ASEAN States Agree on COVID-19 Recovery Guidelines for Road Freight

Date Published
February 24, 2021
Social distancing and other safety measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 made cross-border freight operations more costly or time consuming. Photo credit: Asian Development Bank.

ASEAN released last week guidelines to help its 10 member states restore and strengthen national and regional road freight transport operations, which were disrupted during the pandemic.

Focusing on resilience and sustainability, the guidelines recommend immediate, medium-term (6 months), and longer-term (12 months) responses in three priority areas:

  • transport workers’ safety and training,
  • preserving connectivity for efficient and resilient supply chains, and
  • building back better through digital, resilient, and decarbonized transport connectivity.

Increased efficiency

The suggested measures are designed to improve the efficiency of transport systems, especially with the use of information and communication technology (ICT) and real-time data sharing across a supply chain. They will also increase sustainability, such as reducing energy consumption to lower costs and emissions.

To facilitate the sharing of knowledge, lessons, and experiences from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, the guidelines categorized policy responses related to transport connectivity and resilience. Best practices from the region include the digitalization of processes to limit human contact and paperwork for cross-border trade facilitation. Examples of immediate response measures for improving workers’ safety include providing good-quality personal protective equipment and training for their proper use and care. In the medium term, visa facilitation for international truck drivers may be standardized while a longer-term response is to establish training and licensing standards for drivers in the region.

Recommendations under the guidelines also include principles for the implementation of policies and measures; a communication mechanism for the timely exchange of relevant information; and the creation of a real-time monitoring tool to gauge the impact of policy interventions on transport connectivity, capacity, and resilience.

A regional recovery strategy

The ASEAN senior transport officials approved ad-referendum the COVID-19 Recovery Guidelines for Resilient and Sustainable International Road Freight Transport Connectivity in ASEAN on 11 January. The guidelines are available online at the ASEAN website.

In a news release, ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi said “the guidelines support ASEAN’s efforts in improving the stability of road freight flows in the region toward longer-term resilience, preparedness, and competitiveness of ASEAN.”

Among the many challenges faced by ASEAN members is how to contain the infectious virus and keep transport services running at the same time. Like in other parts of the world, the countries have resorted to the temporary suspension of freight transport operations and closure of border crossings in response to COVID-19. The implementation of social distancing and other safety measures made cross-border freight operations more costly or time consuming. These contributed to the slowdown in economic activities.

The guidelines for the road freight sector were developed as part of initiatives under the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and with the assistance of the International Transport Forum (ITF) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). Adopted at the 37th ASEAN Summit in November, the framework serves as ASEAN’s coordinated exit strategy from the pandemic.