While beneficial from an economic perspective, the manufacturing driven growth in trade between Asia and Europe has also led to the emergence of important challenges. Maritime transport is the dominant form of freight traffic favored by private sector actors. Yet, this has come with growing congestion in major ports, increased security risks along maritime corridors and the need for faster transport services dictated by increased economic competitiveness among nations. Global supply chains require fast and reliable alternatives to traditionally long and slow maritime deliveries.
At the same time, the vast distance of Euro-Asian inland routes, combined with political instability, hidden costs, a lack of security, delays at borders and other factors contributing to logistical unpredictability has discouraged the use of inland transport infrastructure.
The purpose of the Euro-Asian Transport Links (EATL) project is to offer new alternatives to the maritime transport routes that now dominate trade flows between Europe and Asia.
Project partners are aiming at creating a network of overland transport links - consisting of road, rail and inland navigation connections - intermodal nodes and supporting installations that will improve, facilitate and make faster and safer overland transport and trade between Europe and Asia in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
By connecting partner countries and linking them with both major industrial production sites in Asia and consumption centres in Europe, the project also seeks to assist these populations in their drive to become more entrenched players in global production and supply chains.
The EATL project is expected to have impact on all levels – local, national, regional and global. That is, by improving transport opportunities for local communities, enhancing opportunities for national economies, strengthening economic and social cohesion in the region and creating widespread benefits in the form of more efficient global transport and trade networks.
As a joint undertaking between the UN Economic Commission for Europe and UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, in collaboration with national governments, the project already enjoys necessary political buy-in. It is presently at the end of its second phase, following the completion of technical assessments, spatial analysis and the identification of 311 priority projects with a cost of US $215 billion. Next steps include harmonization of transport legislation, big-bang changes in border crossing facilitation, and monitoring of the implementation of investment priority projects.
The development of block trains along Euro-Asian inland transport routes could be considered for landlocked countries in Central Asia what blood is to the human body. Block trains can change landlocked countries into land-linked countries, if a neutral, stopover-free, regular rail service is established along Euro-Asian links, operating under the management of a contemporary and flexible corridor management mechanism.
While the EATL project has been primarily driven by economic and trade imperatives, the outcome of new and improved transport infrastructure and facilitation processes for the populations of the countries participating will have a positive social dimension too. Better integration into regional and global trade flows will have a flow-on effect for domestic economies, boosting employment prospects and reducing poverty.
There is potential also for increased regional cooperation in the context of transport links to pay wider dividends in the form of greater political and social cohesion, leading to enhanced security, expanded interregional labor mobility and reduced physical isolation for individuals living in under-serviced areas of landlocked countries.
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