HANOI, Vietnam (MindaNews/30 October) — Southeast Asia has adopted a master plan that would further link up key growth areas such as expansion of the Philippines’Roll on/Roll off (Ro-Ro) system into the East ASEAN Growth Area (EAGA) and pave the way for the region’s full development as a major market and production base in the next decade.
The heads of states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, formally adopted at the ongoing 17th regional summit here the 91-page Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, which includes a proposal for the development of a regional nautical highway that would essentially expand the Philippines Roll on/Roll off (Ro-Ro) system.
The plan, which will serve the main vehicle of the 10-nation bloc’s planned economic integration by 2015, intends to enhance the physical, institutional, and people-to-people interconnectivity across Southeast Asia.
Pushpanathan Sundram, ASEAN deputy secretary general for the ASEAN Economic Community, said the master plan essentially puts into action the ongoing regional integration process through the implementation at least 15 identified priority projects within the region.
These include six major physical infrastructure, five institutional and four people-to-people, including tourism, connectivity initiatives, he said.
“These are priority projects that would be implemented as soon as possible so we can see some early and quick wins,” he said in a press briefing at the National Convention Center here.
To improve physical connectivity, the plan cited the need to address the lingering problem on poor quality of roads, incomplete road networks, missing railway links, inadequate maritime and port infrastructure, inland waterways and aviation facilities, widening of digital divide, and growing demand for power in the region.
Among the identified strategies is the establishment of a regional RoRo network that will connect the region’s archipelagic areas and open up efficient and reliable shipping routes.
The opening of Philippines Nautical Highway or Ro-Ro system has provided an alternative and cheaper mode of domestic travel and drastically cut down the shipping costs of products coming from various production bases in the country.
Citing an impact assessment conducted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on the country’s Ro-Ro system, the plan cited that “the system demonstrate significant benefits in terms of reduction in transport costs, the creation of new regional links and expansion of regional markets, more efficient shipment of goods and people that have particularly benefited the poorer provinces in the maritime routes, acceleration of local area development, realignment of logistical practices with more frequent deliveries and greater competitive pressure on the domestic shipping industry.”
Pushpanathan said the proposed regional Ro-Ro network will take off with the expansion of the Philippines’ Ro-Ro system in areas under the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).
He recalled that during the 6th BIMP-EAGA Summit in Hua Hin, Thailand last year, the heads of states of the four sub-regional grouping initially agreed to expand the Ro-Ro routes within the region.
“We’re taking leverage on these projects that are being done as part of the overall regional connectivity,” Pushpanathan said. To complement the establishment of the regional Ro-Ro network, he said they initially identified at least 47 ports within the region to undergo immediate improvements and expansions to specifically accommodate Ro-Ro ships or vessels.
In terms of road networks, Pushpanathan said the master plan has set the expansion of the “Trans-Asian Highway” to pave the way for the establishment of the ASEAN highway network.
The project includes the improvement of at least 3,073 kilometers of the designated transit transport routes from Luzon to Mindanao and the upgrading of some 211.5 kilometers of roads that are classified as below Class III standards, he said.
Under the institutional connectivity component, Pushpanathan said the identified initiatives will be more focused on s trade and transport facilitation, mutual recognition and investment facilitation.
He said the people-to-people connectivity aspect dwells on the implementation of strategies that will ensure the seamless flow of goods and services as well as facilitate tourism-related investments and activities within the region.
Pushpanathan said ASEAN leaders have agreed to establish a special body that will handle the implementation of the master plan and help come up with the projects’ financing requirements.
“We still have to determine the exact funding needed for these projects through feasibility studies. For the financing part, we’re looking at our existing cooperation with our dialogue and development partners and the setting up of an infrastructure fund that will be made of contributions from the member-states,” he said.
According to a 2009 ADB and Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) paper, Southeast Asia needs to spend around US$290 billion on specific regional infrastructure projects in transport and energy that are currently in the pipeline.
In another working paper, ADBI said that ASEAN countries will require infrastructure investments amounting to US$596 billion during 2006-2015, with an average investment of US$60 billion per year (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)