Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Asean-China Ro-Ro project faces delay amid Manila-Beijing territorial row

The rift involving the Philippines and China over territories on the West Philippine Sea may stall plans for a roll-on roll-off (Ro-Ro) shipping project aimed at connecting Asean to the mainland.

In an interview, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) vice chairman Donald G. Dee said China earlier agreed to launch a Ro-Ro project that will connect Batangas port in the Philippines to the Chinese city of Shenzhen and to the port city of Da Nang in Vietnam, from where people and goods could be transported by land to neighboring Laos and Thailand.

However, the ongoing territorial row between Manila and Beijing may delay the implementation of the Batangas-Shenzhen-Da Nang Ro-Ro network, Dee said.

The Philippines had elevated to the United Nations (UN) its dispute with China over a number of isles and rocks—said to have huge gas deposits—lying on the West Philippine Sea, while Vietnam is also laying claim to several territories.

While the Ro-Ro project has hit a snag, a similar initiative down south is moving forward, Dee said.

He said the private Super Shuttle Ro-Ro vessel connecting Davao and Bitung in the Indonesian province of North Sulawesi made its maiden voyage last month, while an official launch to be graced by top Philippine officials is scheduled by midyear.

The route between General Santos City and North Sulawesi is expected to be served by Ro-Ro before this year ends, Dee said. Ro-Ro routes connecting Palawan and Zamboanga with Brunei and Malaysia are also being eyed.

He said the Philippine, Indonesian and Malaysian governments as well as the Asean Business Advisory Council (ABAC) have been pushing for the immediate rollout of these Ro-Ro projects to enhance trade.

A study conducted by the Research Education and Institutional Development (REID) Foundation Inc showed that a “thriving trade” between Mindanao and North Sulawesi would “significantly benefit” from the Davao-Bitung Ro-Ro project, as transport costs would be up to 10 percent cheaper than shipping commercial goods through wooden vessels. Transportation time would also be slashed from 2-3 days to 36 hours.

The public-private Export Development Council (EDC) last month said Trade Secretary Gregory L. Domingo already endorsed the Davao-General Santos-Bitung Ro-Ro project to President Benigno Aquino III.

“The initiative is part of the master plan on Asean connectivity which is spearheaded by the governments of the Philippines and Indonesia. The master plan contains the Philippine plan to establish an Asean roll-on/roll-off shipping network as one of the key strategies to enhance physical connectivity in the region,” the council said.

“This maritime connectivity will serve as a bridge between Mindanao and North Sulawesi for economic development of these two regions. It will also promote trade, tourism and investments between the Philippines and Indonesia. Most importantly, it will forge a deeper relationship between the two countries and contribute to the economic integration of Asean,” the council added.-Interaksyon

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