Transport Modes

The physical movement of goods across borders, or transport of goods, can be undertaken using one or more modes of transport.
The different modes (air, sea, road, rail, inland waterways) have varying processes and information requirements. This partly stems from different infrastructures, different capabilities for handling larger or smaller amounts of cargo, but also from different international, national and even local regimes for a specific mode.

Every mode of transport has specific characteristics in terms of conditions of transportation, performance and legal frameworks. When using long-haul transportation (ocean ships, intercontinental airflights, long distance rail) the pre- and on-carriage is usually through another mode of transport, often road. This intermodal and multimodal transport can lead to complications and trade facilitation issues such as the use of waybills for other modes of transport.

Transport by air and sea usually includes transport by other modes of transport for pre- and on-carriage (road, rail, inland waterways). Multimodal transport consists of the use of more than one mode of transport, but also involves its own equipment, particularly in rail-road movements through specific equipment that can be transferred from truck to wagon.

As documentary requirements differ from mode to mode, transport involving more than one mode can lead to additional changes in documentation. Sometimes the use of transport documents for one mode is allowed (or excepted) in another mode, for example the "flying trucks" that use airway bills.

International Transport Conventions settle the movement of goods through the different modes of transport, or in multimodal and intermodal transport. They define the legal framework in which transport operates and the liabilities between the parties involved in freight transport. For every mode of transport there is at least one International Transport Organization for the parties in that mode:

  • Maritime: IMO, ISC
  • Air: IATA, ICAO
  • Road: IRU
  • Rail: UIC
  • Inland Waterways: ERI in Europe

Modes of transport compete with each other, but there are also government preferences for the use of certain modes, for example the use of short sea or rail over the the use of congested roads. However there are rules of 'cabotage' that hinder free short sea or rail transport.

Main trade facilitation issues are fair market conditions, free access to infrastructure, availability of mode-specific facilities, use of electronic documentation, and harmonization of documentary requirements between modes.

Trade facilitation can be fostered by implementation of the recommendations from International UNECE Conventions and Agreements for the individual modes of transport and for multimodal transport.