16 May 2022, Geneva – participants from around the globe representing governments, National Trade Facilitation Bodies (NTFB) experts and private sector joined the online roundtable organized by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the UN Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in the framework of the 38th United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) Forum.
Titled “Encouraging Private Sector Participation in National Trade Facilitation Bodies”, the roundtable webinar brought together speakers from Canada, Georgia, Honduras, Kenya, and the Kyrgyz Republic who shared their countries’ experiences on increasing private sector participation in the NTFBs and government’s engagement with trade industry. They were in one voice on the essential role of private sector in collaborating with government agencies to formulate trade facilitation reforms and initiatives for more efficient cross-border trade formalities and procedures. The objective of the roundtable was to address challenges for the private sector to fully participate and contribute to the work of the NTFBs.
The moderator of the session, Christopher O’Toole from the Permanent Mission of Canada in Geneva and Chair of the WTO Trade Facilitation Committee, stressed that it takes time and effort to build a trusted dialogue between private and public sectors. Successful collaboration depends on the convergence of government agendas and those of the private sector. Identifying a shared agenda for collaboration can substantially galvanize momentum to progress with NTFBs objectives and activities.
In her opening remarks, Ms. Sue Probert, UN/CEFACT Chair highlighted the importance of national capacity-building activities, as implemented by UNECE and UNCTAD, and emphasized that it “raises awareness on the importance of public-private sector partnership for efficient and resilient trade facilitation policies”. UN/CEFACT recognised the importance of private public collaboration already in the 1970s and recommended that governments set up National trade facilitation bodies with private and public membership in the UNECE Rec. No 4. Whilst more than 100 national trade facilitation bodies now exist, private sector is not always well represented and actively participating in the activities of these bodies. This limits the effectiveness, sustainability and dynamic of the NTFB. Birgit Viohl from UN/CEFACT presented findings from UN/CEFACT White paper on Encouraging Private Sector Participation in National Trade Facilitation Bodies stating that knowledge and language gaps, costs of participation, and diverging interest hamper private sector participation.
Speakers from Kenya and Honduras shared their experiences with the UNCTAD reform tracker platform that has become an indispensable tool in their work to monitor and drive progress in implementing the WTO TFA and regional obligations as well as national trade facilitation reforms and initiatives. The previous situation where a limited number of in-person NTFB official meetings were held per year is being addressed significantly with the information exchange and project management relevance of the reform tracker platform. Both private sector and government agencies witnessed that throughout the year the platform had enhanced transparency, encouraged communication and information sharing, ensured knowledge transfer, and facilitated identifying shared agenda that galvanize effective result-based cooperation and collaboration among all members of NTFBs. It also improved accountability and created a sense of ownership from the respective countries over the attained progress and achievements.
Furthermore, country representatives and private sector stakeholders shared concrete case studies from their national experience on enhancing the role of the private sector and facilitating their participation in the NTFBs. They stressed the need for sustainable cooperation between public and private sectors within the NTFBs. As regards improving the sustainability of the NTFBs, they noted there is a need to enhance transparency, accountability, political commitment, resource allocation, and using incentives as a means to drive private sector commitment. There was also the need to ensure the "tone at the top" from senior officials acknowledges the inclusivity and feedback of the private sector on relevant national policies.
The UN interalia promotes public-private partnership, through UNECE key recommendations, such as Rec No.40 and Rec No.41. The purpose of this recommendations is to facilitate effective consultations between governments and business communities and to inform government agencies and private sector stakeholders about key components. The recommendations demonstrate the potential benefits of public-private partnership in Trade Facilitation, in terms of enhancing open and transparent markets, bringing cost-effective processes through more effective service delivery, increasing competition, and attracting foreign investment and platforms for safer, more resilient, and efficient trade value chains. The work of UN/CEFACT is particularly appreciated through its global mandate where it gathers worldwide experts from the private and public sectors to develop inclusive and efficient trade facilitation policies.
In addition, through UNCTAD Empowerment programme for national trade facilitation committees (NTFCs), UN also promotes the strengthening of capacity of members of NTFCs to galvanize a more dynamic cooperation and collaboration between public and private sector members of the NTFCs in furthering their trade facilitation endeavours.
Jointly, UNECE, UN/CEFACT and UNCTAD will continue making impact on enhancing the role of the private sector in facilitating trade and accelerating progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.