The Singapore government on Friday said that the finalisation of an air transport and travel deal between the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) is “a historic achievement”.

The ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement “is the first such region-to-region agreement”, dpa news agency quoted Singapore’s Transport Minister S. Iswaran as saying.

Singspore led the talks on behalf of ASEAN.

In a joint statement, the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta and the European Commission, the EU’s quasi-executive branch, described the deal as the “the world’s first bloc-to-bloc air transport agreement”.

The deal, branded “pace-setting” and a reflection of “the latest policy thinking”. was wrapped two days ago during a meeting of transport ministers, according to Friday’s ASEAN-EU statement.

The Singapore Transport Ministry said the agreement gives airlines “greater opportunities to operate passenger and cargo services between and beyond both regions,” with up to 14 weekly passenger services allowed and “any number of cargo services”.

Iswaran said the deal was “a statement of commitment by ASEAN and EU member states to work together to tide over the current Covid-19 crisis, reconnect, and resume cross-border travel”.

Most of the 10 ASEAN member-states have kept their borders largely shut since March last year, with exceptions made for returning citizens and foreigners with residency or work permits.

Inbound travel for tourism and events such as conferences accounts for around 5-10 per cent of gross domestic product in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

ASEAN and the commission said the deal “will help rebuild air connectivity between ASEAN and Europe which has been decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

–IANS

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