Parallel Session D3:Supply Chain Disruptions – The Role and Response of NTFCs

22 May 2024 11:30h - 12:30h

Table of contents

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Full session report

Experts discuss the pivotal role of national trade facilitation committees in supply chain resilience

During a focused session on the role of national trade facilitation committees in responding to supply chain disruptions, Poul Hansen, substituting for the indisposed Sebastian Herreros, moderated a panel of distinguished experts. The panel included Victor Ban from the U.S. Trade Representative Office, Andrea Tang from the International Freight Forwarders Association (FIATA), Ahmed Niyaz from Maldives Customs, and Patricia Francis from Jamaica's Trade Facilitation Task Force.

The discussion revolved around the global shocks that have impacted supply chains, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, and geopolitical tensions. The panelists concurred that digitalisation was a key response to the pandemic's challenges, facilitating trade despite many countries' ad hoc implementation approaches. The significance of national trade facilitation committees in devising effective responses to such disruptions was a central topic.

Patricia Francis highlighted Jamaica's strides towards a paperless trade environment, especially through the implementation of a single window for transactions and the integration of port community systems. She noted that the pandemic had expedited the digitalisation process, which, despite initial difficulties, proved to be advantageous. Francis also addressed the challenges of implementing trade facilitation reforms, such as overcoming corruption and fostering trust among stakeholders.

Victor Ban emphasised the principles of cooperation, communication, and automation in trade facilitation reforms, referencing the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and its relevance to supply chain disruptions. He underscored the importance of focusing on the information needed by border authorities over the format it is presented in. Ban also shed light on the U.S. government's efforts to bolster supply chain resilience, particularly with developing countries, mentioning initiatives like the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity and the Central America Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).

Andrea Tang discussed the varied experiences of freight forwarders with National Trade Facilitation Committees during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the necessity of inclusivity and meaningful private sector engagement to effectively address disruptions.

Ahmed Niyaz shared the unique challenges faced by the Maldives due to its geography and how digitalisation and automation have been successfully implemented in trade processes. He attributed political will and international support as crucial to these reforms' success. Niyaz outlined future plans, including the establishment of a national single window and the licensing of the first authorised economic operator.

An audience intervention from a humanitarian sector representative underscored the complexity of trade facilitation, pointing out the difficulties humanitarian organisations face in transporting supplies during crises. This highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach that considers the impact on all stakeholders.

In conclusion, the session called for broader engagement and input from stakeholders on supply chain resilience, particularly regarding the role of developing countries and the move towards co-ownership of supply chains. The panelists acknowledged the importance of national trade facilitation committees in coordinating responses to supply chain disruptions and the necessity of diverse perspectives for effectiveness. The session ended with an acknowledgment of the complexities surrounding issues like humanitarian aid within the context of trade facilitation and a recognition of the progress made in the face of challenges.

Session transcript

Poul Hansen:
We get started and maybe more people will join us along the way. Very good morning. My name is Poul Hansen. I'm not Sebastian Herreros. Sebastian unfortunately fell ill, so I am standing in and will try and do my best to moderate this session. But actually, here is Sebastian and my colleagues here on the podium have prepared this session, so I'm sure it will go very well. I work with UNCTAD Trade and Development, where I work in the area of trade facilitation. And I will, as I said, moderate the session on supply chain disruptions, the role and response of national trade facilitation committees. And with me here I have some distinguished panelists. Victor Ban is the special counsel at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, where he coordinates the development of supply chain policy through trade negotiations and interagency initiatives. We have next Andrea Tang, who is Legal Services Director at the International Freight Forwarders Association FIATA in Geneva. We have Ahmed Niyaz, who is head of the Strategic Management and International Relations Division at the Maldives Customs. And last but certainly not least in this case, we have Patricia Francis, who is the chairperson of Jamaica's Trade Facilitation Task Force and is the former Executive Director of the International Trade Center in Geneva. So a very distinguished panel that can provide a lot of insights on this issue, I'm sure. Now we all know that in recent years global supply chains have suffered a number of shocks, including starting with COVID-19, armed conflicts and wars, disruptions in key supply chain and shipping routes, and geopolitical tensions. So, the aim is that in this session we will discuss how governments, especially national trade facilitation committees and companies have responded and keep responding to those shocks through trade facilitation measures. The UN makes something called the UN Global Trade Facilitation Survey every two years. The last edition was published in 2023 and it shows that in many countries, especially the pandemic spurred the digitalization of many trade procedures and trade facilitation procedures to minimize the COVID-19 impact. Unfortunately, in many countries this was done in an ad hoc fashion, maybe not so surprising, instead of a fully planned implementation. But still it represents for many countries a significant progress towards a paperless trade environment. And although COVID-19, of course, was a disaster globally and for many persons privately, it actually had the impact of trying to generate digitalization in many countries. So going forward, national trade facilitation committees can certainly continue to play a key role in crafting countries' response to these kind of events. We will have around 50 minutes before the lunch break to discuss these issues. And I will start by a general question to our panelists here. So here it goes. From your experience, what types of trade facilitation reforms have been most instrumental in minimizing the impact of disruptions in global supply chains that we have seen in recent years?And I would like to start with Patricia as the chair of one of the de facto National Trade Facilitation Committees to hear from a national perspective. Patricia, and you have five minutes.

