• Thu Apr 02 2020
  • Keep cross-border trade flowing, say experts 

“Transit needs to be facilitated, too. Landlocked countries need access to food and medical supplies through neighbouring countries’ seaports.”
Faridhah Kulabako
Journalist @ New vision
“Transit needs to be facilitated, too. Landlocked countries need access to food and medical supplies through neighbouring countries’ seaports.”


KAMPALA - Countries have been urged to keep ports open, ships moving and cross-border trade flowing to allow flow of goods, including food and medical supplies whose demand is expected to increase dramatically given the current coronavirus pandemic.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) secretary-general, Mukhisa Kituyi, said in a statement that the global maritime transport industry plays a critical role in battling the pandemic.

He added that restrictions on trade and cross-border transport may interrupt needed aid and technical support, disrupt businesses and have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries.

He said: "Transit needs to be facilitated, too. Landlocked countries need access to food and medical supplies through neighbouring countries' seaports."

About 80% of global trade is facilitated by transport through commercial shipping, which moves the world's food, energy, and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods.

This includes vital medical supplies and items that are necessary for the preservation of many jobs in manufacturing, without which, Kituyi said, modern society cannot function.

Without functioning ports, he said, cargo, including life-saving supplies, cannot be transported to where they are needed. It was recently reported that ships are currently not docking at the Mombasa port.

Kenya is a regional transportation hub, serving as an entry point for imports into regional landlocked countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi, and DR Congo.

It was also reported that the Port of Mombasa, which handles the majority of Uganda's imports and exports, was seeing low arrivals of ships and cancellation as countries tightened travel to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) managing director, Daniel Manduku, was quoted as saying if the pandemic is not contained soon, they expect a further reduction in the number of vessels, especially from China. 

KPA management was also reported to have suspended operations at the new cruise ship terminal at the port of Mombasa as a measure to protect staff and port users.

The slowdown in port activity is thus expected to be felt across the countries.

The Uganda Manufacturers Association executive director, Daniel Birungi, said the pandemic was expected to affect the supply chain, especially for manufactures that depend on imported raw materials.

Crew needless obstacles

In order to facilitate trade flow, Kituyi called for fewer obstacles to ship crews.

Kituyi, however, said while observing necessary health protocols, ports should treat seafarers as key workers and accord them the same flexibilities currently given to aircrew and health workers in boarding and leaving ships, as some 100,000 shipping crew members need to change shift every month.

"To ensure that vital goods reach consumers and hospitals in destination countries, responsible agencies should co-ordinate and co-operate within and among countries so that indispensable goods reach the populations in coastal and landlocked countries alike," he said.

Sharp fall in global trade

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) director-general, Roberto Azevedo, predicted a sharp fall in global trade due to the pandemic.

In a video-recorded message, Azevedo said cross-border trade and investment flows have a pivotal role to play in combating the pandemic and that it will be vital for fostering a stronger recovery once the medical emergency subsides.

He said a global solution is needed to address the global challenge brought about by the pandemic.

Azevedo added that while WTO economists are still analysing the fallout from the crisis before making trade projections for 2020 and 2021, they foresee a very sharp decline in trade.