation network (with the German agency for international cooperation GIZ);
- combining web pages on trade facilitation measures in the various SPECA countries;
- a capacity building event on 2 March 2021 on how to establish and operate enquiry points on trade facilitation, in compliance with the provisions of art. 1.3 of the TFA.
This event helped officers responsible for trade facilitation and the WTO in the SPECA countries understand better what establishing an enquiry point implies. The UNECE Regional Advisor on trade and experts on TBT and SPS enquiry points from the WTO secretariat explained the issues, while the SPECA country representatives carried out a peer review of what they had done so far. As a result of the seminar, they country representatives had a clearer vision that enquiry points must be operational entities with qualified staff, responding to queries, as identified in TFA art. 1.1.
The SPECA countries Members of WTO (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) had categorized this measure as C, meaning that they expected foreign assistance for its implementation. Kazakhstan changed its categorization to B in July 2018, meaning that it could establish an enquiry point itself, by February 2023.
As a next step, the seminar participants requested UNECE to help prepare an explanatory material on the establishment and functioning of enquiry points with special emphasis on the particularities of the SPECA countries (and the languages used in them) based on the presented materials and discussions at the seminar.