Patricia Francis:
Thank you very much and very pleased to be here. Thanks to UNCTAD and thanks for everyone. I think you sort of queued up what I was planning to say, which was talking about digitization and seeing that as probably the most impactful thing that has happened to help us to manage the process of disruption. And of course what that meant was that we had been trying in our country to persuade government that the private sector running from place to place, sometimes five, six different entities in order to complete a transaction, that this was not very cost effective, it was time consuming, it was bureaucratic, and we didn't have great support. Of course, having implemented as a CUDA, that meant that customs documentation could be done online. However, the process of getting your license permits, et cetera, and not having a single window where those transactions could be put in place, I mean, that was an important piece of the puzzle that was missing. So I think that that gave the implementation of our single window a big push and it created an opportunity for those of us who were preaching that this was something that needed to be done, when all of a sudden you had a huge disruption with COVID and people not being able to move from one entity to another, government agencies being closed, etc. So this to me was definitely the most important thing. And then, of course, we also implemented a port community system because the second piece of the puzzle is, of course, if your manifests are not integrated into the system, then you're still pushing paper between the agencies that are dealing with the arrivals of your ships or your airplanes and pushing all that paper into customs to then go through a digital transaction. I recall when we were first implementing Assecuta, I would have these conversations with our shipping agents asking me, why do I have to print off and reenter information? And so it was, at the beginning, very, very painful. But once we were able to integrate our port community system into Assecuta, that made a huge difference. And then with the advent of the single window, we were able to bring some of the licensing and permitting actions in place, which then made another leapfrog forward. So I would say that those would be the most important changes. And I think it also was a change in attitude, which was even more important because that's more long-lasting, that people recognize that we could actually do these things online and have it securely done. Because, of course, everyone wanted to have their own cash, and one of the things was that there was a centralized way of collecting money, and the distribution of those resources to the various organizations, at first, the lack of trust that I would be getting my resources was one of the pillars that we had to overcome. So it was a trust-building exercise also, that we could share information, that we could share resources, and that we would actually all benefit at the end of the day. So I would stop there and say that, to me, that was the most impactful for us in Jamaica.

Poul Hansen:
Excellent. Thank you very much. And I really like the last part you also raised, because I think we see in many countries that we partner with, that this is a huge concern in implementation, that this resource allocation and sharing resources is done in a way that the various agencies can actually continue in their operations. So thank you for raising that. Victor?

Victor Ban:
Sure. Thank you, Paul, and thank you, Patricia. I think when we talk about trade facilitation reforms that aim to mitigate supply chain disruption, we really need to come back to three core principles, cooperation, communication, and automation. And if we start from those principles and ask what is the work that's needed to actualize them, cooperation, communication, and automation, the work really begins with, of course, implementing the TFA. And I want to just highlight a few provisions of the TFA that go specifically to this issue of supply chain disruption. I also recommend to you a communication from the United States and others from 2022 in the WTO Trade Facilitation Committee that deals with this particular issue in the context of COVID. And I want to actually first build on Patricia's helpful intervention around digitalization and direct you to Articles 10.1, 10.2, and 10.4. Won't recap them, but generally the idea is let's focus on the information, right? The information that border authorities need as opposed to the format, as opposed to paper versus digital or the color of ink. Let's focus on the information, get that information to the relevant authorities as quickly as possible and certainly support what Patricia emphasized on the importance of using this opportunity to advance digitalization efforts. Other provisions, just to point you to briefly 7.1 and 7.3, respectively about advanced processing of information, import information, and then also separation of release from final calculation of duties. The first, around pre-arrival processing, advanced processing, it's pretty intuitive. We want to get the information as quickly as possible to the border authorities to mitigate disruption. Secondly, the separation of release of goods from final calculation of duties. The idea there is really if the border agencies have what they need to determine the admissibility of the goods, then the goods should be released. Perhaps subject to some payment, provisional payment or some guarantee, but the idea is the final calculation of duty, final determination of classification associated with that duty can wait for a period of time after release. The idea really, especially in the COVID context, what was helpful was to use that post-release process especially to mitigate, to enhance the timely release of goods like critical medical supplies, personal protective equipment, PPE, and the like. Lastly, 7.8 around expedited shipping. The story there basically is let's let the qualified expedited shippers do what they do best. They have the skills, the automation, the end-to-end visibility around supply chain, in some cases temperature-controlled storage facilities, and they're all relevant to getting essential medicines and PPE into the hands of those that need it. So that was very helpful to us in the COVID period to mitigate disruption from the standpoint of expedited shippers. Article eight also is important, border agency cooperation. So there's really two elements to that. One is sort of internal facing, right? Let's make sure our relevant border authorities are talking to each other and able to problem solve quickly. And then external party to party, member to member, we wanna make sure that our respective agencies are able to communicate and solve disruptions or issues as they arise. And then lastly, I'll just echo again, articles 10.1 and 10.2, 10.4 around digitalization, underscore that. And for now, I will pause and turn it back to Paul.

