A joint virtual meeting was held amongst the Secretaries General of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), International Road Transport Union (IRU), the Permanent Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Commission TRACECA (PS IGC TRACECA), the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (Turkic Council). The event, held on March 15, 2021, was aimed at elaborating the impact of COVID-19 as well as figuring out the possible ways forward to minimize the bearings of the pandemic on the road cargo transportation.
The ECO Secretary General, H.E. Dr. Hadi Soleimanpour considered that the prolonged shutdowns and restrictive policies would bear negative effects on the prospects of short-term intra-regional economic growth. He underscored that the ECO region already experienced post-pandemic slow-paced economic activities, including in the transport sector due to the imposition of preventive measures. Dr. Soleimanpour hoped that the impacts of this untoward situation could be overturned through resorting to a strong international cooperation and solidarity as well as collaborative, transparent, science-based and coordinated global and regional response. He pointed out that the central issue for regional economic organizations is to remain relevant under pandemic crisis. Relevantly, these Organizations need to “think globally while act regionally” he added. To this end as well as regarding the area of connectivity, the ECO steers to concentrate on turning some selected Regional Transit-Transport corridors into Economic ones based on the proposal made by honourable President Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan after his country’s assumption of ECO chairmanship.
Dr. Soleimanpour updated on some immediately taken steps that bore instant implications to resume activities for regional connectivity and smooth socioeconomic recovery in the region, including the adoption of ECO Practical Guidelines on Cross Border Facilitation Measures under conditions of COVID-19. He thanked the IRU to help successfully launch a test run of loaded trucks in July 2020 that carried goods under TIR carnets along the Kyrgyz-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Iran (KTAI). He also acknowledged the importance of digital transport solution i.e. e-TIR and E-CMR in freight transport and the benefits of their inter-modality.
The meeting expressed concerns over the post-pandemic restrictions that severely affected the intra-regional and inter-regional trade in goods, hampering essential supply chains and smooth movement of cargo drivers at the border crossing points. During their online interaction, the Secretaries General noted that many road transport operators, particularly small and mid-size firms, were on the verge of bankruptcy, encouraging concrete measures to help avoid their imminent liquidity crisis. It was emphasized that the transport workers required equal protection and priority for inoculation against the pandemic. The meeting recommended a well-coordinated approach to be adopted for a digital COVID test or passport for commercial drivers, seeking the creation of a network of designated focal points of the Member States for enhanced coordination and collaboration.
The meeting further agreed on the implementation on IRU’s Call for Action, urging the national governments for coordinated response to mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic, provision of financial support to their road transport operators, harmonized border crossing procedures and preferred utilization of digital trade facilitation tools.