Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations stand to benefit from the ASEAN Highway Network (AHN) once it is completed.
Also dubbed as “ASEAN RO-RO Initiative,” the regional project aims to form an interstate road network connecting the Southeast Asian countries with the goal of providing easy access to key markets and reducing transport cost.
No less than President Aquino emphasized in the 2013 BIMB-EAGA (Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area) that the Philippines was looking forward to the ASEAN Roll-on, Roll-off (RO-RO) initiative.
“The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)-funded feasibility study identifying the route connecting the Philippines to Indonesia represents an important milestone in the implementation of the ASEAN RO-RO Initiative,” the Chief Executive said.
Aquino further stressed that the completion of the project is “especially important in light of BIMP-EAGA’s goal to become the region’s food basket, which would involve enhancing agribusiness and the export of agricultural products.”
Dr. Enrico Basilio, chief of party of the United States Agency for International Development-Advancing Philippine Competitiveness (USAID-COMPETE) project, also reported the project’s progress at the “2nd International Conference on Agricultural and Rural Development in Southeast Asia (ARD2014) held recently in Makati City.
ARD2014 was organized by the government-hosted, Los Baños-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and co-organized by 16 international, regional, and national agencies and organizations, and academic and research institutions. It was attended by more than 400 scientists, economists, academics, government policymakers, farmer-leaders, representatives of civil society organizations, and other stakeholders from 22 countries.
SEARCA director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. said ARD2014 provided “a snapshot of the richness of discussions on inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development (ISARD) in Southeast Asia,” which is the focus of the conference and SEARCA’s Tenth Five-Year Plan (2014/2015-2018/2019).
Basilio, in his ARD2014 presentation titled “Enhancing ASEAN Connectivity: The RO-RO Initiative,” recalled that the establishment of a RO-RO project was identified as one of the strategies on maritime connectivity and included among the 15 ASEAN Flagship (Priority) projects for 2011-2015. Such connectivity was projected to benefit all the ASEAN countries through enhanced trade, investment, tourism, and development.
The Philippines and Indonesia were designated as “co-shepherds” for the implementation of the maritime and land road network project. It is in line with the 2007 ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) blueprint which calls for the ASEAN’s transformation into a single market and production base and a highly competitive region fully integrated into the global economy.
The first RO-RO route—Davao-General Santos City-Bitung (in northern Indonesia)—was envisioned to be launched late last year but it was moved to later dates because of Indonesia’s elections. A new date is being worked out for the launch.
RO-RO, as described by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), is a mode of shipping designed to carry rolling cargoes that do not require cranes for loading or off-loading (cars, buses, trucks, chassis-mounted containers) because they simply roll on and off on the RO-RO ship.
“RO-RO eliminates cargo handling labor and equipment and reduces the amount of time required to be in a port which can lead to considerable reductions in sea transport cost and improvement in service quality,” ADB stated.
RO-RO is not a new transport technology. It is widely used in Europe. There are 21 RO-RO links in East Asia (Japan, Korea, China).
“In the Philippines,” Basilio noted, “there is an extensive RO-RO network.”
Other RO-RO routes have been selected by ASEAN.
President Aquino, as quoted by Basilio, said: “Once it is implemented, ASEAN connectivity will bridge our nation to our neighbors, shorten transfer distances and open more economic opportunities for our people.”