Poul Hansen:
Thank you very much, Victor. So that was a quick run through actually of the WTO TFA. Thank you very much. But it accentuates what Alina already said, I think in the session two, that when you look at the TFA, there are a lot of articles, but they are not individual. They are linked with a very purposeful link because they all are dependent on each other. And I think this is something that what you just presented, again, showcases is that you have to think about implementing, not implementing individual articles, but implementing in a sequenced framework and then move ahead. And many of these articles are then very useful also in the context that we are discussing here. So thank you very much, Victor. Andrea, from the private sector perspective, what is your view on this?

Andrea Tang:
So I have to say that I can only echo the comments that have been made so far by Patricia and by Victor. I think that the points on digitalization, on coordination are really crucial. What I think the disruptions such as the pandemic and also subsequent disruptions have really highlighted is how important private sector engagement has been. And I think for those countries that had private sector engagement in place already, I think that it was clear that that was a huge help in terms of dealing with disruption. So here I would really like to highlight the role of national trade facilitation committees here as being a really important trade facilitation measure, when implemented correctly, to really be able to ensure that private sector and governments are able to work together to really address the disruptions and to find solutions together. And what we saw is that during the COVID pandemic, for example, I mean, of course, we saw that there were many that were not able to meet and that had their activities significantly disrupted as a result. But we also saw that for those that were able to coordinate and to work together, both before and during and also after the pandemic, it was really an important way to respond to the crisis and to really ensure that there is this coordination in place. And this is something that I think we can draw as key lessons for future crisis and current crisis, because as we know, with the supply chain, disruptions are inevitably bound to happen more and more over these next years. So, for example, FIATA did some work to really survey its members on the role of national trade facilitation committees, and we received very good responses from our member in Chile who really talked about how the role of the trade facilitation committees was crucial to being able to address the effects of the pandemic and to consider also afterwards how to mitigate some of the biggest impacts for industry. We also had, if I may share another case study, but this is not necessarily related to the pandemic, but I think it shows really the importance of trade facilitation committees is that in Zambia, there were significant achievements made to really quicken the clearance process at borders and reduce truck dwell times. And this was really done through the National Trade Facilitation Committee with joint private sector and governmental technical committees and other response committees as well. And this really helped in the end to then increase, for example, operational hours, to really look at the number of driver facilities, parking spaces, and so forth. So I think this really shows how important it is to have this kind of communication and collaboration with the private sector, and not just also for AEO, Authorized Economic Operator programs, where I think maybe this cooperation is more acutely felt, but really overall across the industry. I think also that my fellow panelists have already talked a lot about digitalization, so I will not go into much detail on that. But I think what's clear is that with the pandemic, digitalization took a huge leap. And this wouldn't really have happened to that extent had we not had the pandemic. So that can be really seen as, I think, a positive impact of that. And I think what we really need to do now is to build on this progress. As we heard, this wasn't done in necessarily the most coordinated manner. It was really done as a response mechanism. So now it's important to really try and build on this, to work together with the private sector, and to then see how we can use digitalization to, for example, facilitate other trade facilitation measures such as advanced cargo information measures, which are now more and more taking place around the world, for which these current digitalization measures, both in the industry and in government, can really, really greatly help.

Poul Hansen:
Great. Thank you. Maybe I can just ask one question, Andrea, right away. I mean, I think we saw in many countries that the private sector during COVID-19 kind of was sidelined in some of the discussions and in the NTFCs or the disaster committees. What is your experience from the freight forwarding sector in this? Because I think we can learn some lessons and maybe be better if something like this should happen next time.

