Sunday 6 December 2015

Greater regional cooperation through improved connectivity

One of the attractions of living in Malaysia is the abundance of places to go to and its relatively close proximity to some the most exotic holiday destinations in the world.

Renowned for its warmth and friendliness, with a diversity of cultures and abundant natural resources and at different stages of economic growth, southeast Asian nations, or rather ASEAN, are at different stages of development and economic growth.

For the past couple of decades, ASEAN countries have been competing with each other and the rest of the world for the limited amount of FDI to fuel their economic development even as trade continues to grow among member nations.

This group of nations have such potential within itself to collectively become economically stronger and self-sufficient, if only they can overcome the barriers to greater cooperation which included socio-political differences and geographical barriers that have formed natural boundaries.

That was probably why the leaders of ASEAN have been working extremely hard to make the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), a single regional market for goods and services, a reality.

Collectively, AEC is itself a huge market of USD2.6 trillion with over 622 million people and the third largest economy in Asia, seventh in the world.

One of the most important aspect of building a single ASEAN economic community is probably in creating an integrated and cohesive international transportation network that allows for seamless cross border connectivity of people, goods and services while at the same time maintain a semblance of national sovereignty over their territories.

More challenging will be the effort to apply a standard set of laws and regulations across member nations, where physical mobility is the least of the problems or language and cultural differences are obviously not barriers to trade at the borders.

At the 21st ASEAN Transport Ministers' Meeting, the decision was made by member nations to adopt the Kuala Lumpur Transport Strategic Plan (KLTSP), also known as the ASEAN Strategic Transport Plan 2016 - 2025.

The KLTSP emphasises greater connectivity, efficiency, integration, safety and sustainability of ASEAN transport.

It is a 10-year master plan, outlining 30 specific goals, 78 actions and 221 milestone which sets out strategic measures for developing sustainable trans-regional transport networks, enhancing mobility and strengthening connectivity throughout ASEAN encompassing land, air and maritime routes.

Coupled with improved transport facilitation, the objective of the KLTSP is not only to benefit international trade within the region but will also enable member nations to tap new avenues for growth and deeper economic cooperation.

The liberalisation of air services, or what is more popularly known as "open skies" is another progression towards creating a single and unified aviation market in the region and eventually this progression will encompass land and maritime markets as well.

The envisioned end result is greater connectivity, efficiency, integration, safety and sustainability of transportation networks in ASEAN, to serve as one of the foundation blocks of building an ASEAN economic community that can leverage their collective strength for continued and sustainable growth.

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