(Source: www.channelnewsasia.com)

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean described the transport sector as the “critical enabler” of the region’s growth and its role will only become more important.

SINGAPORE: Southeast Asian nations must press on with cooperation and integration efforts within the region’s transport sector, which is a “critical enabler” of growth, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Thursday (Oct 12).

Mr Teo was speaking at the opening of the 23rd ASEAN Transport Ministers Meeting – an annual meeting for transport ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to iron out transport cooperation initiatives.

An “encouraging step” will take place on Friday, according to Mr Teo, in the form of the signing of the ASEAN Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Cross-Border Transport of Passengers by Road Vehicles.

This will simplify the requirements for cross-border bus transport services within ASEAN, and allow thousands of buses to enjoy facilitated entry and transit to other member states.

Several agreements that will liberalise the region’s air services, as well as improve the safety and efficiency of air travel in ASEAN and beyond, are also expected to be signed and adopted during the meeting in Singapore, said the Ministry of Transport in a media release.

In his opening remarks, Mr Teo described the transport sector as the “backbone” and “critical enabler” of trade and tourism flows. He noted that this “enabling role” will only become increasingly vital.

“We can expect transport to play an even more important enabling role as trade and tourism flows intensify, driven by strong economic growth and a fast expanding middle class,” he said.

“To further enable ASEAN’s growth, we need to work towards our vision of an extensive, efficient and well-integrated ASEAN.”

INTEGRATING EFFORTS WITHIN ASEAN AND WITH ASEAN’S PARTNERS

To do so, Mr Teo stressed that cooperation and integration of the region’s transport sector must continue within ASEAN and with its partners.

He noted that there has been “good progress” in strengthening the region’s air, sea and land links. For instance, the ratification process for the ASEAN open skies agreement was completed last year while initiatives like the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link reflect efforts to enhance the land transport network.

Further steps have also been taken to implement the ASEAN Single Aviation and Shipping Markets. The former will integrate the region’s aviation sectors in all aspects, including air services liberalisation and air traffic management.

“This will greatly increase air traffic management efficiency and capacity in ASEAN, and allow ASEAN to meet the strong demand for air travel in the region,” Mr Teo said.

These initiatives will establish new air and sea links that will help to promote the free movement of goods, services and people among ASEAN countries, he added.

The upcoming signing of the ASEAN Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Cross-Border Transport of Passengers by Road Vehicles also sends a “strong signal” to the international community that the region is “committed to foster open, integrated economies and will further liberalise trade”, Mr Teo said.

He also announced that Singapore is ready to ratify Protocol 1 of the ASEAN Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Goods in Transit, in support of the need for ASEAN to push ahead with the three existing ASEAN framework agreements on transport facilitation.

When it comes to strengthening transport links with key partners beyond the region, Mr Teo cited ongoing efforts such as the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

A Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement with the European Union is also in the works. If successful, it will allow airlines from ASEAN and the EU to more effectively access the growing market for air travel within and between the two regions, he said.

“ASEAN is located at the heart of an economically vibrant and growing Asia, and increasing connections beyond ASEAN will allow our companies to tap on new growth opportunities with our key partners.

“To conclude, ASEAN remains well-positioned to capture growth opportunities in the region and beyond the region. Transport development and integration, within ASEAN and with our partners, are critical enablers that will help ASEAN turn these opportunities into reality,” Mr Teo said.

Held from Oct 12 to 13, the 23rd ASEAN Transport Ministers Meeting and associated meetings with dialogue partners China, Japan and South Korea take place against the backdrop of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary.

Singapore last hosted the meeting as well as the ASEAN Senior Transport Officials Meeting in 2007. 

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