Andrea Tang:
I think it was really a very mixed experience, to be honest. I mean, for some of our members, honestly, they weren't even aware that there was a National Trade Facilitation Committee in their region, whereas others are very much more present and are very much more engaged. So I think all of that goes to really highlight the importance of having inclusivity and accessibility in these National Trade Facilitation Committees for all the supply chain actors, including freight forwarders and logistics providers, which are, I think, very important and active in all modes of transport. And also for SMEs and for all the sizes of companies, because that's really important.

Poul Hansen:
Excellent. Thank you very much. Ahmed, from a national perspective, your experience on this issue?

Ahmed Niyaz:
Good morning. Thank you, Poul. I would like to first of all thank you, appreciate and express my gratitude to the UNCTAD and also to the Asian Development Bank for giving me this opportunity to visit this beautiful country and share my experience as far as the trade facilitation reforms are concerned. As you might know, that Maldives is a country, it's a small island nation, lying just below Sri Lanka, and which constitute 1,200 small islands. Some of the islands are very small, that they have only 100 or 200 people living there. So, it's the country where the 1,200 islands are scattered across an area of 90,000 square kilometers just below Sri Lanka. So now you can imagine how challenging it would be for us to facilitate trade between these islands. Among those 1,200 islands, just 200 islands are used for people to live. And then, of course, we have around 200 resorts. Each island is a resort. And then most of the resorts are operated by international hotel chains, international brands. We have an economy of 6.5 billion U.S. dollars. And the main industry is, of course, tourism. About one-third of the economy is actually contributed by the tourism. And then our foreign currency is around 65 percent of the foreign currency that we get is through tourism. The main market is European countries, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan, of course, China. So these are the main countries that we receive tourists. As far as the challenges, I think it's quite similar that we have the similar challenges that all other island nations have. But as my fellow panelists mentioned, COVID had a good side of that also. I think as far as the reforms are concerned, in my country, it's, of course, the automation. We don't have space to increase our port facilities. It's very limited. So we opt for automation. As customs, actually customs are leading this effort of automating our process in Maldives. We are also using Assegura Vault in 2017. We moved to the Assegura Vault. And then from 2018. All our export-import declarations and documents are processed online. And all the supporting documents are also processed online. And during the time of COVID, when importers and exporters don't want to come to customs, so we had to talk with the banks and introduce online payment. Now all the payments are done online. And also, in order for us to move to automation, my country is, I would say, quite advanced in terms of technology, in terms of the internet. The internet usage in my country is almost 100%. Everybody uses the internet, either it's mobile internet or broadband or whatever they use. And then the number of mobile connections is twice the population. So I mean, from the public, from the people, from the private sector, there's always push for us to move to the digital platforms and automation. So that led actually to move customs also to online, and also the other government agencies also. Because the private sector is having very advanced online mechanisms to run their business. So we have to go with them. So because of the automation and digitalization, we were able to achieve very good progress in terms of UN Global Survey. I would say in 2017, when the survey was done, it was 44%. And then we were able to achieve, move to 67% in 2021, in two years. I would say it's a good advancement in terms of reforms. And as far as the trade facilitation, WTO, TFA is concerned. We ratified the agreement in 2019. That time it was just around 30% compliant. But within the last five years, we managed to reach to 64.7%. So I would say that's mostly of the automation and advancement in the information technology. That's what I would want to share here. Thank you.

Poul Hansen:
Thank you very much, and congratulations on these achievements. I think you raised a very interesting point, namely, due to the nature of a small island, you have some infrastructure limitations in the ports. And due to this, you have to perform even better in order to get trade moving. So I think this is, for this forum in this region, certainly a very good point to draw out. So thank you for raising this. With a view not to have us talk all the time, I mean, maybe we break this and see if there are any comments or questions already from this first round of questions and answers. If anybody have any comments already, we can take those, a couple of questions or comments. Don't hesitate. So we have one gentleman here. Please mention your name, country or organization. And yeah, stand up so we can catch you on camera. You are live.

Audience:
My intervention becomes more and more complicated. Exactly. Okay. My name is Joselic Meus. I represent the humanitarian sector, which a little bit disagree with all what you said on how beautiful it is to work to COVID. So I'm the chief of UNICEF for everything that is global transport. Have moved more than millions of supply of PPE, vaccines, more than 3 billion doses of vaccines during the COVID. And I have outstanding invoices to pay to the freight forwarders. Outstanding invoices to pay to port authorities. Why? It's because you consider us as the commercial system. We, the Humanitarian Relief Organization, are donating our goods to the beneficiaries. Still, you impose us to pay duties. You impose us to ask you, to beg you, to help your population. Mr. Ban, I have an outstanding invoice of $10 million with your customs. And, in your port, you have more than 500 containers of PPE that you don't want to accept. So, I'm just challenging you here, and I'm listening to the audience. This is my third session today. We're saying that everything is fine. What I'm trying to represent as Global Transport Chief, I'm representing 23 UN agencies. I'm managing basically the 3PL Freight Forward Agreement for the United Nations. What I would like is that trade is amazing. But, Humanitarian Relief, we are exempt of duties. Our goods are donations. Our goods are free health care systems. Why do you ban us to help your population? Why do you put boundaries? Why do you make it difficult to help? Two months ago, I was advising the UN Special Envoy for Gaza as supply chain advisor. I spent two months in Amman, Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, begging to help the population. Begging to have supplies getting into Gaza. It doesn't work. So, I just want to bring a little bit more reality trade versus humanitarian. Thank you.

