The Agreement on International Road Transportation Facilitation, on which the SCO member states worked for eight years, has come into force. The agreement is open to any interested countries, SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov said in an interview with TASS.
Question: The Agreement on International Road Transportation Facilitation signed between the governments of the SCO member states came into force on 20 January 2017. When did you start preparing this document and how did this work proceed?
Rashid Alimov: I would like to begin by saying that the International Road Transportation Facilitation Agreement, which was signed in Dushanbe on 12 September 2014, is a breakthrough international document in the sphere of the economy and transport.
The idea of creating multilateral SCO transport agreements was raised at the first meeting of the SCO member states' transport ministers held in Bishkek on 20 November 2002. The ministers decided to create a permanent working group that would conduct a thorough analysis of cooperation in transportation and communication to pinpoint the factors that hinder this cooperation and submit its proposals on measures to create a favourable transportation environment to the next meeting of the transport ministers.
At their second meeting in St Petersburg on 10 September 2003, the SCO transport ministers instructed their countries' experts to analyse the possibility of drafting multilateral agreements on road transportation.
An expert working group was created in Urumqi, China, in June 2004 with active assistance from the Chinese Government, the SCO Secretariat and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). Work on the agreement started immediately.
For the next few years, the SCO experts on transport, foreign economic operation, customs regulation, law, international relations and road construction met annually at the SCO headquarters or in a member state to thoroughly discuss every article and clause of the future agreement. Despite differences and other hitches, the experts plodded along. Ultimately, the agreement was coordinated following lengthy talks and careful examination and signed at a meeting of the SCO Heads of State Council in Dushanbe on 12 September 2014.
Question: What international agencies helped draft the SCO's Agreement on International Road Transportation Facilitation?
Rashid Alimov: In drafting the agreement, the SCO member states received substantial assistance from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).
The Memorandum of Mutual Understanding between the SCO Secretariat and the UNESCAP Secretariat, which was first signed on 21 January 2008 and subsequently updated in 2012 and 2015, has played a significant positive role. The memorandum envisions cooperation between the two bodies in a number of areas, including transport.
Based on the memorandum, UNESCAP provided substantive and technical assistance in holding meetings of the expert working group on drafting the Agreement on International Road Transport Facilitation.
In addition, UNESCAP specialists who have extensive experience in planning and implementing transport connectivity policy in Asia-Pacific participated in SCO expert meetings, actively sharing their practical experience, information and publications on international transport law and the specifics of transport development in the region.
All of this — international experience and regional specifics — was duly reflected in the final text of the document, which can be regarded as one of the best examples of international transport agreements.
Question: What are the goals of the agreement and what are its core provisions?
Rashid Alimov: In accordance with Article 1 of the agreement, the main purpose is to create favourable conditions for international road transport between SCO member states through the simplification and harmonisation of documentation, procedures and requirements concerning international road transportation.
Briefly, the most important, core provisions of the agreement are as follows.
Under the agreement, the parties provide carriers with the right to make international road deliveries on the territory of their states in vehicles registered by a state of one of the parties.
The carrier's right to carry out international road transport operations is confirmed by a single standard permit issued by the competent authority of a state party to the agreement and valid on the territories of all parties to the agreement. Carriers are exempt from the payment of fees and charges related to the possession or use of vehicles, as well as to the use or maintenance of roads of another state party to the agreement.
International road transport operations will be carried out along several routes across the territory of all SCO member countries listed in an appendix to the agreement.
Question: Is there a mechanism to coordinate actions of SCO member states in implementing the agreement?
Rashid Alimov: To ensure the effective, coordinated and consistent application of the provisions of the agreement, the transport ministries and agencies of SCO member states will establish, within six months of the agreement coming into force, a Joint Commission on international road transport facilitation.
Within the framework of this mechanism, the parties coordinate measures to improve conditions for international road transport facilitation by harmonising and simplifying documentation and procedures and requirements pertaining to international road transport operations.
The Joint Commission's functions include the following:
— monitoring and coordinating the implementation of the agreement;
— considering changes in routes provided for in the agreement;
— coordinating quotas for international road transportation permits;
— analysing the practice of using permits;
— considering proposals on joint investment projects to develop road transport corridors in the region;
— addressing other matters related to the agreement.
Question: What should the SCO member states expect from the agreement?
Rashid Alimov: As you know, sustained socioeconomic development, better living standards, employment and many other things depend on the effective operation of every country's transport system and its interconnection with neighbouring countries.
In this regard, the signing of the present agreement in 2014 is a major step forward in enhancing the transport capacity of the SCO member states.
This document has laid a legal framework for parity conditions for carriers and established a unified foundation for international road transport operations along routes from Eastern Europe to the eastern coast of China.
It should also be added that the agreement has opened new prospects for the construction and modernisation of international motorways, facilitating the expansion of the whole range of trade and economic ties, increasing trade, attracting investment and putting in place a modern and diversified system of transport routes in the SCO space.
The agreement will help further simplify the formalities and procedures related to visas, borders, customs, transport, and veterinary and plant disease oversight in international road transport operations.
Taking these opportunities into account, several European and Asian countries, including ASEAN member states, have shown practical interest in the agreement so far.
Question: Does this mean non-SCO member countries could join the agreement?
Rashid Alimov: It does. In keeping with Article 23 of the agreement, after it comes into force, it will be open for accession to any state wishing to join it by submitting an accession document to the depositary (the SCO Secretariat).
With regard to an acceding state that is not a SCO member, the agreement comes into force 30 after the depositary receives the last written notice from SCO member countries stating their approval of that accession.
The main requirement for the agreement's entry into force with regard to a non-SCO member state (SCO observer state or dialogue partner or a state with no status in the organisation) is the consent of all SCO member states.
The openness of participation in the agreement creates huge opportunities both for the SCO family members and for states that have no status with the organisation to use all advantages inherent in it. Such benefits and advantages are related primarily to the establishment of stable transport communication links and the expansion of trade and economic ties with all SCO countries that have substantial natural and human resources, as well as vast transit potential.
In addition, a country planning to join the agreement has an opportunity to become involved in the wide-ranging process of creating a modern and diversified system of transport links in the Eurasian region.
Question: What other documents within the framework of the SCO are aimed at developing international road transport links in the region?
Rashid Alimov: To facilitate the development of the network of motorways in the SCO area, on 3 November 2016, in Bishkek, the SCO Heads of Government Council (prime ministers) took the decision to draft a SCO Road Development Programme.
This programme should become a logical continuation of the Agreement on International Road Transport Facilitation and serve as an effective tool to enhance the competitiveness of SCO member states on the transport services market and the subsequent development of trade and economic ties between countries in the region, as well as with countries of Eastern Europe, South Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. India's and Pakistan's accession to the SCO and the consolidation of practical cooperation with ASEAN will significantly expand these opportunities.
Interviewed by Andrei Kirillov
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