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Opening of the Seventy-first Session of the Inland Transport Committee

Geneva, 24 February 2009
Opening statement by Mr. Ján Kubiš
UNECE Executive Secretary
UNECE Committee on Trade Session

Excellencies, Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to welcome you all to the 71st session of the Inland Transport Committee.

I am particularly pleased to see such a large and high level participation from ECE member Governments, as well as from international and non-governmental organizations.  That indicates to me the importance of your work – work that I hope to learn about in more depth during the coming weeks.

As you may know, I am new to the UNECE – I assumed my duties as Executive Secretary just one month ago this week.  The UNECE was not altogether unknown to me but already I have learned so much more about the concrete work that it is doing, and in studying your agenda and the background documents, I appreciate even more the scope and importance of its activities in the transport sector.  I also am informed that your work is very complex and highly specialized , and that it is a team work, in which thousands of government experts and experts from international and non-governmental organizations are actively involved.

The UNECE is mandated to facilitate economic growth and regional cooperation and, as you know better than anyone, for this to happen good transportation, at national, regional and international level, is crucial.  Indeed it is widely accepted that a well functioning transport system is essential for growth and competitiveness of economies. National economies depend on transport more than ever before, as they depend increasingly on international trade. Achieving efficient international transport is not an easy task. It requires political commitment, but also very precise technical norms and regulations that ensure a high level of efficiency, safety and environmental protection and which are harmonized from one country to another.  

In this respect, the Inland Transport Committee fulfils a real need that is not met by any other international organization. Indeed, the Committee provides the pan-European and Euro-Asian framework within which a large number of transport norms and regulations are agreed internationally with the participation of its members. Many of these norms and regulations have been developed into Agreements and Conventions that are legally binding for countries that adhere to them, thus reflecting their importance.

The Inland Transport Committee promotes the implementation of these legal instruments, as well as sub-regional and interregional cooperation of governments in the field of transport. No wonder that the ECE Governments in the framework of the reform have identified transport as top priority area.

I believe the Inland Transport Committee has every reason to be proud of its results. To name just a few, the transport infrastructure Agreements have given Europe coherent pan-European road, rail, inland water and combined transport networks, the “E” networks.  The Vienna Conventions and European Agreements supplementing them provide an international code of road traffic rules, signs and signals, which have reduced substantially the number of accidents and victims on European roads. The TIR Convention has established a  transit guarantee scheme and provides for  simplified, efficient and secure border crossing procedures. The ECE’s global work on the construction of vehicles and the transport of dangerous goods have assisted our member countries to produce safe and clean road vehicles and reduce the risk of accidents with dangerous goods and hazardous materials. And the Trans-European Motorway (TEM) and Trans-European Railway (TER) Projects and their Master Plan, as well as the Project on developing Euro-Asian transport links have assisted countries towards a coordinated development of transport infrastructure, elaboration of investment strategies, prioritization of projects and international transport facilitation.

However, in spite of the progress made, in some parts of UNECE, transport infrastructure still suffers in terms of capacity and quality from decades of neglect and under-investment. There are bottlenecks and missing links. These infrastructure problems are aggravated by the lack of sufficient funds to address them successfully.

In addition to inadequate transport infrastructure, there are non-physical obstacles too. Long delays and cumbersome procedures at borders, punitive and arbitrary transit tariffs, transport restrictions and lack of security for transport users persist in some parts of UNECE region. As a result, transport among some countries and between these countries and their international trade partners, is difficult, costly, time consuming and uncertain. This situation makes their exports uncompetitive in international markets, increases the prices of imported goods and prevents their development efforts.
Central Asian countries, being landlocked are phasing particular challenges. Lack of territorial access to the sea, remoteness and isolation from world markets creates substantial obstacles in their development efforts. Cross-border cooperation and economic integration within the region, with their neighbors and with the rest of the world seem to be one of their main challenges.

Globalization of the economies and trade is generating a continuous increase in the transport of goods between Europe and Asia. Given the continued growth of trade and resulting congestion of main ports and their hinterland routes, the development of Euro-Asian inland transport links, in addition to providing an important extension of the existing transport capacity, is of outmost importance for socio-economic development of countries spanning along these routes and for their integration into the global economy.

Moreover, the rapid growth of transport due to globalization has been a catalyst for the development of logistics and supply chains. Supply chains are becoming longer, extending the length of routes and increasing the intensity of transport operations. Efficient and well-developed supply chains and logistics are prerequisites for the competitiveness of countries and for the efficient functioning of international transport and trade.

In addition to these problems, Europe and the world are confronted with a number of other challenges.

After years of strong growth, the global economy is declining quickly. Economic activity is being buffered by an extraordinary financial shock and by high energy and other commodity prices. Many advanced economies are moving into recession, high inflation and unemployment, while growth in emerging economies is also weakening. The situation is exceptionally uncertain and subject to considerable downside risks. In order to address these challenges, governments have started to take measures to stabilize financial conditions, while nursing their economies through a period of slow activity and keeping inflation under control. These developments are obviously affecting trade and transport and will continue to do so for quite some time ahead.

Global warming and climate change is another big concern. It is almost certain that global warming is a net effect of human activities. Warming could lead to some impacts that are irreversible, depending upon the magnitude of the climate change. Among those, higher temperatures and heat waves, heavy rains and drought, stronger storms, biodiversity and sea level raise. Mitigation and adaptation measures are being considered by the international community, the implications of which are also raising serious concerns. Transport, being a significant and growing contributor to global climate change, with about 25% of the world’s total CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption, and 13% of all anthropogenic green house gas emissions, has a great responsibility. The Inland Transport Committee is addressing the matter through its subsidiary bodies, particularly the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29), with remarkable results. Nonetheless, ensuring sustainable transport development is still beyond reach.

Road safety remains an area of huge concern both globally and regionally. With 1.2 million people killed annually in road traffic crashes and up to 50 millions of people injured or disabled, of which 90% in middle-and-low income countries worldwide, road traffic accidents have become among the first public health issues globally. With the forecasted trends, suggesting dramatic deterioration of the situation in future, particularly in low-and–middle income countries where road traffic fatalities are expected to increase by almost 90% in the next ten years, the issue is of a great importance. General Assembly resolution 62/244 of 2008 on improving global road safety, while recognizing the continuing commitment to global action of the UNECE, reaffirms the importance of addressing global road safety issues and the need for further strengthening of international cooperation and knowledge sharing, taking into account the needs of developing countries. Europe’s responsibility to share its experience and expertise and provide assistance is high.  

Transport security is another area of concern. The terrorist attacks in New York City, Madrid, London and Moscow have shown the capability of a small number of individuals to kill and cause large-scale destruction. These events have also turned the world’s attention to the need to better secure transport systems, which are relatively easy targets, particular infrastructure.

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In my view, the issues to which I have referred should be in the focus of UNECE’s future work in the field of transport and I am therefore pleased to see that these issues and many more are to be discussed by the Inland Transport Committee during this 71st session and the conference that will be held this afternoon.

In closing, I would like to congratulate you for the work you are doing. I should also like to encourage you to continue and further intensify your efforts, always bearing in mind the overarching priorities confronting your Governments and people.  In this connection, the biennial session of the UN Economic Commission for Europe will be held at the end of this March. It will review the implementation of the UNECE reform and will also offer a forum on the economic situation in the ECE countries, as well as on the economics of global warming.  Given your own agenda, I expect that you will be in a position to contribute positively to the deliberations of the Commission. 

I wish you every success in your work and thank you for your attention.


© United Nations Economic Commissions for Europe – 2013