Poul Hansen:
Thank you very much. We actually have a session and not on humanitarian relief. And I would also like you to contribute to that and make your intervention there. I don't think anybody said that it's rosy, but we were improving even during COVID, but I'm not there to defend what was being said. So let me turn back the floor to some of the countries here. Victor, do you want to respond?

Victor Ban:
Thank you for that very helpful comment and observation. I can't speak for U.S. Customs and Border Protection about the PPE currently held in ports or the outstanding bill. I am aware of efforts, I will say, to look at humanitarian relief differently from a trade perspective. I can't speak to the issue you note particularly about distinguishing commercial traders from donation goods, donated goods, but I am aware of efforts underway to facilitate, to ease procedures. And I'm happy to look into that offline. Thank you for that.

Poul Hansen:
Patricia.

Patricia Francis:
I'm gonna go back to my ITC days because we were working on humanitarian aid, not necessarily in the same kind of situations that we have now, say, in Gaza, but we had other types of humanitarian issues. And it can also, in addition to what you're talking about, can also be trade distorting, which is what we found like in the food programs. Coming into countries with huge amounts of food, which then displaces the local business community because these are no, this is no goods coming in that they would normally be selling. And so what we agreed, I think, and is being implemented to a large extent now, is actual cash transfers as opposed to, you know, actually physically bringing the food in, because that way your food distribution system does not get completely disrupted. And I think that, you know, when one is looking at the picture, you need to look at the full picture and to ensure that in your zeal to help, that you're not also causing other problems. So you know, this is a 360-degree view. And I'm right with you, because we were out there talking to governments about, you know, health care, the cost of health care, because they have this huge cost related to the duties on vaccines that are coming in. And the consequence of that is that the cost of the vaccine to the consumer can be better to reduce or remove the tariff and allow the goods in free so that it can be distributed. And then you don't have the hospitalization of the people to worry about down the line. So I think, you know, governments need to look at this thing from a very holistic point of view, and to come up with what is the right way, which is not going to be distorting, but is also going to deliver at the end of the day, the result that you're trying to accomplish. And there isn't there isn't total agreement on this. But I support this whole issue of why are we charging duties on vaccines makes no sense to me whatsoever.

Poul Hansen:
That is probably an issue we can't solve right here right now. But thank you for bringing up the issue. Please continue in the humanitarian session later on today. But it just shows the complexity of many of the issues, right? And it also shows that there is definitely a role for national trade facilitation committees. Because you have all of these agencies sitting around the table and the coordination on these issues is so important also for these kind of issues, also for these kind of imports and exports. So thank you for bringing it up and we will continue that discussion. That was quite a mouthful. So I think we will go to the next round of questions if you don't mind and then we come back to you if we have more time. So Patricia, in your first intervention you highlighted some of the most important TF reforms. What aspects of those reforms have been the most difficult to implement and could you enlighten us why this has been the case?

