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Africa seeks ways to make international trade cheaper, faster and easier

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Complex, time-consuming and inefficient import and export procedures are a major barrier to trade and hamper development, especially for low and middle-income countries.

In response, African countries seeking to make interregional and international trade in goods and services cheaper, quicker and more straightforward will gather for the First African Forum for National Trade Facilitation Committees in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 27–29 November.

The landmark event, organized by UNCTAD and seven partner organizations including UNECE, comes as Africa scales up its trade-easing efforts after the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement entered into force in February 2017 and as they prepare to implement the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement signed in March 2018.

A central tenet of the Trade Facilitation Agreement is the obligation of each country to set up a National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) with both public and private sector stakeholders to facilitate both domestic coordination and implementation of the provisions of this agreement.

With well-functioning NTFCs, countries will be able to make trade, easier, faster and cheaper. For developing countries, and especially least developed countries – the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa – implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement could lead to a reduction in trade costs of up to 15%.

“The Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), hosted at UNECE, has been a pioneer of trade facilitation. For many decades, it has been developing policy recommendations, standards and guidelines, including for the establishment and operation of trade facilitation bodies. UNECE stands ready to join forces with international partners to support countries’ efforts for effective integration in the international trading system”, highlighted UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova.

The recommendations and guidelines developed by UN/CEFACT are a key reference for advisory services to NTFCs in the African region provided by partner organisations, like UNCTAD and ITC. UNECE has also joined UNCTAD and other partners in training NTFCs and assisting them in the development of National Trade Facilitation Roadmaps. This has been the case for Benin, Gabon, Cameroon, and Sudan.

Furthermore, UNECE has supported Morocco, Nigeria, Mozambique and Senegal for the establishment and operation of their Single Windows and Port Community Systems, with real impact in terms of time and money saved. For example, thanks to Senegal’s Single Window system, the time associated with the custom clearance process has been cut by 50%, from an average of 18 to just 9 days. In the first three years of the system’s mandatory use in the country, customs’ revenue collection increased from USD 625 million to more than USD 1 billion.

Correctly implemented trade facilitation measures not only boost trade but also improve revenue collection, safety and security compliance controls (for example, improving food safety) and can help to streamline government agencies.

Such reforms help small traders, often women, enter the formal sector, make economic activities more transparent and accountable, promote good governance, generate better quality employment, strengthen information technology capabilities and generally modernize societies by bringing about benefits related to administrative efficiency. Trade facilitation reforms are also positive steps towards human, enterprise and institutional development.

For these benefits to be realized it is essential that the Trade Facilitation Agreement is implemented as foreseen. According to the WTO, the rate of implemented commitments under the agreement as of October 2018 stood at 60% – but broken down by level of development a new picture emerges, with developed countries having achieved 100% of commitments, developing countries having achieved 60% of commitments and least developed countries just 22% of commitments.

The Forum is the result of close collaboration between multilateral and international organizations and is supported by several bilateral donors. The alliance showcases the collaborative effort of these institutions and donors to assist in moving forward opportunities for developing and least developed countries to integrate in globalized trade.

Topics covered during the three-day event include the role of the African regional organizations, the role of NTFCs in the implementation of trade facilitation provisions in the AfCFTA, paperless initiatives at entry points, the involvement of the private sector in NTFCs, how to coordinate border agencies, and the role of transit corridors. There will also be sessions on the gender dimension in cross-border trade, and the application of digital technologies in future modes of trading.

The forum is co-organized by:

  • UNCTAD
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Europe / Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business
  • International Trade Centre
  • World Bank Group
  • World Trade Organization
  • World Customs Organization
  • Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation

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Environment

Minamata Convention on Mercury: 3 years of protecting health and the environment

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The Minamata Convention on Mercury is an international treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds. The year 2020 is a milestone for the Convention – it is when parties are required to cease the manufacture, import and export of many mercury-containing products listed in the Convention. Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary of the Convention, reflects on its impact.

Mercury has been mined and utilized since ancient times. People used it in burial ceremonies, in paints in their houses, as a sedative, an aphrodisiac and a contraceptive, in cosmetics, to treat syphilis, to name a few. Alchemists believed that mercury was the component in all metals that gave them their “metal-ness.”

The chemical properties of mercury make it popular for many uses. It is the only common metal, which is liquid at ordinary temperature, it has high density and amalgamates easily with many metals, such as gold, silver, and tin.

If only people in the past knew what we know today. Health effects of metal and especially of its more toxic and bio-accumulative form called methylmercury, are devasting. It can damage brain functions, nervous system and is especially dangerous to women and unborn children since it is transmitted through the placenta.

Over the last decades, scientific evidence about the environmental fate of mercury and its compounds has grown tremendously. Past and present human activities have increased total atmospheric mercury concentrations by about 450% above natural levels (UNEP, 2019). Mercury from human activities can now be found in the most remote areas, in marine mammals and fish in the Arctic and at the bottom of the Mariana Trench—the deepest oceanic trench on the planet.

Despite all this evidence, mercury use continues – it is used to extract gold from ore on four continents and in certain products and industrial processes in countries around the world. But the scientific knowledge has not been produced in vain.

In 2013, a new treaty, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, was adopted by a global community under the auspices of UNEP. The Convention is named after Minamata Bay in Japan to remember the lessons of the tragic health damage by industrial mercury pollution in the 1950s and 1960s.

The aim of the treaty is to protect the environment and the human health from anthropogenic emissions and releases of the toxic heavy metal. It regulates the entire life cycle of mercury – its supply, trade, use, emissions, releases, storage, and the management of waste and contaminated sites.

