• English

Geneva, 13 April 2007
Statement by Mr. Marek Belka,
Executive Secretary of the UNECE

UNECE: work programme, priorities and co-operation with IR

Mr. President, IRU Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to begin by thanking the International Road Transport Union (IRU) for inviting me t o address the General Assembly.

I have been asked to speak about the UNECE and its priorities, including transport related priorities. I do so with some trepidation as a common superstition considers it bad luck to do anything – including delivering a keynote address - on Friday the thirteenth.

Irrationality aside, there are serious and valid reasons why I appreciate today’s opportunity.

First, I have not addressed you before. Communication is valuable. Direct face-to-face communication is even more so, but effective communication is priceless. Why?

Conflict is a fact of life. When conflict occurs, some relationships are strengthened while some are weakened.

Surely, without effective communication, it is hard to solve conflicts. Instead, the unresolved issues tend to pile up until the relationship breaks down under its own weight. Effective communication is necessary for informing, requesting, persuading and for building a durable relationship.

I hope my speech today can aid this process.

Second, some of you may have limited knowledge about the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The UNECE is home to many international agreements and conventions, which road transport operators put into practice everyday. These legal instruments have provided a basis for a long-standing co-operation between the UNECE and IRU. Given the IRU’s interest in UNECE’s transport conventions and regulations, I believe it is important for you to know what the UNECE is and what it is not.

What is the UNECE?

The UNECE is a multilateral platform that facilitates greater economic integration and co-operation among its 56 member states.

These are big words.

In simpler terms, the UNECE offers a forum for intergovernmental policy dialogue in many areas of economic activity, for negotiation of international agreements, development of regulations and norms and exchange of best practices.

Historically, the UNECE’s main focus has been on developing international legal instruments. As a result, under the UNECE’s umbrella, there are five environmental conventions and 12 related protocols as well as 56 conventions, agreements and protocols in the area of transport.

The UNECE has also established hundreds of voluntary standards, policy guidelines and recommendations. They cover numerous and wide-ranging fields such as statistics, trade facilitation, agricultural products, electronic business, housing and land administration.

To do all of this, the UNECE’s annual regular budget is just about $29 million. As one of my predecessors used to say: “the UNECE is a remarkable instrument: efficient, flexible and inexpensive. Use it.”

I could not agree more.

In terms of size, the UNECE pales in comparison with the IRU and its member associations. Based on the number of TIR carnets issued in 2006, the IRU annual budget could be several times the regular UNECE budget.

The UNECE employs about 200 people of which roughly one-quarter works on transport issues. The UNECE Transport Division staff works on vehicle technology, road safety, transport of dangerous goods, infrastructure development and border crossing facilitation.

All these issues are of great importance to the IRU and its member associations.

The UNECE also hosts the TIR secretariat, which is largely financed by external funds - provided through the IRU. They amount to less than one-half of Swiss franc per TIR carnet distributed by the IRU. As a result of this funding, the UNECE has more staff members working exclusively on the TIR Convention than on all other issues related to border crossing facilitation.

Some of you may not be happy with financing the TIR secretariat and TIR Executive Board. While the Convention is clear about the “temporary nature” of this financing, the UNECE Member States and their taxpayers have been so far reluctant to contribute.

Does this come as a surprise?

It is not surprising when many believe that the general public (ie., taxpayers) should not bear all the costs of government services in cases where private parties derive a benefit. Cost recovery policies, in place in many countries, unambiguously stipulate that beneficiaries of services should contribute towards their costs.

What the UNECE is not?

As I mentioned before, the UNECE’s core activity is to help negotiate and develop international legal and policy instruments. The UNECE does not impose a fee on Contracting Parties to Conventions and neither does it derive any tangible benefits from its legal instruments.

The UNECE has no vested interest in legal instruments other than the interest - let me quote from the UNECE’s terms of reference - “to maintain and strengthen the economic relations of the European countries both among themselves and other countries.”

The UNECE does not undertake any commercial activities; nor does it generate revenues. As it has no revenues, the UNECE is not a profit maximizing nor a not-for-profit organization.

The UNECE is a custodian and facilitator whose sole interest lies in - and allow me to quote again - “initiating and participating in measures for facilitating concerted action for the economic development and integration of Europe.”

UNECE staff members – as well as all other UN employees - service the United Nations. They do so by administering the programmes and policies made by the UN principal and subsidiary bodies. In particular, for the UNECE Transport Division, these intergovernmental bodies are the various working parties, the Inland Transport Committee, the Executive Committee, the Commission and the ECOSOC. All of these bodies have their own “democratic” governing structures. These bodies are transparent and accountable. They meet and make decisions publicly.

In UNECE working parties, governments count on the valuable co-operation of non-governmental organizations such as the IRU. This co-operation is a guarantee that the decisions are made taking into account the views of those who have to implement them out in the real world.

What are UNECE’s transport priorities?

Both the UNECE and IRU are interested in promoting efficient, safe, secure, reliable and environmentally friendly transport in Europe. As you very well know, there remains a lot of work to be done in this area.