Patricia Francis:
Well now I'm going to sound more like my colleague. Because I think this is probably one of the most difficult things to implement because very few people have the helicopter view of what trade facilitation is about. Depending on where they sit, they see their particular piece of it and they don't see the holistic picture and what the impact of the holistic picture could be. So this is the first thing, the visioning. There is very little vision and I've said to some of the, to the WTO in particular, that the key selling proposition of the TF has not really clearly been defined in a way which inspires people to implement. So you know, I had one minister saying to me that what this means, what you want to do is just open the gate, let everything through and we're going to be contaminated with all kinds of diseases because we are facilitating all these goods coming in. So far from what the TF is trying to accomplish. But this is the kind of vision that people have that it is going to remove their ability to be able to manage the flow of goods in and out of a country, forgetting that there is usually a licensing and permitting process at the beginning of the process where you have the ability to say this good can come in or not. So it is the communication, the understanding across ministries is, I think, one of the most difficult things that we have to undertake. The real misunderstanding of risk management, you know, when you talk about implementing risk management, in most people's mind, I know I have 100 percent inspection, therefore I am managing the risk. But does opening the container, taking out, you know, 10 or 15 boxes, does that actually give you any risk management whatsoever? And in my mind, it does not. And that is what 100 percent inspection means, because you do not have the man-made equipment beside the scanning, which is going to allow you, you do not have the human resources to really go through the whole thing. So you are just skimming the top, you are not using any intelligence, you are not using the ability of gaining data to really manage the risk. So there is a total misunderstanding of what risk management is about. And then, of course, that is underpinned by endemic corruption. Because there is, I mean, let us be straightforward, there is always corruption in the process. And that is on two sides of the table. That's on government side, and that's also on private sector side. So, you have the private sector individual with his counterpart in government facilitating the corruption. And by introducing these arm's length processes, you interrupt the ability to have the level of corruption which we currently have. So, this is also one of the things that's standing in the way of agencies implementing. And of course, there is a lack of trust. There is a lack of trust between the groups. So, there is a huge lack of trust between customs and the private sector. There is a huge lack of trust between the veterinary division, the plant quarantine people, so forth and so on, Ministry of Health with the private sector. So, how do you bridge those gaps and get people on board seeing that this whole process will actually bring you closer together, bring information closer together? And I think the whole business, in addition to all of this, the expansion of e-commerce has created a new huge opportunity, but at the same time, major risk with respect to illicit trade. And we have to be careful about how that happens. But at the same time, if you become too closed and too controlling, you miss the opportunity of e-commerce, which is going to be really a huge opportunity for all of us, not only in terms of goods coming in, but goods coming out. So, I could go on and on, but let me stop there.

Poul Hansen:
Thank you very much. I'm sure you could go on and on. But these were very good and illustrative examples, I think. And the e-commerce issue, of course, is extremely important and I would not say a huge headache, but a huge challenge for many compliance authority. But I think this issue about compliance is so important that everybody understands what good trade facilitation can do. It can actually enhance compliance and I think this is important to spread that word and get everybody to understand that. Ahmed, you mentioned a number of trade facilitation reform that you have done in the Maldives. In your view, what are the main reasons behind the successful implementation on these reforms and what are the plans in the future for continuing this work?

Ahmed Niyaz:
Thank you. I think one of the reasons is political will. We had a very strong political will in terms of from the president level and also from the Ministry of Economic Development, who actually leads the effort of trade facilitation reforms. We had that political will, but I think like in some other countries also, customs actually was leading this effort with the Ministry of Economic Development and then we had that will to move forward. Other than that, I would like to highlight here that some of the development partners are very strong, like UNCTAD, like the HMRC and also the Asian Development Bank has been very helpful in reforming our process and procedures. ADB actually assisted us in reforming the risk management system and come up with a holistic risk management system in the Maldives. And also the post-clearance audit mechanism was established with assistance from the ADB and also some of the other areas, such as the valuation, such as TRS, time-release study. All these are actually implemented with assistance from the international development partners such as ADB. Over the last two years, we had a very interesting work with the UNCTAD empowerment program. We had a workshop on the roadmap. We are in the process of developing the national TFA roadmap. There was a workshop held in 2023 by the UNCTAD empowerment program. That was an excellent forum. What I feel is that that forum brought all the agencies together, including customs, including ports and fisheries, tourism, and all the ministries are there. Before that forum, I don't see such a national level discussion held in terms of TFA implementation. But after that forum, we have been having discussions and forums in terms of TFA implementation. What I feel is that most of the agencies do conduct reforms and they work on their improvement always. But it has not been brought up. It has not been reported to the WTO in terms of TFA implementation. But when we started reporting it, we see that the progress has been made. So that's one area I would like to highlight. In terms of the future projects or future reforms, like I mentioned, we are in the process of launching the TFA roadmap. We expect in October we will have a validation workshop of the draft and then we'll be able to launch it in October. And then the roadmap will have six broad goals and 116 activities. for us to achieve over the last five years period. And then Maldives is in the process of establishing the national single window with the assistance of Asian Development Bank. We are in the process of running the first phase of the single window. We expect the first phase to be completed and live in July this year. That's a very good achievement in terms of reforms. And our first authorized economic operator will be licensed next month. So that's as far as the AO implementation is concerned. And in my previous remark I mentioned that we have a very limited space in terms of port enhancement or port space increase. But this year in January we opened a new air cargo terminal, air cargo space, which was actually three times the old facility. So now we can process 120,000 tons a year, which is a significant improvement in terms of air cargo processing is concerned. And now we are running a program with the Asian Development Bank in terms of obtaining further assistance on risk management and single window implementation. Thank you.

