ARTICLE OF THE ISSUE
ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE SEA
The international conference of Ministers of Transport of Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) held in the Avaza national tourist zone on the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea on August 15–16 became an important practical step in implementing the transport diplomacy of Turkmenistan until 2025 that was adopted at the beginning of this year. Looking ahead, it should be noted that the launch of a pilot project of the Global Transit Document was the most important outcome of this forum which was organized by the government of Turkmenistan under the auspices of the UN. This project is expected to significantly speed up and automate international cargo transportation using the latest digital technologies. But more on that will follow below.
The forum was held in a hybrid format and attended by 164 delegates from 36 countries and 29 international organizations. Most of the participants attended the conference in person and only 48 people participated online. The forum brought together the high-profile participants from different regions of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America as well as reputable international organizations. The great significance of this meeting is also evidenced by the fact that the plenary sessions were broadcast live on the UN web channel with simultaneous translation into Russian, English, French and Spanish.
The conference discussed issues relating to cooperation in air, road, rail and sea transport, attracting investments in the industry infrastructure, introducing innovations, environmental protection and transport safety. As was noted at the forum, more than 30 landlocked developing countries accounting for 533 million people experience common problems due to their geographical location that affects their economic interaction with the rest of the world. They require reliable transport infrastructure and efficient transit mechanisms to participate in global trade.
In his video message to the forum participants, President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedov noted that “the future belongs to the combined transport system with access to the largest international and regional sea, river, road, rail and air hubs, their optimal combination and use of the advantages of each of them.”
Stressing that Turkmenistan does not intend to reduce the dynamics of participation in the global transport dialogue, Serdar Berdimuhamedov confirmed the determination to expand and saturate it with new specific projects and plans. In this regard, the head of state presented important initiatives. One of them relates to establishing a special working group at the UN that will purposefully protect the interests of LLDCs in the transport sector and conduct systematic work with relevant UN structures. The second initiative concerns the preparation of a draft resolution of the UN General Assembly titled “On enhancing the role of landlocked developing countries in the development and strengthening of global transport cooperation.”
UN Secretary-General Ant'onio Guterres sent a message to the conference participants calling for joining the efforts to promote sustainable transport. The UN Secretary General cited inadequate infrastructure, a large number of border crossings and complex administrative transit and border procedures as the main obstacles to improving transport connectivity in landlocked countries. Additional challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic included delays in transportation, high transportation costs and disruptions in supply chains. At the same time, Guterres noted that developing countries that do not have access to the sea can count on the UN support.
Speaking at the conference, Director General of the Agency for Transport and Communications under the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan Mammetkhan Chakiev said that Turkmenistan systematically increases its contribution to the development of international transport corridors. For example, the country supports the use of international transport and transit corridors between Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Europe (Lapis Lazuli), the route China – Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan – Azerbaijan – Georgia – Turkey – Europe, railways Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan – Iran and others.
Increasing its contribution to the development of these corridors, Turkmenistan modernizes and expands its infrastructure, builds new railways and roads, autobahns, bridges and upgrades the technical base of the transport complex. Turkmenistan also expands the network of international airports. They are airports in the capital of the country, as well as in the cities of Turkmenbashi, Dashoguz, Mary, Turkmenabad and Kerki. This year, construction of the seventh international airport began in the village of Jebel in Balkan province. It will be equipped with ground support facilities for receiving all types of aircraft and contribute to the improvement of air transport infrastructure and cargo warehouses.
As Mammetkhan Chakiev noted, the international sea port in the city of Turkmenbashi with the capacity of handling more than 27 million tons of cargo per year is growing into a powerful logistics center at the junction of Asia and Europe. In addition to purchasing ships abroad, Turkmenistan began to build them on its own territory.
On the sidelines of the forum, Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov discussed with the UAE Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Suheil Al-Mazrui the possibility of opening transport and logistics routes and establishing cooperation between the port of Turkmenbashi and the ports of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as integration of the Turkmen port in the global seaport system.
On the eve of the conference, the heads of transport departments of a number of countries discussed opportunities for developing regional projects with Turkmenistan. These issues were discussed at bilateral talks between Director General of the Agency for Transport and Communications under the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan Mammetkhan Chakiev and Minister of Energy and Infrastructure of the UAE Suheil Al-Mazrui; Minister of Transport of Uzbekistan Ilhom Makhkamov; Minister of Transport of Tajikistan Azim Ibrokhim; and Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development of Iran Shahriar Afandizade.
