Eighteen members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, as part of a series of technical agreements, agreed in Osaka late last week to lower trade
barriers and increase competition in the transport industry.
That's the theory, anyway. The Action Program created by APEC's Transportation Working Group includes a host of principles and initiatives, but most are still pretty theoretical.Among the more concrete steps outlined include creating a group to study regional air safety, exploring ways to reduce urban traffic congestion, promoting timely regional investment in infrastructure, reviewing and harmonizing regulations, and working to conform to internationally accepted standards.
APEC has a group to explore transport privatization chaired by Indonesia and is forming a small group chaired by Singapore to look "on a consensus basis" into more competitive regional air service.
The United States and Singapore have strongly pushed for open-skies policies in the aviation industry, but Japan, whose carriers are among the highest-cost operators in the industry, has strongly resisted such an approach.
U.S. Transport Secretary Federico Pena underscored the linkages between transport and regional trade in a statement to the Asia-Pacific group.
"Transportation is the lifeline for all economic activity in the region," he said. "It is vital in distributing goods throughout the region, fueling (economic) growth and (moving) people."
Of $1.2 trillion in planned infrastructure spending between now and 2005, an estimated $530 billion will be on transportation projects, the U.S. Transportation Department said.
Mr. Pena's APEC trip is part of an eight-nation Asian trip that includes
Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macao and the Philippines.
During the trip, he signed air agreements with Hong Kong and Macao and held talks with Indonesia and Vietnam. He'll also sign another air agreement with the Philippines this week.
As part of a now-familiar pattern with U.S. Cabinet members traveling abroad, he also attended signings of a number of U.S. business deals.
These include a joint venture with an Indonesian company to make air navigation equipment and sales of railway design and airport management contracts with Malaysia, as well as harbor dredging equipment in Vietnam.