Poul Hansen:
Great. Thank you very much. Will, I think that is a key issue in order to drive all of these issues that we are talking about, right? So thank you for bringing that up as well and having a plan to how to go ahead and get all of the agencies involved, as you said, actively involved and understanding what you are doing is another key element. Thank you very much.Andrea,you represent the freight forwarders who are key players in the global supply chain for sure and are dealing with... red tape and border issues every day. Based on that knowledge, what tangible measures implemented by governments would have the greatest practical impact in terms of trade facilitation for your members?

Andrea Tang:
So I think that I can really write quite a long list, but I know I only have five minutes. So I think here I would just like to stress very much the importance of collaboration in order to be able to achieve some of these tangible measures. Because as we've seen with all of these disruptions that have been going on, no agency, no country can really operate in a silo. It's important that we really work together. And so I think here it's very important that governments and private sector are really be able to harness ways to really have this collaboration, for example, with the National Trade Facilitation Committees to really work to ensure that this collaboration is meaningful and to be able to, for example, accelerate and strengthen AEO programs. Because this is something that is a very important way to work together and to be able to ensure that both parties are prepared in the context of disruption. In terms of government agencies, I think this is something that's also very crucial to have cooperation between these agencies. We've seen from our members that, for example, when we're looking at assessing implementation of AEO programs or other trade facilitation measures, we always ask them, what do you see as being most useful to you? And one thing that comes out time and time again is that there's very often the problem that actually some of these trade facilitation measures have been implemented, but the problem is in some cases that amongst the different government agencies that are required to process and clear the goods, not all of them might have the same knowledge of this trade facilitation measure, or not all of them might have coordinated amongst themselves to actually be able to think about how they can work together to implement this measure. And so, for example, if I take AEO again as an example, because we've recently been looking at that quite a lot, on one hand you might have one agency that knows that this company is AEO, but then another agency has no idea what this status actually really entails or really means. So to really drive this kind of meaningful trade facilitation reform, I think it's really important that we have this cooperation. And also, I think that here, just going to then the cooperation at the regional level, at the international level, this is also something very important. I mean, also if we take the small island state context as well, I think here it's actually a lot of opportunities when there is this kind of cooperation with others in the region. And then I think just finally, going to the digitalization point again, because here I mentioned that quite a bit in terms of being a great opportunity that came from the COVID pandemic. But what we need to ensure is that this is really done in a way that actually makes sense from all aspects. Because for example, now we receive feedback from our members that whilst it's great that we have many digitalization measures in place, sometimes these are not really thought through to be fully digital. So for example, there might still be the need for manual stamps, which then kind of makes the digitalization measure maybe a little bit less optimal. Or there might be instances where actually paper processes are still required in parallel to the digital process. So how can we really ensure that when we implement these trade facilitation measures that they are done really in the most impactful way? And here I think that on the private sector end point, this is something that would be very helpful if they are involved from the beginning to the end, to in terms of also the post. implementation monitoring to ensure that it really works.

Poul Hansen:
Absolutely. Thank you very much. Thank you for raising the regional perspective as well. I think that is very important also in the coordination. I mean, there are many elements and many of the articles in the TFA that lends itself to regional collaboration and thereby you can expand the facilitation. So this is important to have in mind. So regional trade facilitation committees, therefore, are also very important. And Michelle, who moderated session two, works in this region very much in the CARICOM regional trade facilitation committee. And we have seen that there is progress for the region and for individual countries by doing such an integration. So thank you for raising that as well. And then also this issue, I mean, the private sector, somebody said it in session two, the private sector is not one entity. There are many different points of view as there is amongst government agencies. So I think for national committees, it's important to have all of these views represented in order to have the best possible implementation. Victor, we come back to you. Could you further elaborate on the efforts that the US government is pursuing to increase the resilience in supply chains, especially as regards to the role of developing countries? Some examples involving countries, maybe in Latin America or the Caribbean where we are, such as, I believe, the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity.

