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UN/LOCODE since 1981

The United Nations Code for Trade and Transport Locations has been for years known as UN/LOCODE. Although managed and maintained by the UNECE, it is the product of a wide collaboration in the framework of the joint trade facilitation effort undertaken within the United Nations.

Initiated within the UNECE Working Party on Trade Facilitation, UN/LOCODE is based on a code structure set up by ECLAC and a list of locations originating in ESCAP, developed in UNCTAD in co-operation with transport organisations like IATA and the ICS and with active contributions from national governments and commercial bodies. Its first issue in 1981 provided codes to represent the names of some 8000 locations in the world.

UN/LOCODE is used by most major shipping companies, by freight forwarders and in the manufacturing industry around the world. It is also applied by national governments and in trade related activities, such as statistics where it is used by the European Union, by the UPU for certain postal services, etc.

Each code element consists of a five characters, where the two first indicate the country (according to ISO standard 3166-1) and the three following represent the place name. Examples such as CHGVA, FRPAR, GBLON, JPTYO and USNYC ring bells for air travellers who are used to see the three last letters of these codes on their luggage tags. UN/LOCODE picks up the IATA location identifiers wherever possible, to benefit from their association value and to avoid unnecessary code conflicts. In allocating codes, the secretariat tries to find some mnemonic association link with the place names, to aid human memorisation. This is of course increasingly difficult for large country lists where the 17576 permutations of three letters are near exhaustion.

UN/LOCODE is managed, maintained and updated by the UNECE secretariat, with a very modest staff input, involving less than one full-time staff member. 
At the beginning, UN/LOCODE was operated in UNCTAD via punch-cards, processed on a mainframe computer and recorded on magnetic tape. After various PC applications and distribution on computer diskettes, the code is now held in a relational database and presented on a dedicated web-site

UN/LOCODE is freely available to all interested users. It can be consulted and downloaded from the web-site and users are welcome to propose additional locations; for this purpose a new, automated request procedure has been introduced, as described below:

Automated request procedure

The location list in the first version of UN/LOCODE was a compilation of code lists obtained from various sources, including UN regional commissions, shipping lines, airlines and some national governments. By definition, UN/LOCODE at that time was focussed on maritime ports and airports. With the advent of multi-modal transport, codes were needed also for inland destinations such as container facilities, rail and road terminals and other laces where internationally traded goods were produced or handled. Over the years, therefore, requests for new UN/LOCODE entries were received by the secretariat in a steady stream.

These requests were transmitted, sometimes one by one, sometimes in large numbers, by mail and telefax, by recorded computer diskettes and, in urgent cases, even by telephone.

The requests were often incomplete and presented in a non-standardised fashion and this caused a great deal of work for the secretariat, sometimes overwhelming its processing capacity.

A certain re-organization of work and the creation of a new data base to handle UN/LOCODE offered the opportunity to introduce an automated entry request system which was put into use with the 2006-1 issue of UN/LOCODE.

This UN/LOCODE Entry Request System invites requestors to register on-line. Registered users will be identified by a username and will be able to submit requests, either one-by-one via a web-form, or by uploading a data file containing any number of requests, using a prescribed template. Data will be automatically checked against present entries in UN/LOCODE, place name and code duplications will be detected and valid requests will be immediately included in a temporary file, pending the next issue of the Code.

Requestors will receive a response message, confirming the receipt of the data submitted and issuing a Request Reference Number for any subsequent communication with the secretariat. The response message will state whether the request has been Accepted, in which case it will be included in the next UN/LOCODE issue, or Noted, which means that further processing is needed but allowing the requestor to use his proposed code in the meantime. Rejected means that the name already figures in UN/LOCODE, or that the proposed code already is allocated; reasons for the rejection will be given.

Other functions enable users to propose certain changes in existing entries, and to obtain a historic record of previous requests. A Users Guide explains the functions of the system.

Introduction of the new Entry Request System is expected to speed up and simplify the processing of code requests, thus reducing the delays until now caused by the very large number of requests for additions to UN/LOCODE, in itself proof of the popularity and widespread use of this UNECE product but causing a workload that now can be greatly reduced.