Opening Statement - First Forum of Asian Ministers of Transport

Your Excellency, Mr Sophon Zaram, Minister of Transport of the Royal Thai Government,
Honourable Ministers,
Excellencies, Distinguished Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to welcome you to the first session of the Forum of Asian Ministers of Transport. I am pleased to see such a large number of high-level representatives from Member States. Your attendance underlines the importance of this Forum.

The Ministerial Conference on Transport, held in the Republic of Korea, November 2006, called for the establishment of a regional mechanism to facilitate the close and frequent interaction of transport policy-makers. The Asian Ministers of Transport Forum was endorsed through resolution 64/5 during the 64th session of the Commission in April 2008.The forum was established in recognition of the rapid economic and social changes frequently being experienced by the region and the crucial role played by the transport sector.

Three months after adopting the resolution, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression hit the global economy. While there are now early signs of global economic recovery, experience suggests that social recovery takes much longer. Food, water and energy security issues, in addition to climate change, continue to be a serious concern. Combined, these multiple threats risk rolling back the poverty reduction and development gains achieved over the past decades. They have also called into question traditional economic growth models used by policy makers in our region.

The transport sector is playing, and needs to continue to play a key role in the recovery from the current economic crisis. It is, therefore, timely that the region’s transport ministers meet to discuss not only how to address the current crisis but also how to promote the foundations for more inclusive and sustainable development.

The economic crisis has shown that exporting to primarily western markets comes with inherent risks. Our region will need to diversify its sources of growth. This should include strategies for promoting increased intra-regional trade and domestic consumption. ESCAP is working with Member States to promote a strategy for increased regional connective and economic integration. The transport sector has a vital role to play in providing physical connectivity required to achieve this goal.

Transport services connect farmers to markets, children to schools, and people to employment opportunities as well as health services. Over the next few days the Forum will be used to discuss transport needs in the region as well as the relationship between transport and development, poverty reduction, and environment.

Both the Seoul and Busan Declarations articulate a vision of transport infrastructure and services for the region. This vision is one of an international, integrated, intermodal transport and logistics system for the region. The Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway Networks are major building blocks for realizing this vision.

The Busan Declaration further recognizes the importance of “dry ports” as centers for economic development. These facilities will help bring economic opportunities to remote hinterland areas and landlocked countries. Dry ports will also help promote a shift from road, to a more eco-efficient rail system.

With the entry into force of the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway agreements, we will need to move forward on three fronts.

First, road and rail networks need to be upgraded – with the completion of missing links. ESCAP recently launched two studies that prioritize investments for both modes.

Second - dry ports need to be constructed to integrate these networks so that the region can more fully realize the benefits of increased transportation and trade.
Third - transportation networks need to be developed to reach out to communities in rural and hinterland areas. .

In addition to supporting regional connectivity, the transport sector has important contributions to make in reducing poverty, protecting the environment and improving safety.

Interventions that improve transport infrastructure and logistics services can have significant impacts on reducing poverty and increasing food security. They include improved access to markets through the construction of rural roads, the provision of storage facilities to prevent food spoilage, and the availability of transport services and logistics. We look forward to learning of the initiatives that you are taking and the guidance that you may wish to provide the Secretariat in this area.

The transport sector is the largest consumer of petroleum products and a major source of air pollution, greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting substances. While many initiatives are being taken to address these issues, much needs to be done to ensure the environmental sustainability of the sector. This includes promoting energy efficient modes of transportation and improving the efficiency of freight logistic services.

The First Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, held this November in Moscow, underscored the importance of the Ministerial Declaration on Improving Road Safety in Asia and the Pacific, adopted in Busan. This declaration resolves to save 700,000 lives and, prevent a commensurate number of serious injuries on roads in our region, over the period of 2007 to 2015. Many of these lives could be saved through low cost interventions. I look forward to your guidance and ideas on how we can achieve this important goal.

Excellencies, Distinguished Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Asia-Pacific region has emerged as a major center of economic growth, domestic demand and export supply. The Bangkok Declaration, placed before you for adoption, has been specifically designed to promote the improved connectivity of domestic, regional and inter-regional transport networks. This includes the integration of road and rail networks through “dry ports” that we believe will serve as a focus for new economic development. These measures will play an important role in reducing vulnerabilities to future market fluctuations in others parts of the world by helping stimulate domestic demand and by improving intra-regional trade. Improved connectivity will help us achieve the Millennium Development goals and is a key element in a broader strategy for inclusive and sustainable development in Asia Pacific.

ESCAP stands ready to work with you, the transport decision makers of Asia, to turn this vision into a reality. I wish you every success in your deliberations.

I thank you