Two years after announcing plans to establish a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (CATA), delegations representing the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the European Union will gather for an eighth round of negotiations from November 20 to 22 in Salzburg, Austria, to resume talks of an open skies deal between the two blocs. If finalized, the Asean-EU CATA will significantly boost air traffic and connect a combined population of 1.1 billion.
Speaking to AIN, an official from the European Commission said that while it is difficult to predict the result of this week’s negotiations, both the EU and Asean are committed to finalizing the agreement as soon as possible. "Exchange of traffic rights is among the remaining outstanding issues," the Commission official said. “Finalization of the provision on fair competition and social issues will also be discussed."
Despite hopes of wrapping up an open skies regime by year-end, a notable sticking point is the granting of fifth freedom rights, the right for an airline to fly between two separate foreign countries provided the flight originates or terminates in the airline’s home country.
"The details in terms of fifth freedom rights are, as usual in most air rights talks, some of the most difficult points of negotiations," said Choi Shing Kwok, executive director of the Iseas Yusof Ishak Institute of Singapore. "However, because CATA is a strategic agreement from so many angles and the benefits of moving towards open skies are compelling, I believe there is [an] impetus to find a good outcome that will benefit both regions," he told AIN.
As the comprehensive agreement edges closer to reality, both sides have also agreed to revitalize negotiations on the Asean-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which came to a standstill in 2009 after the EU opted to pursue bilateral negotiations with individual member states. In late October, the EU and Singapore signed a free-trade agreement to boost economic ties amid rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he hoped the EU-Singapore FTA, which is expected come into force in 2019, will lead to an Asean-EU FTA.
Despite the vast differences in economic development between the two groups, an Asean-EU FTA could very well be hastened by mounting disturbances between the U.S. and China. Moreover, Asean has slowly but steadily moved toward a greater level of integration by forging trade pacts with regional partners.
Also, the Asean Single Aviation Market continues to progress after two agreements were inked in early November. The first agreement aims to enhance air linkage between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand with all three countries opening new destination points. Ministers also signed Protocol Four of the Asean Multilateral Agreement on the Full Liberalization of Passenger Air Services. The protocol, which deals with “co-terminal rights between points within the territory of any other Asean member state,” allows airlines to serve two or more points within other Asean countries on the same international journey.