This new piece of international law entered into force on 16 August 2017 and it already has 123 Parties, with new countries joining all the time.

2020 is a major deadline in the Convention. By the end of this year, Parties are required to cease the manufacture, import and export of many mercury-containing products listed in the Convention. These products are in every-day use and include batteries, switches and relays, certain types of lamps, cosmetics, pesticides, biocides and topical antiseptics, and certain types of measuring devices such as thermometers and manometers. Mercury use in two major manufacturing processes, Chlor-alkali industry and acetaldehyde production, is being phased out as well, along with restricting use in other industrial processes.

Science will continue to be instrumental to ensure effective and cost-efficient implementation of the Convention by its Parties. For instance, we know that artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is the largest user and emitter of mercury into the environment globally, accounting for 37% of total consumption and 38% of total anthropogenic emissions in 2015 (UNEP, 2019).

The Minamata Convention Parties work to reduce, and where feasible eliminate, the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, without pushing the often-informal sector underground. This is done primarily through formalization, including improving transparency and accountability in global gold supply chains. ASGM generates income for an estimated 10-15 million miners and another 100 million or more in the secondary economy and is thus an essential focus of economic recovery from COVID-19 and building back better.

Apart from the intentional use of mercury in processes and products, industrial activities to produce power and other commodities are a major source of mercury contributing to air pollution. Mercury emissions can be controlled by a wide range of technologies and best practices, including many which reduce other air pollutants at the same time. Shifting away from coal is an effective measure too.

For many years, four behavioural factors – unhealthy diets, tobacco-smoking, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity – were cited as the top risk factors for non-communicable diseases. In 2018, the United Nations High-level Meeting on non-communicable diseases included air pollution as a fifth risk factor. Non-communicable diseases, respiratory diseases included, currently account for the deaths of seven in every 10 people worldwide. A correlation between the level of air pollution and the number of COVID-19 cases does not come as a surprise (WEF, 2020).

In implementing the Minamata Convention, we are all working to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Coral might be back in once heavily-polluted Minamata Bay in Japan, after decades of restoration. However, Minamata Bay people still suffer from past methyl-mercury poisoning. Building back better is also about creating a world where people can live in good health for generations to come.

We celebrate the third anniversary of the Convention with the great enthusiasm that we can #MakeMercuryHistory.

UN Environment

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APEC Announces Nominations for 2020 Science Prize

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Twelve young scientists across 21 APEC member economies are tackling biodiversity challenges and they have been nominated for this year’s APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education, known as the ASPIRE Prize.

Under the theme of “Biodiversity for a Prosperous Economy,” the 2020 ASPIRE Prize will be awarded for scientific research focused on biodiversity and how it contributes to local livelihoods, traditional and modern medicines and economic development.

“We are thrilled to announce the nominees and showcase their research,” said Daniel Dufour, Chair of the APEC Policy Partnership for Science, Technology, and Innovation, which administers the annual ASPIRE Prize. “The work of the nominees will contribute to APEC’s scientific and technological efforts toward a post pandemic recovery.”

The winner will be announced at a virtual ceremony during a suite of meetings hosted by Malaysia in August 2020 and will be awarded USD 25,000 from renowned publishers of scholarly scientific knowledge, Wiley and Elsevier.

“The theme of biodiversity is important to APEC economies because of its application to health systems and sustainable development,” said Dr. Siti Hamisah, Secretary General of Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation Malaysia. “A well-functioning ecosystem and rich biodiversity are imperative to the well-being of communities around the region and lead to economic prosperity.”

Work carried out by the 2020 nominees includes the study of wasps’ contribution to maintaining healthy natural ecosystems; the testing of herbal medicines traditionally used to prevent viral infections applied to other contexts; and conservation and sustainable use of plant biodiversity using molecular technologies.

Click here to meet the 2020 ASPIRE Prize finalists

“As we celebrate 10 years of the ASPIRE Prize, we are honored to highlight the work of researchers who are dedicating their careers to driving APEC’s economic sustainability and prosperity,” said Brian Napack, Wiley’s Chief Executive Officer.

“Collaboration across borders is a critical pillar of the ASPIRE Prize and global scientific advancement,” he explained. “We are proud to support these impressive young scientists.”

“These young researchers and their pursuit of scientific excellence is critical for all of our economies, not only to further economic growth, but also to protect the health of our environment and populations,” concluded YoungSuk “Y.S.” Chi, Chairman of Elsevier. “These young scientists are leading the way for a more sustainable future for generations to come.”

Since its establishment in 2011, the ASPIRE prize has recognized young scientists working on issues ranging from natural laboratories, food security, sustainable ocean development, strengthening international science and technology networks and promoting innovation.

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Biofuture Platform: 5 Principles for Post-COVID Bioeconomy Recovery and Acceleration

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The Biofuture Platform, a twenty-country, multi-stakeholder initiative, announced on the 12 August the launch of a set of voluntary principles. These are intended to offer guidance to governments and policymakers around the world on the need to promote the sustainable bioeconomy in both short-term relief packages and broader post-COVID economic recovery programs. The principles have the support of the twenty Biofuture Platform member countries, and were developed following consultations with policymakers, industry experts and international organisations.

The IEA is the Facilitator of the Biofuture Platform since February 2019. The Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol commented on the development of the Principles: “Bioenergy is the overlooked giant of the renewable energy sector and will be paramount to a successful global energy transition. But its growth is currently not on track to meet sustainable development goals. It is critical that governments incorporate bioenergy in their COVID economic recovery plans, promoting jobs in the sector and ensuring its considerable potential does not remain untapped”.

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