Harnessing new technologies for strengthening transport connectivity for sustainable development

2 August 2018

International road transport requires agreements among countries on traffic rights to enable movement of vehicles of one country into another. The signing of a transport agreement that allows movement of foreign vehicles indicates significant steps forward to reduce cross-border and transit transport costs.

However, while signing is a first step, real benefits materialize on implementation of the agreement. Implementation is normally fraught with numerous challenges as it involves unlearning the old ways of facilitating and instituting control measures and learning the new ways.

Experience in the Asia-Pacific region indicates that some transport agreements signed many years ago have still not been fully implemented. One of the major reasons for less than full implementation of these agreements has been the lack of appropriate operational tools with border agencies to implement the provisions of the agreements confidently.

Fortunately, new technologies provide the possibility to develop tools that could help border agencies manage increasing traffic while ensuring compliance with regulations.

In 2012, ESCAP Member States adopted a Regional Strategic Framework for Facilitation of International Road Transport that identifies six fundamental issues and seven modalities to support international road transport and possible solutions to address them.

As a part of the Framework, ESCAP developed Transport Facilitation Models to support countries to implement transport facilitation agreements. One of the models that demonstrates use of new technologies in transport and transit facilitation is the Secure Cross-Border Transport Model.

The model provides a conceptualization of an intelligent transport system involving the design of a cross-border vehicle and cargo monitoring system using new technologies, including ICT, satellite positioning and electronic seals.

Ever since ESCAP developed the model, many countries expressed interest in its implementation. The Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal Motor Vehicle Agreement that was signed in June 2015 contains provision for the electronic tracking of vehicles.

Pending enactment of the above agreement, ESCAP, jointly with the Asian Development Bank has been providing technical assistance for pilot implementation of the Model on selected corridors in the countries and established techno-economic feasibility of such technologies for cross- border and transit transport facilitation.

Apart from South Asia, many countries in Southeast Asia have also evinced interest in applying the model along the specified corridors. ESCAP will soon undertake trial runs along the transport corridor among these countries.

Secure Cross Border Transport Model

In addition, an Intergovernmental Agreement on International Road Transport among China, Mongolia and Russian Federation was signed in December 2016. To implement the agreement, Mongolia has sought technical assistance from ESCAP for a pilot application of a secure cross-border transport model on the transit traffic passing through Mongolia.

Electronic tracking technologies have been emerging rapidly on the back of developments in ICT. Used effectively, they have potential to reduce transit costs by obviating the needs for guarantees due to reduced risk perception by customs, as these technologies make real time enforcement of violations by transiting vehicles possible.

The availability of diverse solutions for the tracking of vehicles, however, could complicate cross-border electronic tracking due to lack of interoperability among the software/electronic seals. Therefore, it might be appropriate to define and explicate minimum requirements for the key components of cross-border electronic tracking systems to ensure maximum facilitation.

ESCAP has developed guidelines on automated customs transit transport systems that combines electronic tracking of vehicles with customs transit systems. Based on the exchange of electronic messages among stakeholders, the system is fully electronic and its implementation could reduce transit transport costs, particularly for landlocked developing countries in line with the Vienna Programme of Action.

Under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, international road transport, in particular, is being scrutinized closely due to renewed calls for shifting to more sustainable modes of transport, such as railways.

However, given the comparative advantages of international road transport, road transport currently plays and will continue to play a vital role in overall transportation systems.

Moving forward, there is an urgent need to make international road transport more efficient by further reducing the non-physical barriers and integrating with other transport modes for providing sustainable transport solutions. Innovative technologies could provide a way in this direction.