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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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Human Rights

UN chief express deep concern over East Jerusalem violence

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Palestinians react as Israeli police fire a stun grenade during clashes at Damascus Gate on Laylat al-Qadr during the holy month of Ramadan, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 9, 2021. /Reuters

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, and senior UN officials have expressed their deep concern over confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem, particularly those which began on Friday evening, and continued into Sunday night. Several Palestinian children are among the wounded.

The violence on Friday has been described as some of the worst seen in Jerusalem for many years. Some 200 Palestinians and 17 Israeli Police were reportedly injured in fighting around Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount. On Saturday, protesters reportedly threw stones at police, who responded with stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannons and, on Sunday, fighting continued in East Jerusalem, ahead of a planned march by an Israeli group through the Old City.

The official spokesperson for Mr. Guterres, Stéphane Dujarric, said in a statement published on Sunday evening, that Israeli authorities must exercise maximum restraint and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. 

“All leaders have a responsibility to act against extremists and to speak out against all acts of violence and incitement”, the statement continued. “The Secretary-General reiterates his commitment, including through the Middle East Quartet, to supporting Palestinians and Israelis to resolve the conflict on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements”.

The Envoys of the Middle East Quartet (from the European Union, Russia, the United States, and the United Nations), released a press statement on Saturday,  in which they expressed their alarm at “the provocative statements made by some political groups, as well as the launching of rockets and the resumption of incendiary balloons from Gaza towards Israel, and attacks on Palestinian farmland in the West Bank”.

Imminent risk of eviction

The Quartet representatives went on to declare their concern regarding the possible evictions of Palestinian families from homes, in which they have lived in for generations, in two neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem – Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan – and their opposition to “unilateral actions, which will only escalate the already tense environment”.

This is a reference to a court case involving several Palestinians who face eviction due to a legal challenge by the Nahalat Shimon settler organization. The risk is considered to be imminent for four of the families.

The UN has called for on the Israeli Government to halt all forced evictions and on Thursday, Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), warned that, if they take place, the evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah case would violate Israel’s obligations under international law.

Saturday’s fighting took place on Laylat-al-Qadr, the most holy day in the Muslim month of Ramadan, after large numbers of worshippers had prayed at the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound. In their statement, the Quartet

Envoys called on the Israeli authorities to exercise restraint and to avoid measures that would further escalate the situation during this period of Muslim Holy Days.

“We call on all sides to uphold and respect the status quo at the holy sites”, the statement continues. “All leaders have a responsibility to act against extremists and to speak out against all acts of violence and incitement”. 

The statement concluded with a reiteration by the Quartet Envoys of their commitment to a negotiated two state solution.

37 Palestinian children injured and arrested

On Sunday, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, urged the Israeli authorities to refrain from using violence against children and release all those children detained.

In a joint statement, Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, and Lucia Elmi, UNICEF Special Representative in the State of Palestine, noted that 29 Palestinian children have been injured over the past two days, and a further eight arrested. “A one-year-old toddler was among those injured. Some children were taken for treatment at hospitals, with injuries in the head and the spine. This comes amid reports that nearly 300 people were injured in the area”.

The senior UNICEF officials said that the agency had received reports of ambulances being restricted from arriving on location to assist and evacuate the injured, and that an on-site clinic was reportedly hit and searched.

The statement called for all children to be protected from violence and kept out of harm’s way at all times, for families’ rights to access all places of worship to be preserved, and for those injured to be assisted without restrictions.

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MoU was signed between “China-Eurasia” Council and Institute of Oriental Studies

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On May 10, 2021, Memorandum of understanding was signed between “China-Eurasia” Council for Political and Strategic Research and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. According to the Memorandum of understanding, Parties agreed to strengthen cooperation with each other, to contribute to the development of relations between institutions, to continue and bust cooperation in academic, informational, educational, and other fields. Memorandum of understanding on cooperation between organizations was signed by the Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Dr. Robert Ghazaryan from one side and Dr. Mher Sahakyan, the founding head of the “China-Eurasia” Council for Political and Strategic Research from the other side.

Dr. Robert Ghazaryan stressed that Chinese studies are one of the most important scientific directions in the Institute of Oriental Studies of NAS RA, where the Institute has quite great success. At the same time, the “China-Eurasia” Council for Political and Strategic Research, in particular its director Mher Sahakyan, also makes a significant contribution to the development and strengthening of this field. In this regard, it is very important that such institutions in Armenia will join forces in the hope of working together and achieving significant scientific achievements. Besides, our two scientific institutions have good experience of cooperation. And the combination of our efforts and works can serve the further development of this field and will create prospects for new cooperation.

Dr. Mher Sahakyan noted:“It is our honor to develop cooperation with the Institute of Oriental Studies of NAS, which is one of the well-known Armenian academic institutions and has great contribution in Middle Eastern and North African studies. Actually, “China-Eurasia” Council for Political and Strategic Research and Institute of Oriental Studies, NAS cooperate with each other already for 4 years. In 2018 together with Dr. Robert Ghazaryan and Institute of Oriental Studies we jointly organized ‘Rethinking China’s Foreign Policy” special course and “Eurasian Research on Modern China and Eurasia’ international conference. This Memorandum of Understanding will provide an added impetus to strengthen our cooperation and unite efforts and capabilities in research and academic diplomacy.”

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Development

Conflict Affected Families in Armenia to Receive World Bank Support

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A Grant Agreement for the “Support to Conflict Affected Families” project was signed today by Sylvie Bossoutrot, World Bank Country Manager for Armenia, and Atom Janjughazyan, Acting Minister of Finance of Armenia. Funds for the project are provided by the multi-donor State and Peacebuilding Fund (SPF), through a one-year grant of $3.72 million.

The Government of Armenia has developed a broader social protection response package with support from development partners and non-governmental organizations. This project will be implemented by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of Armenia, through its subordinated agency — the Unified Social Service — and aims to improve the resilience of conflict affected people and reduce the financial burden of host families, with a particular focus on women and vulnerable members of the population.

“We are pleased to sign this timely Agreement supported by the State and Peacebuilding Fund Grant,” said Sylvie Bossoutrot, World Bank Country Manager for Armenia. “This project is of extreme importance and the assistance granted to displaced individuals and their host families will help to improve the resilience of families affected by the conflict.”

The proposed project will contribute to selected social protection and employment support programs, which are part of a larger support package targeting displaced people and their host families, from the Government of Armenia.

Specifically, the project aims to:

  • Reach around 11,530 displaced persons with a monthly cash benefit equal to the minimum wage (68,000 AMD) per adult/child for up to four months in Armenia.
  • Provide cash assistance/income support to 3,975 families in Armenia hosting displaced people to help meet basic consumption needs.
  • Temporarily subsidize an employment program for 936 displaced people who are looking to gain work experience in Armenia and facilitate their labor market participation and economic inclusion.
  • Support 115 displaced individuals through the public works program (cash-for-work).

“The project is designed to especially benefit women affected by the conflict,” said Maddalena Honorati, World Bank Task Team Leader. “According to a rapid multi-sector needs assessment conducted last December, women represent 70 percent of the adult displaced population. The cash transfers will help them meet their basic needs on a day-to-day basis. More importantly, the project will improve the resilience of the displaced families and promote social cohesion in their host communities.”

The State and Peacebuilding Fund is a global fund administered by the World Bank to finance critical development operations and analysis in situations of fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV). The SPF is kindly supported by Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, The United Kingdom, as well as the World Bank.

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