A Shared Transport Agenda for Asia-Pacific Development

Your Excellency, Mr. Chadchart Sittipunt,
Deputy Minister of Transport, Royal Thai Government,

Excellencies,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

The French author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, wrote that the highest achievements of humankind are those that aim to bring people together.

Transport infrastructure and services are never ends in themselves. They are the expression of our need to connect - with different countries, new markets, and key resources – but most importantly with other people.

It is my pleasure to welcome you today to our United Nations ESCAP Conference Centre for the Ministerial Segment of this Conference on Transport.

There is a pattern developing in the choice of venues for these gatherings. Five years ago the Conference was hosted in Busan, the world’s fifth busiest container port and a gateway to our Trans-Asian Railway network. Today we meet in Bangkok, another vibrant metropolis at the intersection of trade, innovation, and regional connectivity.

ESCAP in Bangkok is the United Nations hub for Asia and the Pacific, where our member States connect and collaborate to drive inclusive and sustainable development for the people of our region.

This gathering today, to advance our shared transport agenda for Asia and the Pacific, underlines the importance and value of the regional approach to tackling our collective challenges.

Building on Good Foundations for Regional Resilience

Since the Busan Conference we have seen ample evidence of these challenges. From earthquakes in member States like China, India, and Pakistan, to the tsunami in Japan and the devastating flooding in countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. We have also felt the impact of the global financial crisis – with reduced global demand leading to the prospect of lower regional economic growth.

The danger of course is that expensive infrastructure can be suddenly swept away by forces beyond our control. If we are to protect our hard-won economic and social development gains from the same fate, we must implement policies that reduce our regional vulnerabilities, and make our region more resilient to those external shocks which cannot be avoided.

An essential step towards Asia-Pacific resilience is our strategy for increased regional connectivity and regional economic integration.

Both the Busan Declaration of 2006 and the Bangkok Declaration of 2009 articulated our vision of an integrated intermodal transport and logistics system for the region. The three-fold premise of this vision has been continued investment in the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway networks; the establishment of and investment in dry ports to integrate these two networks; and the sustainable development of transportation systems that reach out to the most rural and isolated communities.

It is the right vision because it is less about infrastructure and technology than about the people who will use it. Businessmen and women who want to trade more easily with the emerging markets of our region, and citizens for whom transport becomes a tool to expand life choices and exploit new opportunities for a better future.

Regional Priorities for the Next Five Years

I am very proud that our region can already claim important accomplishments in the development of the physical road and rail networks needed to implement this vision. The overall picture is very promising, but we still face a challenging agenda for action over the next five years.

The delivery capacities of the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway networks will reach their full potential only when complemented by efficient intermodal facilities and logistics capabilities. These will allow us not only to leverage the investments already made in road and rail but will also help us to soften the impact of rising transportation costs on many sectors of our economies – especially for rural agriculture.

In the landlocked countries of Asia and the Pacific these costs are even more prohibitive. By providing essential links, transport can transform landlocked countries into ‘land-linked’ countries – connecting dry ports with sea ports and helping to integrate them with regional and global production and supply chains.

The Secretariat has already taken the initial steps in preparing a draft Intergovernmental Agreement on Dry Ports. Following sub-regional and regional review we aim for the adoption of this Agreement by our member States later this year – and to open it for signature at the 69th Session of the Commission in 2013.

We also know, however, that for transport systems to be inclusive, sustainable and efficient they need more than just the hardware of connectivity. We also need the software of connectivity, forging people-to-people connections.

For this reason, another key focus for action over the next five years will be transport facilitation – making sure we reform the legislation, regulations and the other non-physical networks needed to streamline cross-border transportation. I still find it disconcerting that, despite road and rail links being in place, important cargo, like much-needed food and medical supplies, can stand for days on either side of two border posts because of paperwork and bureaucracy. Our meeting over the next two days must send a message of unified determination: to identify these bottlenecks and urgently remove them.

Transport as Development Enabler

The key to sustaining the economic growth needed by Asia and the Pacific is to ensure that we develop our regional markets and increase regional demand. Transport has a critical role to play in poverty reduction and inclusive, sustainable development by helping to empower our low- and middle-income communities.

Transport development needs to be planned to reduce disparities between and within our member States – by providing more equal access to resources and opportunities.

Although none of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) speak directly to issues of transport, it is one of the most important enablers of development. From improved market access and better, cheaper agricultural output, to lower education costs and ease of access to health facilities – even in the most rural areas.

With only three years left to the 2015 deadline, we are in a race against time to meet many of the MDGs. As we enter the final stretch, so many of our off-track countries could meet or exceed these minimal development targets with a redoubling of effort. It is time for a big final push to 2015 on the MDGs – and transport must play its part in this effort.

Conclusion

ESCAP stands ready to work with you – our member States – in these endeavors.

Transport infrastructure is easier to build on paper than in practice, but the Regional Action Programme and the draft Ministerial Declaration submitted for your adoption at this Conference deliver a clear message that despite the constraints and challenges, the governments of Asia and the Pacific are united behind the creation of a dynamic transport sector to connect people with opportunities and to provide renewed impetus for inclusive and sustainable development for the people of our region.

I wish you every success in these important deliberations.

Thank you.