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'Iron Silk Road' UN Treaty

UNESCAP News: 6 October 2006
Press Release No: G/43/MCT/01/2006

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.

Bangkok (United Nations Information Services) -- Asian Ministers of Transport will give reality to the dream of connecting their capital cities, ports and industrial centres by rail when they gather on 10 November in the Republic of Korea to sign the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) Network. The signing ceremony will be a highlight of UNESCAP’s Ministerial Conference on Transport scheduled for 6-11 November in Busan.

The Trans-Asian Railway Network Agreement constitutes another step towards the identification of a trans-continental, integrated, international, intermodal network to facilitate international trade and tourism. A similar agreement under UNESCAP’s auspices on the Asian Highway Network came into force in July 2005.

“Through these two Agreements, UNESCAP will usher in a new era of cooperation and partnership for regional integration,” said UNESCAP Executive Secretary Kim Hak-Su ahead of the signing.

According to UNESCAP, conditions are right for a continent-wide rail revival in Asia.

“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,” noted Mr. Kim.

Busan is a major access point in the network that starts on the Pacific seaboard of Asia and ends up on the doorstep of Europe. It comprises 81,000 km of railway lines that were selected as vital arteries by 28 countries and provide regional connectivity as well as linkages to Europe.

UNESCAP experts believe that port efficiency can be enhanced through the integration of rail and shipping to avoid port congestion. This is particularly relevant in Asia, home to 13 of the world’s top 20 container ports. It is also of crucial importance to landlocked countries whose access to world markets is heavily dependent on efficient connections to the region’s main international ports. Twelve of the world’s 30 landlocked countries are in Asia, and ten of them are members of the Trans-Asian Railway Network.

The TAR Network is expected to have a significant impact on the region. To date, much of the region’s economic development has taken place in coastal areas. As part of the development of the TAR Network, members have already begun to identify stations of international importance that will have similar functions as ports away from coastal areas, or ‘dry ports.’ The development of these stations into ‘dry ports’ could play an important role in spreading the benefits of globalization and creating employment opportunities for local populations.

“The Agreement lays a framework for coordinated development of internationally important rail routes,” said Mr. Kim. “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 for the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network will mark the achievement of a negotiation process initiated by UNESCAP in 2004. The Agreement was finalized in November 2005, and adopted by its members at the Commission’s annual legislative session held in Jakarta, Indonesia in April 2006.

The member countries of TAR Network are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Viet Nam.

More information on the International Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network is available on the UNESCAP website at:http://www.unescap.org/ttdw/index.asp and http://www.unescap.org/ttdw/MCT2006/index.asp.

More information on the Ministerial Conference on Transport is available at: http://www.mct2006.or.kr/00main/main.htm.

Headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) is the largest of the UN's five Regional Commissions, in terms of population served and area covered. The only inter-governmental forum covering the entire Asia-Pacific region, it aims to promote economic activity and social progress in the region’s developing countries.