Trade and investment ‘indispensable’ to post-COVID recovery in Asia and the Pacific, UN meeting says

(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – International trade and investment, and resilient supply chains are indispensable for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, high-level delegates stressed this week at the Seventh Session of the Committee on Trade and Investment convened by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

With the pandemic coming on top of trade tensions among leading trading economies and many countries already retreating to protectionism and nationalism, the world has witnessed the worst economic performance since the Great Depression of the 1930s. ESCAP estimates that Asia and the Pacific lost $2.2 trillion in trade in 2020 based on pre-pandemic growth forecasts, with trade in services hit the hardest. Decline in foreign investment is similarly staggering.

“We need to build on and expand existing cooperation frameworks such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the Framework Agreement on Facilitating Paperless Trade and the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana opening the proceedings.

“The region needs more readiness to push the frontiers of cooperation and open it up to meet the challenges of post-COVID-19 recovery,” Ms. Alisjahbana said, adding that there are already remarkable signs of trade and investment recovery, and trade resilience in the last quarter of 2020.

“At a time of turbulence and uncertainty, the rules-based trading system complemented by the regional economic architectures such as APEC and ESCAP are critical enablers – now more than ever – for economies to recover and grow delivering employment, incomes, innovation, productivity, wellbeing and sustainable development,” said Mr. Vangelis Vitalis, the Committee Chair who is Deputy Secretary of the Trade and Economic Group of New Zealand.

This year, the Committee endorsed several recommendations to address the effects of the pandemic and restore greater cooperation among countries, including commitments to resist unilateral protectionist actions, especially in the sectors linked to the COVID-19 pandemic; make concerted efforts to promote both inward and outward foreign direct investment in support of sustainable development; harmonize digital trade rules; as well as to safeguard and strengthen the rule-based multilateral trading system.

With the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific entering into force on 20 February, countries also made further progress on shaping regional and national action plans to accelerate trade digitization in support of inclusive and sustainable development.

Delegates recommended ESCAP continue enhancing a new online tool called the Trade Intelligence and Negotiation Advisor (TINA), stressing its utility in fostering higher quality and reduced costs in preparing for trade negotiations, especially in lower income countries.

The Committee was held alongside the Seventh Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Week, which brought together senior government officials and key stakeholders from 25 to 29 January in a series of virtual events on digital trade facilitation, trade policy responses to the pandemic, graduation from least developed country status, and capacity-building and analytical tools developed by ESCAP.

Bangkok (ESCAP news)

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