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UNCTAD urges greater digitisation as maritime recovers from pandemic

UNCTAD urges greater digitisation as industry recovers from pandemic
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The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has urged governments to pursue policies that promote digitisation, sustainability and cross-border collaboration, and has claimed COVID-19 will transform maritime and global supply chain.

In its ‘Review of Maritime Transport 2020’ UNCTAD said numerous key wide-ranging trends have already been noticed, such as a greater emphasis on risk management and evaluation of where a business’ supply chain may be vulnerable.

This means stakeholders have had to improve information sharing mechanisms and national and regional bodies have had to take action to standardise emergency response procedures, particularly in data-led forecasting and analytics. 

More widely, there has been an overhaul in how businesses design their supply chains and UNCTAD predicts most will be shorter than they were before the pandemic, with accelerated moves towards more “regionalisation of trade”.

Investment in warehousing and storage will increase as it becomes more important to ensure goods and inventories are transported safely across the supply chain.

Consumer behaviour will also continue its shift towards e-commerce and this will result in greater pressure on the Last Mile of the supply chain, which will in turn exacerbate the need for more warehousing and shorter supply chains.

The biggest shift of all will most likely be the need for shippers, ports and other supply chain to invest in digital technologies.

“Governments have made notable efforts to keep their ports operational and speed up the use of new technologies and digitalisation,” UNCTAD said.

This is noticeable already, particularly the introduction of the electronic Bill of Lading, and UNCTAD said digital technologies will “permeate supply chains and their distribution networks, including transport and logistics”.

It said the industry has been “working to promote the use of electronic equivalents to negotiable bills of lading and their increased acceptance by government authorities, banks and insurers” and said international cooperation was needed to ensure the trend continued.

Reliance on digital technologies will mean more attention will have to be given to cybersecurity, as ships and ports become better connected, their operations will become more vulnerable.

“Cybersecurity risks are likely to continue to grow significantly as a result of greater reliance on electronic trading and an increasing shift to virtual interactions at all levels,” UNCTAD said.

“This deepens vulnerabilities across the globe, with a potential to produce crippling effects on critical supply chains and services.”

To support the industry, UNCTAD urged governments to undertake several key initiatives, including avoiding trade tensions and “help reshape globalisation for sustainability and resiliency”.

Vitally, it has called for policies to “support a digital transformation that improves the resilience of supply chains and their supporting transportation networks”.

“For maritime transport to play its role in linking global economies and supply chains it should leverage the crisis by investing in technology and adopting solutions that meet the needs of the supply chains of the future and support resilience efforts,” UNCTAD said.

“Digitalisation efforts should enable enhanced efficiencies, including energy efficiency, and productivity in transport (for example, smart ports and shipping).

“It should also help countries tap e-commerce capabilities and transport facilitation benefits that boost trade. For more impact, cybersecurity should be strengthened at all levels.”

This will in turn help the maritime industry and wider supply chain process and analyse big data and prepare for a similar crisis in the future, as well maintain its drive towards cutting emissions.

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