(SINGAPORE) Resolving the Points of Agreement issue between Malaysia and Singapore could potentially change the face of railway transportation in the region.
The rapid transit system that the two countries seek to develop may help speed up the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link (SKRL), a connection that will allow trains to run all the way from here to Kunming in China.
The proposed route for the SKRL, reportedly 5,382 km long, passes through seven Asean countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, before linking up with Kunming, and is built upon the common rail connectivity between Singapore and Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur. It is a flagship project of the Asean-Mekong Basin Development Cooperation. The POA and rapid transit system will improve the links between Singapore and Malaysia and thus provide a more reliable and efficient base for the SKRL to develop.
The SKRL will connect Asean better within itself and also to China. It will help the movement of goods, services and people across the region. As manufacturers and traders switch to rail for the transport of their goods and services it will result in lower transport costs for them.
And if a common market within the region is ever to become a reality, observers say that connectivity will need to improve. Plans to create a rapid transit system from Singapore to Tanjung Puteri in Johor Baru by 2018 will certainly give this a push and ease the congestion at both checkpoints.
Asean integration can only gain from this development.
Pushpanathan Sundram, deputy secretary-general of Asean overseeing the Asean Economic Community, explains, 'This development is a plus for the Asean Economic Community. A common question for us is how do we further enhance inter-Asean trade and since Malaysia and Singapore are both significant players in inter-regional trade, the enhancement of their connectivity has a positive impact on integration in the region.'
The Asean Framework Agreement on Goods in Transit (AFAGIT), which aims to boost the transportation of goods in transit within the proposed free trade area, has been signed but is pending implementation due to some outstanding parts or protocols.
Resolving the POA issue helps Protocol 6, which looks at railway borders and interchange stations. With progress on frontier posts and a customs transit system, AFAGIT looks more likely to take off and can help manufacturers and traders within the region save valuable costs.
Further, the rapid transit system and improved connectivity with Singapore will help Malaysia promote the Iskandar region as an attractive economic zone, not least to Singapore investors and businesses.
Says Mr Pushpanathan: 'For Asean to gain from increased economic activity and investment, we need to create nodes of growth throughout the Asean Economic Community and in the wider Asian region. The rapid transit system can be a part of that process. We already have the Mekong sub-region and the East Asian sub-region areas of growth. As Singapore plays a bigger part in the Iskandar zone, it too can become another sub-region for the rest of Asean to build around.'
No wonder it's the region that is cheering the latest development, and not just Singapore and Malaysia alone.