Why trade facilitation is a quick win for vaccine equity
- Vaccine inequity makes people in developing countries vulnerable to new virus strains and slows economic progress.
- Trade facilitation measures are a rapid and cost-effective way to allow the smooth flow of vaccine supplies across borders to help recovery.
- We describe how trade facilitation can address these key challenges and highlight the success of a project in Mozambique.
Like vaccine inequity hinders economic recovery in less developed countries and threatens to reverse progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), trade facilitation measures offer a quick and cost-effective solution. From digitizing business documents to reducing red tape and improving the efficiency of border processes, they ensure vaccines travel more easily to those who need them most.
While increase the production of COVID-19 vaccines – especially in countries with low vaccination rates – resolving licensing disputes and eradicating trade barriers such as export restrictions are also essential for equitable access to vaccines, they require significant time and investment . On the other hand, the implementation of trade facilitation measures – as defined in the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation – can get results in months rather than years, and ensure that when vaccine supplies increase, they quickly get to where they are needed most.
Facilitating trade in COVID-19 vaccines also brings long-term benefits to health systems and economies at large in countries, reducing the future cost of importing everything from perishable foods to pharmaceutical inputs.
Why vaccine inequity matters
According to Global Vaccine Equity Dashboard, a joint initiative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the University of Oxford, only 2.14% of people in low-income countries had received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of August 30, compared with 57.34% for high-income countries.
The gap is even greater for the least developed countries (LDCs). In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, only 0.1 dose per 100 people had been administered as of August 30, falling to just 0.37 for Tanzania and 1.89 for Sudan.
Leaving populations more vulnerable to new strains of viruses and epidemics comes at a huge human and economic cost, slowing the recovery of COVID-19 and rolling back the SDGs related to poverty, health and inequality.
A new report by the Economist Intelligence Unit suggests that countries that have not vaccinated 60% of their population by mid-2022 will lose $ 2.3 trillion in gross domestic product in 2022-25, with emerging countries supporting both third of these losses. High vaccine prices will also strain fragile health systems and impact immunizations and routine services, causing a resurgence of diseases like pneumonia and measles.
How trade facilitation helps
Just like world trade and the world economy will not fully recover without a fair vaccination, vaccine equity will not be possible without free, fair and efficient trade.
There are a myriad of barriers associated with importing vaccines that can be overcome through trade facilitation. For example, ineffective cooperation between border agencies or the use of outdated, paper-based processes can result in vaccines and short-shelf-life pharmaceuticals being blocked at borders for weeks at expensive storage facilities. Different certification requirements for the various components of vaccine kits can increase administrative burdens. Such obstacles inflate costs and create uncertainty for health providers and partners.
It aims to help the governments of developing and least developed countries to implement the principles of the World Trade Organization. Trade Facilitation Agreement bringing governments and businesses together to identify opportunities to address delays and unnecessary red tape at borders.
For example, in Colombia, the Alliance worked with the National Institute for Food and Drug and Business Surveillance to introduce a risk management system that can facilitate trade while protecting public health, reducing by 30 % the average rate of physical inspections of food and beverage and providing $ 8.8 million in savings for importers in the first 18 months of operation.
These challenges are shared by many sectors and countries – developed and developing – creating opportunities to replicate efforts and share best practices. But while vaccine imports are time sensitive for any country, LDCs have an even shorter window of time to receive, distribute and administer the doses they are often given. close to expiration. The extended health services of LDCs and the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that underpin their economies are also in greatest need of savings.
Key steps to reduce import costs and times Through trade facilitation, one can cite the streamlining of border processes, for example by introducing “green lanes” for essential goods or undertaking pre-arrival processing for more business transactions. The digitization of business documents, certificates and signatures is also useful, as is the facilitation of product certification, for example by adopting international standards or – where safe – applying certification criteria more flexibly.
Governments can advance these measures either by ratifying and implementing the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement themselves, or by Aid for trade investments in technical assistance that supports less developed countries on the same path.
How to Maximize Investments in Trade Facilitation
Maintaining a narrow focus in trade facilitation interventions makes work more manageable and yields faster results, which helps give public and private sector sponsors the confidence to scale or replicate them elsewhere.
In a project in Mozambique, the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation (the Alliance) is digitizing the application and approval processes for pre-shipment authorization of vaccines, rather than attempting wholesale customs reform, for example. Instead of spending years implementing a new system, it integrates the processes into the country’s existing single window.
The project – which aims to reduce the delay time for vaccine deliveries by up to two weeks now – is expected to be achievable within 12 to 18 months. The Alliance, along with its partner UNICEF, is already planning to launch a similar project in Botswana.
Gaining the support of government agencies who should ultimately take ownership of trade facilitation projects is also critical to their success. But designing tailor-made trade facilitation measures requires input from multiple actors, including private sector partners such as logistics companies or non-governmental organizations who can help identify weak spots. For projects to have maximum impact, they must also strive to solve challenges that affect entire industries rather than a single privileged company.
This requires building trust between government, business and civil society, and ensuring that all voices are heard in the national trade facilitation committees tasked with leading these discussions. The Alliance’s project in Mozambique is implemented by the Mozambican Ministry of Health and other agencies, with UNICEF providing data and expertise.
Many trade facilitation measures targeted at COVID-19 vaccinations will also benefit routine vaccinations, which have historically struggled to attract so much attention, despite being traded quintuple in the 15 years preceding the pandemic.
By focusing not only on vaccinations against COVID-19 but on those against diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, pneumonia, meningitis, measles and rubella and polio, the Alliance project in Mozambique is taking advantage of the emergency surrounding the COVID-19 bites to contribute to the five full year vaccination campaigns. Seeking to identify and remove trade bottlenecks that are common to vaccinations or broader health services in this way makes trade facilitation measures more sustainable and supports their investment.