Straits Times: Asean to boost land, sea, air links in region

Asean will be drawn even closer together as member states take steps towards forming a single shipping and aviation market, while making it easier for buses to move between borders.

Announcing this at the opening of the Asean Transport Ministers Meeting yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said that ministers from the 10 member states will be signing an agreement on the Facilitation of Cross-Border Transport of Passengers by Road Vehicles (CBTP) today.

"The CBTP 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," he said at the event at Marina Bay Sands.

"This sends a strong signal to the international community that Asean is committed to foster open, integrated economies, and will further liberalise trade for the benefit of all our people."

Goods will also flow more efficiently as Customs procedures are simplified in a potential boost to trade. For this, Singapore is ready to ratify a protocol to enable the setting up of designated transport routes where goods vehicles can cross borders with less unloading and Customs procedures.

Singapore University of Social Sciences transport researcher Park Byung Joon said: "Bus is the most cost-effective mass transport mode. With CBTP, hopefully more people will have access to deeper bus networks among countries - particularly those who do not have access to air travel."

DPM Teo also said Asean member states are taking further steps towards creating a single aviation and shipping market. He said a single aviation market "will integrate our aviation sectors in all aspects, including air services liberalisation and air traffic management".

Together with a single shipping market, it will help promote the free movement of goods, services and people among Asean countries.

Steps to further integrate logistic chains and improve market access are being taken. "For instance, common standards on the information required for port security clearance across member states will help reduce business costs for our companies," Mr Teo noted.

He said Asean has made "good progress to strengthen air, sea and land links", citing the ratification process for the Asean open skies agreement which was completed last year as a key milestone.

"We are also making efforts to establish new shipping routes and enhance the land transport network with initiatives such as the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link, and high-speed rail projects in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia," Mr Teo said.

"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-growing middle class," he added.

On a broader scale, Mr Teo said Asean is in discussions with the European Union on a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement. "This will allow airlines from Asean and the EU to more effectively access the growing market for air travel within and between our two regions."

The two-day event, which ends today, saw Asean transport ministers and delegates viewing new technologies being developed and deployed in Singapore. These include autonomous vehicles, hands-free transit fare gates and automated crane operation at the port.