The Intergovernmental Agreement on the United Nations-backed 140,000-kilometre Asian Highway Network linking the vast region from St. Petersburg to Singapore and Seoul to Istanbul comes into force on Monday, facilitating trade and tourism and opening up landlocked countries.
"The Agreement marks a major milestone in regional cooperation," the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Kim Hak-Su, said. But he also outlined the challenges ahead.
"Sixteen per cent of the roads are below the minimum standards and an estimated $18 billion is needed to upgrade and improve the Highway," he noted. ESCAP is working with the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, the Islamic Development Bank and other partners to help countries identify sources for investment.
The Agreement is the first treaty developed by ESCAP and deposited with the UN Secretary-General. It sets technical standards for road and route signage and includes mechanisms for amendments or additional routes. ESCAP has been negotiating routes and road specifications for the Asian Highway Network since 1992.
Twenty-seven out of the 32 participating member States have signed the Agreement. When finished, the Highway will ease border crossing for people, vehicles and goods and give the much-needed benefits to landlocked countries.