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UN/CEFACT outlines standard operating procedures to keep trade flowing smoothly during pandemics

UN/CEFACT outlines standard operating procedures to keep trade flowing smoothly during pandemics

Cover of the report White Paper pandemic

Major disruptions in trade flows from the COVID-19 pandemic have come at huge economic and social cost. Building on lessons learned from the crisis, international experts from the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) have set out guidelines to help reduce trade-related disruptions from future pandemics in a new White Paper. 

It stresses that there are ways to ensure that trade can continue to flow despite such challenges. For example, the increased use of electronic information exchange through internationally harmonized e-business standards – like those developed at UN/CEFACT – can reduce, and in some cases eliminate, human contact, and unlock significant efficiency gains. Consultation with all stakeholders, from both the public and private sectors, also plays a key role. 

Governments may take different responses to a pandemic, which can range from minor disruptions of local economic activities to a shutdown of the entire supply chain process, risking severe impacts on trade at regional and global levels. Developing and implementing a framework of standard operating procedures can facilitate effective and efficient border controls on the movements of goods. 

This White Paper on the Pandemic Crisis Trade-Related Response promotes the adoption of specific measures and operating procedures to facilitate and expedite joint controls of essential goods and to ease cross-border trade flows during and in the aftermath of a global health crisis, supporting three main pillars within the UNECE Action Framework for Responses to the COVID-19 crisis.  

The White Paper presents guidelines across three areas: collaboration, operating procedures and use of technologies: 


Involving relevant stakeholders in the definition and the implementation of solutions and considering the impact of these solutions on different groups is crucial. Establishing effective coordination and information sharing prior to a pandemic crisis can assist with getting vital feedback quickly enabling appropriate responses that will work for everyone. Action areas include: 

  1. Cross-border cooperation 

  2. Supply chain resilience – capacity sharing among countries 

  3. Using the National Trade Facilitation Body as the resource and natural focal point of countries’ pandemic and emergency response in relation to facilitating trade 

  4. Extra-national coordination, with multilateral organizations providing recommendations, standards, best practices, while regional economic communities assist their member States to pool resources and coordinate trade-related responses 

  5. Establishing special economic zones, which can help simplify processes for and financial burden on companies to approach international trade especially for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). 

Standard Operating Procedures/Emergency Operating Procedures 

The following measures should be implemented to facilitate pandemic trade-related relief: 

  1. Accuracy measures, to provide reliable up-to-date information and systems to duly notify stakeholders 

  2. Qualified information and notification systems, which should be linked to each other with an option to initiate cascades of notifications along cross-border supply chains and relevant stakeholders 

  3. Creation of enquiry points to provide information on crisis-related restrictions and regulations 

  4. Border agency measures, which should include special regimes for expedited clearance of essential medical goods and food products, pre-arrival processing and prior release, effective risk management, expanded use of integrated risk management and enhanced coordination between different border authorities Expansion of the use of authorized operators or trusted trader schemes 

  5. Emergency mutual recognition arrangements of equivalence of safety and health requirements, or conformity assessment procedures and results for priority goods 

  6. Measures by the private sector, including engaging with governments and border authorities, sharing relevant information about respective sectors, and development of own pandemic response policies – as well as industry-level norms – especially in cases where governments and/or border authorities may be slow to introduce emergency controls. 

Use of technologies 

  1. Promoting system-to-system electronic exchanges, replacing paper-based processes 

  2. Establishing Single Window and other facilities for cross-border trade, which foresees the submission of all regulatory data to a single-entry point through an electronic facility 

  3. Implementing tele-working tools, considering data protection needs and providing education, training and resources 

  4. Making use of new technologies to facilitate these collaborations.  

Find out more about UN/CEFACT and its projects here. 

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Information Unit

Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 12 34

Email: [email protected]

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