The sides discussed prospects for implementing regional projects in various geographical areas, including those involving Afghanistan, and more fully utilizing the capacities of the port of Turkmenbashi in the Caspian Sea. The issues relating to simplification of transport and transit procedures, elimination of administrative barriers in the transportation of goods, unification and harmonization of tariffs and duties to facilitate and speed up border operations were also discussed.
Chairman of “Turkmensvyaz” agency Khadzhimurat Khudaikuliyev spoke at the forum about the importance that Turkmenistan attaches to the issue of digitalization of the transport industry. According to him, taking into account global trends, the Customs Code of Turkmenistan has been upgraded, which should make it possible to simplify customs procedures through digitalization.
The forum also provided a platform for bilateral and multilateral talks. Over 30 bilateral meetings were held on the sidelines of the conference, including 23 with the participation of the Turkmen side. A number of documents were signed with the view of strengthening the legal framework for cooperation, including the Memorandum of Understanding of the second meeting of the Coordinating Council on establishment of an international transport corridor (Ashgabat Agreement); the Agreement between the governments of Turkmenistan and Moldova on international road traffic; the Memorandum of Understanding between the Agency for Transport and Communications under the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan and the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation; the Memorandum of Understanding between “Turkmendenizder'ya'yollary (Turkmen Sea and River Routes) agency and the Maritime Transport Agency of Georgia.
Foreign participants visited the international airport and the international sea port in the city of Turkmenbashi where specialized exhibitions were held. A thematic multimedia exhibition was organized at the Avaza Congress Center.
The conference venue was also used to hold the first meeting of transport ministers in a promising and potentially popular format of multilateral cooperation such as “Central Asia – the Middle East - Africa”.
During the forum, Turkmenistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan also signed the final additional protocol to the Agreement on the establishment of an international transport and transit corridor (Ashgabat Agreement) at the second meeting of the Coordinating Council of the countries participating in this agreement which was held in Avaza. The signing of this protocol comes 11 years after the signing of the Agreement between the governments of Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Later on, Kazakhstan, Qatar and India joined the agreement, and the accession of Pakistan is currently under consideration.
A ceremony of launching the pilot project of the Global Transit Document on August 17 was the most important outcome of the conference. It is a universal digital solution in developing multimodal transportation as a result of interaction between the Intergovernmental Commission of the International Transport Corridor Europe – Caucasus – Asia (TRACECA), the International Center for Transport Diplomacy, the CIS Intergovernmental Council of Road Builders, the world’s largest developers of IT technologies, as well as countries that have shown interest in piloting an electronic transit document.
The introduction of the digital platform of the global transit network based on the latest technologies using the Global Transit Document will make it possible to scale up the customs guarantee and insurance regime, ensure tracking of goods and vehicles along the entire route from the starting point to the destination.
According to experts, the implementation of the Global Transit Document will lead to improved conditions for multimodal transportation, international trade and business and will also contribute to creating a wide range of socio-economic and commercial benefits for all stakeholders, including the growth of tax revenues to national budgets.
The main outcomes of the conference were reflected in the final statement that emphasizes the relevance of strengthening transport connectivity for the sustainable recovery of landlocked countries after the COVID-19 pandemic and stresses the important role of transit traffic in connecting to international and regional markets.
According to the final statement, the conference calls on the world community to support the work on enhancing regional cooperation and coordination in the field of transport development to create an efficient transport system, which is a prerequisite for dynamic and sustainable economic growth and social development in landlocked countries.
As UN Resident Coordinator in Turkmenistan Dmitry Shlapachenko emphasized, the forum in Avaza is viewed as an integral part of preparations for the third international conference on landlocked countries, which is scheduled for 2024.
Speaking at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry on the results of the ministerial conference, Russian Ambassador to Turkmenistan Alexander Blokhin noted that the transport forum raised the standards of cooperation. The diplomat also stressed the relevance of proposals put forward by President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedov in his video message to the forum participants.
As the conference participants noted, constructive proposals, promising ideas and recommendations made at the forum will lay the foundation for further joint work in the field of sustainable transport and joining efforts to develop reliable interregional transport infrastructure.