The COVID-19 pandemic is not only threatening people's lives and livelihoods, but it is also putting extreme stress on socio-economic systems. Unprecedented measures to halt the spread of the disease through lockdowns, travel restrictions and social distancing have resulted in a significant reduction economic activity and a resulting decline in international merchandise trade.

Restrictions on free movements of transport workers have disrupted land, sea and air cargo operations, affecting international transport and logistics services, resulting in soaring trade costs.

Against this background, border agencies face the challenge of expediting imports, exports and transit, including of necessary medical supplies, and essential goods, while ensuring epidemic prevention and providing adequate customs clearance and compliance controls. To make things worse, uncertain supply chains are exacerbated by a rise in export restrictions.

Ensuring transport and trade connectivity is key to ensure the post-pandemic economic recovery, in particular for the most vulnerable countries.

To equip Governments with the means to adopt common approaches in addressing trade and transport challenges across global and regional supply chains. UNCTAD and the five UN regional commissions for Africa (ECA), Europe (ECE), Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and Western Asia (ESCWA), with funding managed by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, have got together to ensures both global reach and regional presence, international cooperation, and exchange of knowledge and good practices from all over the world.

The initiative addresses three priorities in the areas of transport and trade connectivity in times of the COVID-19 crisis:

Contactless solutions: It aims at reducing physical contact among people in cross-border supply chains by facilitating the flow of goods without spreading the virus. This will be done by implementing UN conventions and standards for seamless harmonized electronic exchange of data in digital transport corridors, border crossings and trade operations, as well as developing smart rail and road connectivity.

Seamless connectivity:It focuses on eliminating obstacles to cross-border trade and transport operations arising from the COVID-19 crisis. It aims at promoting synergies among border agencies by empowering national trade facilitation committees, improving customs automation and identifying and overcoming non-tariff barriers.

Collaborative solutions: It seeks to strengthen regional and sectoral cooperation on transport, trade and logistics operations to facilitate joint actions and solutions in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.