Last reviewed 6 May 2020

Early evidence shows that the current pandemic is causing international trade to collapse, threatening access to goods and critical supplies as countries adopt radical measures which put transport systems and supply lines under tremendous stress.

Addressing these problems, UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) has issued a 10-point action plan to help industries involved in the movement of goods keep free-flowing trade afloat during the crisis and its aftermath.

The policy brief, which can be found at, echoes an earlier call by UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi to keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing during this crisis period.

It argues that the foundations for recovery from COVID-19 need to be set today by ensuring that transport services, ports and border agencies not only remain operational but are also effectively strengthened to cope with the unprecedented challenges they face.

Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, said that the action plan is rooted in UNCTAD’s work with both international policy experts and operators on the ground, through its trade facilitation, customs automation and maritime transport programmes.

The plan calls for policies to:

  1. ensure uninterrupted shipping

  2. keep ports open

  3. protect international trade of critical goods and speed up customs clearance and trade facilitation

  4. facilitate cross-border transport

  5. ensure the right of transit

  6. safeguard transparency and up-to-date information

  7. promote paperless systems

  8. address at an early stage the legal implications for commercial parties

  9. protect shippers and transport service providers alike

  10. prioritise technical assistance.

International co-operation on these points is vital, as protectionism may significantly exacerbate the global health crisis and delay a post-pandemic economic recovery, UNCTAD concluded.