(STAR) By Paolo Romero - The 10 member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed yesterday three agreements that would pave the way for an open sky policy as well as greater economic integration.

President Arroyo witnessed the signing in Malacañang of the Multilateral Agreement on Full Liberalization of Air Freight Services, Multilateral Agreement on Air Services, and the Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Interstate Transport.

The signing coincided with the start of the two-day 14th ASEAN Transport Ministers Meeting (ATM).

The ATM “aims to discuss various transport cooperation initiatives for implementation to deepen and broaden ASEAN’s internal economic integration and linkages with the world economy to realize an ASEAN Economic Community,” a Palace statement said.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza signed the three agreements for the Philippines.

Signing for their respective countries are Brunei Darussalam Minister of Communications Pehin Datu Abu Bakar Apong; Cambodia Secretary of State Vice Minister Tauch Chankosal; Indonesia Minister for Transportation Jusman Syafii Djamal; Lao People’s Democratic Republic Minister of Public Works and Transport Sommad Pholsena; Malaysia Minister of Transport Dato’ Sri Ong Tee Keat; Myanmar Minister for Transport Major General Thein Swe; Singapore Minister for Transport Raymond Lim; Thailand Deputy Minister of Transport Varawut Silpa-Archa; and Vietnam Minister of Transport Ho Nghia Dung.

Mendoza said the agreements were “significant because of the benefits these will give Filipinos in terms of cheaper costs of airlines, not only in terms of passengers but also cargo.”

The ASEAN Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Inter-state Transport grants each member the right to inter-state transport by allowing transport operators duly established in one ASEAN member state to transport goods into and/or from territories of other ASEAN countries and to load and discharge goods destined for or coming from other ASEAN countries.

ASEAN also agreed to provide and enhance facilities for inter-state transport as well as ensure that such services are not subjected to unnecessary delays and restrictions.

The agreement is set for implementation next year. The ASEAN Multilateral Agreement on the Full Liberalization of Air Freight Services and the Multilateral Agreement on Air Services, on the other hand, grant among others designated airlines the right to fly across ASEAN member-state’s territory without landing or make stops for non-traffic purposes.

The Multilateral Agreements on Full Liberalization of Air Freight Services and Air Services “aim to liberalize passenger and cargo services in the region on the desire of ASEAN to remove restrictions, on a gradual basis so as to achieve flexibility and capacity in the operation of air freight services and air services in ASEAN with a view to build a single unified aviation market by 2015,” the Palace statement said.

“They (agreements) will also facilitate and enhance air freight and air service and their related activities, to complement other transport facilitation and liberalization efforts and to ensure the highest degree of safety and security in international air transport,” the statement added.

The agreement also grants unlimited third, fourth and fifth freedom traffic rights within and between ASEAN sub-regions, and unlimited third and fourth freedoms traffic rights between ASEAN capitals before the end of the year.

An unlimited fifth freedom traffic rights between ASEAN capital cities will take effect by 2010.

The third freedom is the right to carry passengers or cargo from one’s own country to another while the fourth freedom is the right to carry passengers or cargo from another country to one’s own. The fifth freedom is the right to carry passengers from one’s own country to a second country, and to a third country.

Mendoza said the country was honored to host the ATM, citing the region’s being “bound by common interests, commitment, and goals in the pursuit of opportunities for further cooperative work in the transport sector to deepen and enhance ASEAN integration and foster the region’s sustainable development, stability, security and prosperity.” – With Rainier Allan Ronda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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