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UNECE assesses progress made on new cross-cutting agendas to build trade capacities

UNECE assesses progress made on new cross-cutting agendas to build trade capacities

Logo of the Steering Committee on Trade Capacity and Standards

Recent data from the UNCTAD Global Trade Update reveals a promising outlook for global trade. Following a decline in the last year, the volume of world merchandise trade is forecast to increase by 2.6% in 2024 and 3.3% in 2025. One of the most notable trends in 2024 is the significant rise in demand for products related to artificial intelligence (AI) and green energy. As technological advancements and sustainable industries continue to drive trade dynamics, the global economy is poised for substantial transformation in the coming years, enhancing also the prospects of services trade.

The UNECE region will benefit from these trends, although several challenges prevent societies from fully grasping the potential of economic integration, especially in countries with economies in transition. These include dependence on natural resources, limited government funding and financial resources to develop trade logistics, and underdeveloped regulatory and institutional frameworks. Thus, removing regulatory and procedural barriers to trade remains a priority.

At the recent 9th session of the UNECE Steering Committee on Trade Capacity and Standards, government delegates, experts from international organizations, including other UN agencies, as well as representatives from the private sector and academia convened in Geneva to discuss trade related development priorities within the UNECE region. Attendance included delegates from UNECE member states, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Trade Organization (WTO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) among other institutions.

Substantive segments addressed challenges to the circular transitions as they matter to agri-food value chains and the traceability of textiles; the basics of quality infrastructure for trade; and regulatory and procedural barriers in the context of value chain integration for beneficiary countries (Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan). The Committee also explored the role of trade in services in promoting sustainable growth and economic diversification as they can speed up the attainment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

 “The Steering Committee has over the recent years added key value to UNECE’s normative work by developing international standards, procedures, and best practices aimed at reducing transaction costs in export and import processes. Their efforts have significantly increased the efficiency, predictability, and transparency of trade regulations and procedures. I am glad to see support for new initiatives promoting the transition to a circular economy within our region,” said Zdenko Lucić of Croatia, Chair of the Steering Committee.

The first day of the Trade Committee featured the Regional Conference on Circular Economy, hosted jointly with the Committee on Innovation, Competitiveness, and Public-Private Partnerships (CICPPP), where experts discussed ways to create synergies among private and public stakeholders to support needed policy change. Member States from countries with economies in transition in the UNECE region emphasized the need for further resource mobilization towards circular initiatives by the donor community to help bridge gaps.

The following days featured reporting on capacity building and technical assistance as well as cooperation with other intergovernmental organization and UNECE bodies. Two proposals were endorsed to initiate new studies on regulatory and procedural barriers to trade in countries that are in the process of accession to the WTO (i.e. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan). “WTO membership is a club card towards a growth model,” said Hiddo Houben, Deputy Permanent Representative of the EU Mission to the WTO, adding that UNECE is ideally positioned to guide beneficiary countries by offering concrete and actionable recommendations to prepare its regulatory trade-related base for facilitating accession.

This year’s session also examined the critical role of trade in services in fostering sustainable growth and economic diversification. Representatives from the WTO and World Bank Group presented their joint Report on Trade in Services for Development and elaborated on the positive correlation between efficient services, competitiveness, and improved performance. The Director of the Economic Cooperation and Trade Division of UNECE, Elisabeth Türk, pointed out that in today’s increasingly fragmented world, where trade interacts more and more with environmental, technological and geopolitical issues, the UN’s role serving as a platform for countries to exchange experiences and to build capacities on how to harness trade, innovation and infrastructure investment for sustainable development, is more needed than ever.