Infrastructure networks are not yet adequate or integrated; border-crossing times are often too long. Divergences in transport regulations represent barriers to trade. Safety records are not improving everywhere - there are still too many deaths and injuries on UNECE roads. Finally, transport affects negatively the environment.

To help improve this situation , the UNECE or more accurately the Inland Transport Committee (ITC) develops and manages international agreements and conventions. In this respect, 2006 was a very successful year. The number of countries that became Parties to UNECE transport conventions increased by 29, and if we count the conventions succeeded to by Montenegro, the number increased by 63.

This shows the importance attached by Member States to UNECE transport conventions.

Of equal importance, the European Community decided in 2006 to replace its vehicle regulatory system with the UNECE vehicle regulations. From now on, instead of developing its own vehicle directives, the European Union will rely on those developed at the UNECE.

In the area of transport of dangerous goods, consolidated versions of amended legal instruments, which have entered into force this year, were published in 2006. They continue to be top selling United Nations publications.

Looking ahead, safety will be the ITC’s top priority in 2007. In less than two weeks, t he UNECE, along with other UN agencies, will hold the First UN Global Road Safety Week. Another safety related priority in 2007 is to assist non-EU countries to prepare for the introduction of the digital tachograph.

Furthermore, the development of efficient and secure transport links as a key factor for economic co-operation and integration will be the subject of a high-level segment of the Commission session. This segment will take place on April 27.

It will highlight the TEM and TER Master Plan, promoted by the Transport Division, to fill the infrastructure gap between the western and eastern parts of Europe.

The IRU has contributed financially to this work and I wish to acknowledge this contribution.

The high-level segment on April 27 will also focus on the Euro-Asian transport links project that aims at connecting the two continents by inland routes. This project is being implemented together with our sister regional commission (UNESCAP) and has achieved tangible results. I hope it will continue to do so in future.

I understand you have also promoted this concept by organizing Euro-Asian road conferences and running a Beijing-Brussels caravan. The work on the Euro-Asia inland transport linkages is important to the UNECE members and I encourage you to develop closer links with the Transport Division also in this area.

The TIR Convention and Public - Private Partnership

Let me close my remarks with a few words about the UNECE TIR Convention.

Without a doubt, t he IRU and its member associations play a vital role in its implementation. Fulfilling the function of a guarantor requires resources and this leads to the TIR Convention, in some sense, financing the IRU operations.

This financial link creates costs and benefits; rights and obligations; risks and rewards. It also creates some difficulties and tensions.

The TIR Convention is of utmost interest to international road transport and I will discuss it in the context of public-private partnership (PPP).

A PPP is “a co-operative venture between the public and private sectors, built on the expertise of each partner, that best meets clearly defined public needs through the appropriate allocation of resources, risks and rewards”.

First, in the case of the TIR Convention, the co-operative venture is between the IRU, including its member associations and the customs authorities of Contracting Parties. As I already explained, the UNECE is not a Party to any legal instruments and therefore cannot be a Party to any public-private partnerships. The UNECE’s role is strictly limited to performing secretariat functions, unless mandated otherwise by the Contracting Parties.

Second, the expertise of each partner refers to tapping into the private sector’s innovation and efficiencies while allowing the customs authorities to do their job. I believe customs authorities in many countries have been moving away from physical checks and shifting their limited resources to control measures based on risk assessment. As a result of the TIR Convention, customs authorities do not work less; they in fact accomplish more and do so more efficiently.

Third, clearly defined public needs refer to using the TIR Convention to facilitate trade. In general, a trade facilitation initiative will only be valuable if it represents value for money and the government retains its role in ensuring effective public oversight. The TIR Convention clearly meets the condition of value for money. The millions of TIR carnets purchased every year provide undisputable evidence.

The national public interest – such as security and revenue collection - will always remain paramount.

Finally, the appropriate allocation of resources, risks and rewards frequently appears to be the most contentious item in any PPP framework. The allocation is always the result of negotiations between the public and private parties. In the case of the TIR Convention, I believe both the IRU and Contracting Parties are still searching for a suitable and long-term solution. The slow progress on the e-TIR project is one example.

In the area of sharing resources, risk and rewards, I can offer two general principles for future guidance. First, appropriate public control must always be preserved. Second, accountability must be present through a transparent and efficient system of checks and balances.


In summary, inland transport continues to be one of UNECE’s top priorities. Many of the UNECE transport legal instruments have proven to be in high demand. However, more needs to be done to promote them as both effective and global tools.

In this context, I would like to invite you to the special high-level transport segment during the Commission’s 60 th anniversary session that will be held in Geneva in two weeks. As I already noted, the discussions will concentrate on how to further develop efficient, secure and environmentally-sound transport links in the UNECE region.

Mr. President, IRU Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The UNECE is exactly 60 years old. The co-operation between the UNECE and IRU is almost as old as that. Working together has proved useful to UNECE member countries and their people. Let us hope that we will be able to build another 60 years of useful co-operation.

I wish every success to this General Assembly and thank you for you attention.