Comment

A global response is needed to rescue maritime trade 

Some 400,000 seafarers remain unable to leave their ships or ports. The impact on the provision of food and goods will be profound

This week would normally also see a meeting of world leaders at the UN General Assembly in New York, another event to be conducted online, as foreign participants would be required to quarantine. There had been an expectation that Donald Trump, for whom this does not apply, would appear in person, but he has declined to do so, despite having the stage to himself.

The president is no great fan of multinational organisations, preferring bilateral relationships. But one thing that such gatherings do offer is the chance for world leaders to meet face-to-face in the margins – the very stuff of diplomacy. The somewhat turgid set-piece speeches are of little consequence by comparison.

By definition, a pandemic is a world crisis, yet there is little in the way of supranational decision-making or discourse, with each country effectively doing its own thing, even if there are similarities, not least with lockdown measures. Were they able to share experiences, fears and concerns, perhaps a different approach might be taken.

On one issue they could agree, which is to tackle the threat to world trade caused by restrictions on the movements of maritime crews. Some 400,000 seafarers remain unable to leave their ships or ports. The impact on the provision of food, goods and other supplies as winter approaches will be profound if nothing is done. About 90 per cent of global trade is carried by sea, so governments must facilitate the change-over and repatriation of crews by establishing air corridors and special visas.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to urge the world’s leaders to act soon or regret their indifference. They need to listen.