6 November 2006, UN News Center - A railway version of the famed Silk Road is set to move a step closer to reality at a regional United Nations transport conference that opened in the Republic of Korea (ROK) today, with an agreement for a trans-continental network linking national systems from Armenia to Viet Nam.
"We are here because we dare to dream - of revitalizing the spirit of enterprise that symbolizes the ancient Silk Road," UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Executive Secretary Kim Hak-Su told the meeting in ROK's southern port city of Busan. "Our work this week will constitute policy decisions for building interlinked highways and railways for 21st century Asia."
He noted that decisions made during the Conference could transform remote parts of the region into interconnected hubs of economic vitality and social progress. "We need to deal with a range of infrastructure and institutional barriers that blunt the competitive edge of exports and increase the costs of imports," he said. "Much work lies ahead of us, to develop efficient and truly cost-effective transport linkages."
Some 300 high-ranking officials are meeting from 6-8 November ahead of the ministerial meeting scheduled for 10-11 November. More than 50 ministerial-level representatives from 43 of UNESCAP's 61 members are expected to attend.
One of the highlights of the conference is the signing of the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network (TAR) on 10 November. Once signed, the treaty will be deposited with Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York.
The TAR accord comes on the heels of the Asian Highway Network that came into force last year, also under UNESCAP auspices. 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.
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.
A Ministerial Declaration on Transport will include a framework for the efficient and effective implementation of a regional action programme. It is designed to set the direction of transport development in the UNESCAP region over the next five years.
A second Ministerial Declaration will focus on improving road safety. UNESCAP estimates that by 2020 approximately 610,000 road deaths, representing two-thirds of the world's total, will be in the UNESCAP region.
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