Victor Ban:
Thank you, Paul. I'd be happy to discuss supply chain resilience. I think I first want to preface my response with two more conceptual points. One is, what does supply chain resilience mean? for USTR in the US? And then secondly, how does this conversation we've had around trade facilitation fit into our thinking on resilience before I turn to the question on what we're doing, especially working with developing countries? So what does supply chain resilience mean? For the US, we think about supply chain resilience as actually a framework for understanding a broader shift in US trade policy more generally. So we're moving away from a focus on short-term cost efficiency, on tariff liberalization, and toward resilience, toward thinking about where are goods coming from? How are they made? Who's making them? This is actually echoed, I think, by Prime Minister Mottley's intervention yesterday, right? This shift from efficiency focus to resilience, and we're seeing that very much play out in the US. But then what does resilience mean? It encompasses, for us, transparency, diversity, security, and sustainability of supply chain. So yesterday, I think, Secretary General Greenspan mentioned sustainability and resilience as kind of distinct parallel concepts. But for the US, sustainability is really part and parcel of resilience. The idea is that if we want durable supply chains, we want those supply chains to reflect our values as a society, especially around issues like labor standards and environment. So that's why sustainability, for us, really feeds into resilience of supply chains. So that's a bit about what resilience means. How does trade facilitation then fit into resilience? You can think about trade facilitation as fundamentally about mitigating or minimizing the obstacles, choke points, bottlenecks in supply chains, but really from a customs and sort of trade agency standpoint, facilitating those procedures. And supply chain resilience is also concerned about choke points and bottlenecks and risk, but from a different and perhaps a more broader standpoint. So we're asking questions like, how is there excessive potential risk or concentration in supply chains? We're looking at the structure of supply chains, not across our economy, of course, but looking at potentially more strategic sectors and doing that more granular thinking. So, there's certainly a conceptual overlap with trade facilitation, but it's a slightly different frame, and I want to emphasize that so you understand how we're thinking about supply chain resilience. Now, turning to the question, what we're doing, and especially working with developing countries, I want to start with invoking some of the words of the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Catherine Tai. She has spoken specifically about this topic, engaging with our developing country partners when it comes to supply chain resilience. And her main vision is that we need to move away from a colonial mindset. She has used those words. We need to move away from a colonial mindset of a model of extraction, right, and toward a model of co-ownership. So the vision is that we would co-own parts of supply chains, look for win-win opportunities rather than going for a more extractive relationship and model. That we really want to rethink our trade relationship when it comes to building supply chains. So what does that mean in practice? I want to give actually one example from our work in the region, not around APEC, but actually an existing framework, the Central America Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA-DR. It's an example of what we're doing specifically in this region and in a sector that is quite important to the U.S. and also to the region, textiles and apparel. So just two example initiatives. First, we are building a textiles and apparel supply chain directory. So we're working with our partners in the region, with the support actually of the Inter-American Development Bank, to build out a directory of traders in the region. Again, the idea is to localize value added in the supply chains in this region, working with our like-minded trading partners and allies here. The second example is a trade capacity building effort specifically for secure textiles and apparel supply chains. So, the way we're starting this is by working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and our regional partners to raise awareness and build capacity specifically around AEO implementation. This was mentioned in a few interventions earlier. So we think that AEO adoption and awareness is really key to building more secure supply chains in this region, across the region, and with the U.S. Lastly, but not leastly, we are, we have actually, we're in the middle of a public comment process on supply chain resilience that USTR is leading. So if you want to weigh in, anyone here, whether you're government or representing stakeholders, private, public sector, we welcome your input. We actually have an open docket. If you go to USTR.gov under trade topics and look at supply chain resilience under that, you actually see all the information there, a link to our public docket, instructions for how to submit a comment. But we're calling for public input on what supply chain resilience should mean and how we can better pursue it as the U.S. from a trade and investment policy standpoint. I want to acknowledge also Costa Rica. We received a few days ago a comment from Costa Rica, and we are, again, accepting comments through June 4th. These are post-hearing comments, so technically you should respond to hearing testimony, but if you didn't listen to the hearings, that's okay. We actually just posted yesterday a transcript of a hearing we held earlier this month in Washington, and we'll be posting additional transcripts in the coming days. So welcome your ideas and best thinking on this topic. It's certainly an emerging and important area for the U.S. and for USTR in particular.

Poul Hansen:
Thank you very much, Victor. And that actually finishes or ends the circle. You started by saying cooperate and communicate, and I think that's what you just called for in the process that you are in. I very much like what you said, co-ownership. I mean, what we are doing in trade facilitation is co-ownership. Everybody has a stake, but it's also about co-responsibility. Everybody has a responsibility to chip in in order to make this system work well. And I think one of the conclusions of this is that, yes, on this session theme, on the role and response of national trade facilitation committees, there is a lot committees can do. There is a lot that they have to do. One of these issues that we have seen is digitalization, and there are issues on which we have to do much more, as the UNICEF representative just mentioned. I have already eaten into your lunch break with four minutes and 42 seconds, but I don't know if we have one question maybe that is burning so much that it cannot wait until after the lunch break. Or you are so hungry that you have to get out to the food truck and spend your hard-earned dollars. If that's the case, then I would like all of you to give an applause to the panel here. Thank you very much for these insights. We are back in this room at two o'clock and continue the interesting conversations. So I hope that you will be back or be in one of the other sessions. Enjoy your lunch.

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Ahmed Niyaz

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Andrea Tang

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Patricia Francis

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Poul Hansen

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Victor Ban

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