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Global | Geneva

Driving standards: more than seven decades of public-private teamwork

18 Jul 2022 · Prosperity

IRU and UNECE have been working together for almost 75 years to improve trade and road transport. Did you know that this is the UN’s longest global public-private partnership? 

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is one of the five regional commissions under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. It includes 56 member states in Europe, North America and Asia and was established to promote economic cooperation and integration among them.

Shortly after its establishment in 1947, UNECE inked a series of agreements to support post-war aspirations for the free movement of people and goods, known as the “Geneva Road Freedoms”. This led to the founding of IRU in 1948, as the global voice for the road transport industry, to work with UNECE in formalising and implementing these agreements.

Over the years, IRU and UNECE have done just that. IRU brokered the TIR agreement for cross-border customs transit in 1949 with UNECE support. TIR carnets were wildly successful in making European truck transport and trade faster and more efficient. The two organisations continued working closely together over subsequent years to formalise the system with the first TIR Convention in 1959. 

TIR was not alone. International harmonisation in many areas of road transport has been on the agenda since day one. IRU and UNECE worked together to propose, draft and implement other important conventions, agreements and protocols that have made commercial road transport services safer, more efficient and greener over the decades. 

Examples include the CMR Convention governing the international carriage of goods by road, the ADR Agreement on transporting dangerous goods by road, and agreements on vehicle emission standards.

An innovative partnership to advance the industry

As an independent organisation representing the private sector, IRU has been the United Nations’ designated partner for the implementation of the TIR Convention since its adoption. Indeed, it is the UN’s longest-standing functioning public–private partnership, bridging the global body and the commercial road transport sector across a wide range of areas. 

In addition to the TIR system, UNECE and IRU collaborate in many areas to promote sustainable, safe, clean and competitive road transport to improve the mobility of goods and people. This includes cooperation in many of the working parties that bring authorities together to discuss and agree on standards, with IRU’s input and advice. 

These groups aim to improve traffic safety, environmental performance, energy efficiency, inland transport security and efficient service provision in the transport sector, amongst other topics. They also organise special industry-wide events to offer a discussion forum to all stakeholders, public and private.

Road transport operators at the table

In addition to implementing the TIR Convention, IRU has become the main advocate for the interests of the road transport industry in UN regulatory bodies. It represents the sector so that the road transport operators’ voice is heard at the highest level. 

Road transport operators need long-term clarity to plan investment. IRU therefore also acts as a link between UN policymakers and operators by providing technical support to reach policy objectives. 

As one example, IRU has promoted the use of e-learning in the transport of dangerous goods to facilitate driver training. Similarly, IRU is encouraging the development of digital solutions, such as eCMR, and the use of autonomous vehicles to tackle driver shortages over the long term.

As road transport continues to evolve, decarbonise, digitalise and automate, the long-standing partnership between IRU and UNECE is set to continue for decades to come. 

Over the coming months on our news pages, we will be exploring various ways that IRU and UNECE work together on safety and standards.