From Armenia to Viet Nam, an ‘iron’ version of the famed Silk Road will move a step closer to reality next month when Asian transport ministers sign an agreement under United Nations auspices for a trans-continental rail network to link their capital cities, ports and industrial centres, and facilitate international trade and tourism.
The Trans-Asian Railway Network (TAR) Agreement, to be signed at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Ministerial Conference on Transport from 6-11 November in Busan, Republic of Korea, comes on the heels of the Asian Highway Network that came into force last year, also under UNESCAP auspices.
“Through these two Agreements, UNESCAP will usher in a new era of cooperation and partnership for regional integration,” Commission Executive Secretary Kim Hak-Su said in a statement today on the 28-nation network, a modern version of the ancient Silk Road caravans that for centuries carried commerce all the way from China to Europe.
“With 60 per cent of the world’s population generating 26 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, Asia’s demand for efficient transport is greater than at any time in its history,” he added.
UNESCAP experts believe that port efficiency can be enhanced through the integration of rail and shipping to avoid port congestion, a key factor in Asia, which is home to 13 of the world’s top 20 container ports.
TAR is also crucial for landlocked countries whose access to world markets is heavily dependent on efficient links to the region’s main international ports. Twelve of the world’s 30 landlocked countries are in Asia, and 10 are TAR members.
“The Agreement lays a framework for coordinated development of internationally important rail routes,” Mr. Kim said. “A working group proposed under the Agreement will be a forum for transport policy makers and railway managers to define a common vision, adopt joint programmes of action and, most importantly, identify investment requirements and sources.”
The signing ceremony will mark the achievement of a negotiation process initiated by UNESCAP in 2004. The Agreement was finalized last November and adopted by its members at the Commission’s annual legislative session in Jakarta, Indonesia in April.
TAR members are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Viet Nam.