Trade by sea must continue to flow to maintain the continued provision of essential goods, including vital medical supplies, during the unprecedented global situation arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the message of a joint statement from the heads of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the World Customs Organization (WCO), issued on Friday (17 April).
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim and WCO Secretary General Dr. Kunio Mikuriya strongly urged customs administrations and port state authorities, together with all other concerned agencies, to establish a coordinated and proactive approach to maintaining the integrity of the global supply chain so that the flow of vital goods by sea is not unnecessarily disrupted.
The joint statement notes that ports are being closed and ships denied entry, as travel is curtailed and borders closed to slow the spread of the disease and mitigate its impacts. Such restrictions, it says, may interrupt much-needed aid and technical support, and have negative social and economic effects on the countries concerned.
It is critical that customs administrations and port state authorities continue to facilitate the cross-border movement of vital medical supplies and equipment, critical agricultural products, and other goods, to help minimize the overall impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economies and societies, the joint statement said.
The two organizations emphasized the utmost importance of communication, coordination and cooperation at both national and local levels, between ships, port facilities, customs administrations and other competent authorities. Customs and port administrations are urged to work together to resolve disruptions to the global supply chain, to support the health and well-being of all people.
The joint statement also referred to recommendations and guidance already issued by the two Organizations. In particular, IMO has distributed a series of recommendations for governments and relevant national authorities, proposed by a broad cross-section of global industry associations representing the maritime transportation sector, including a specific call for governments to designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of their nationality, as ‘key workers’ providing an essential service. (See press briefing here.)
The joint statement comes as the demand for and the movement of relief goods (such as supplies, medicines and medical equipment) across borders is increasing dramatically.