June 2022 has been the month of trade discussions in Geneva, first with the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) and then UNEC’s Steering Committee on Trade Capacity and Standards (SCTCS). Both looked in detail at responses to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, both explored ways to improve global food security, and both sought to further progress global economic integration and contribute to sustainability.
WTO Director General Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala underlined that trade is part of the solution to the crises of our times. The UNECE SCTCS meeting on 27-28 June brought some concrete examples on how to achieve this with traceability of sustainable value chains, quality agricultural standards, trade-related support to female-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, and especially through UNECE’s studies on regulatory and procedural barriers to trade. The interaction between trade and the circular economy and a green digital transformation were another highlight of the meeting.
The most recent edition in this UNECE study series analyses regulatory and procedural barriers to trade in Uzbekistan and provides a series of recommendations that the country could consider in order to streamline its procedures and further integrate the international trading community. “The road to the accession to the WTO requires systematic approach, as well as due process for the preparation and update of all relevant documents and conducting active accession negotiations with Member States. For us WTO accession is an absolute priority and one of the main directions of the foreign economic policy. In this regard, we are fully committed to even more intensify our efforts on the accession to the WTO. In parallel we are actively working with a number of donors in the framework of technical assistance programmes and we’re happy to cooperate with the UNECE in this process,” stated H.E. Mr. Badriddin Abidov, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Cooperation is necessary both at the political level and at the technical level. The study on regulatory and procedural barriers to trade provides a roadmap to taking this forward. Ms. Roli Asthana, the UN Resident Coordinator in Uzbekistan underlined “Since 2017 Uzbekistan has taken the course towards greater openness and economic liberalization with currency exchange liberalization, streamlining the tax system, structural reforms, ongoing privatisation and restructuring of state-owned enterprises. Trade is a critical driver of economic growth and achievement of Sustainable Development Goals and the UN is proud to be supporting Uzbekistan’s commitments to increasing trade and openness. I commend the important role of UNECE in this. The UN will accompany them on their path to sustainable development. The Resident Coordinator office looks forward to further collaboration with the UNECE on this.”
Several countries also reported during the UNECE SCTCS meeting on progress made since their own studies had been conducted. Kyrgyzstan reported on their digitization efforts since their study with their Single Window and creating a database on non-tariff measures, developed with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and UNECE. Georgia reported on the enabling business environment and the competitive market conditions since their study, including recognition of conformity assessment which reduces barriers of Georgian products on international markets.
Delegations and various international stakeholders commended the UNECE for its long-term, coherent approach to capacity building with countries. It is not just a one-off conference or a single report. There are frequent follow-ups and subsequent projects which seek to build upon previous work and help its member States to further integrate the global economy.
The Steering Committee also addressed the two cross-cutting themes connected to the sessions of the organization’s highest inter-governmental body. The “circular economy and sustainable use of natural resources” (69th Commission) and the “digital and green transformations in the UNECE region” are both reflected in the studies and in the work presented during the SCTCS meeting and its side event. Elisabeth Tuerk, Director of UNECE Economic Cooperation and Trade Division said: “As environmental considerations are making their way into the mainstream of policy making, we need to ensure that these do not turn into barriers to trade.” It was also recalled that more needs to be done to harmonize the approach to standardization of products in the circular economy in order to avoid risks of trade barriers, and instead, maximize the contribution of trade to the circular, digital and green transitions.
The UNECE SCTCS event brought together many of the key actors in trade, including the UN Resident Coordinator Offices, the WTO, UNCTAD, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Trade Centre (ITC), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and key standards development organization.