From Poland to Baku, why not via Ukraine?
Existing and emerging new transport connections between the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea will shape a new diverse connectivity architecture, with opportunities for all the countries along the routes. The GUAM Transport Corridor should become an integral part of this new architecture. That is the common goal of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, founding members of the regional organisation GUAM.
GUAM Transport Corridor, which is one of the flagship initiatives of the organisation, should contribute to improved connections between the four mentioned countries and Poland, hence the EU. It is a developing transport corridor that should reap the benefits of an already existing network of railway, road and short maritime connections and relevant infrastructure. It could potentially be one of the routes along of the Middle Corridor, and at the same time, an extension of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway link.
This is in short how Altai Evendiev, GUAM Secretary General, describes the vision behind the transport corridor. “GUAM Transport Corridor as an idea appeared in early 2000 as a collective response of the newly independent states after the breakup of the USSR. In 2013, a comprehensive concept of the GUAM Transport Corridor was approved and adopted by the ministers of transport of the GUAM member states.
At the RailFreight Summit in Poznan, Evendiev will speak in length about the potential of the new corridor in the region and ongoing activities, but he already answered some questions from RailFreight.com.
Why is GUAM Transport Corridor important for Poland, a country on the prosperous Baltic Sea and with already promising transit connections? Poland is seeking diversification of its transport and transit routes, explains Evendiev. “It wants to ensure access to new markets both for national produce, as well as for transit goods on both West-East, as well as North-South routes.”
“Poland is actively expanding and promoting its export potential and looking for access to new emerging markets in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea region, as well as to the countries of Persian Gulf and beyond.”
Eastern Partnership Programme
According to Evendiev, this should not be the interest and aim just for Poland, but for the EU as well, as EU countries want to expand Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) towards the East. This ambition was formalised in the Plan of Action of the Eastern Partnership Programme (EU-EaP), of which all GUAM member states are parties.
“The expansion of the European TEN-T to the east, which is one of the top priorities of the comprehensive EU-EaP programme, opens up very promising opportunities and prospects for the development of close cooperation in this field. And Poland, as both an EU member and GUAM partner, could play a very important role here”, notes Evendiev.
Azerbaijan, a junction
On the other end of the corridor lies Azerbaijan, an important junction on the Middle Corridor and with the rapidly developing port of Baku. “For over two decades, the country has been positioning itself as a key transportation hub on the Caspian Sea. A lot has been invested in the modernisation of existing and development of new infrastructure, and now it is time to reap the benefits”, says GUAM Secretary General, himself originally from Azerbaijan, but currently based in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Baku is an important hub on the Middle Corridor, an alternative route between Europe and China. The launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway three years ago enabled smooth transit from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Turkey. “I believe, when fully operational, GUAM Transport Corridor can also be considered as part of the Middle Corridor, with the possibility to exploit other attractive geographic dimensions and to provide connections to other corridors and routes.”
So, when this corridor is fully operational, the route through Turkey is complemented by a route via Ukraine. Why would operators on this corridor opt for Ukraine as a transit country, rather than Turkey? “Of course, for the time being, to compete with Turkey will be difficult, if possible at all. But, firstly, we are not considering Turkey as a competitor, but rather as a partner”, says Evendiev.
Turkey is already a major player on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars line. Moreover, Turkey is our immediate neighbour and among major international players in our region with strong economic interests. All GUAM countries have developed strategic partnerships with Turkey and the country’s involvement and participation in the development of the GUAM corridor can be part of its success.”
Potential of Ukraine
At the same time, Ukraine has a lot of potential as a transit country, he continues. “Currently, the country is going through some serious reforms with good prospects of significant improvements of border crossings and customs checkpoints, modernisation of rail and road infrastructure, logistical facilities etc.”
“This corridor is important for Ukraine and its economy. Therefore, I am sure that we will see dynamic developments and significant improvements in the national transport and transit system. What also important to bear in mind is that Ukraine has signed the Association Agreement with the EU with very strict responsibilities, and reformation and modernisation of the transport sector is one of the key components of this agreement.”
What is next?
Among the main objectives for 2020 is the preparation of the feasibility study of GUAM Transport Corridor. “This will provide us with a clear development strategy. It should result in a clear understanding of what should be done at national and regional levels to eliminate or alleviate all the discrepancies, bottlenecks and differences in the respective countries.”
“Eventually, GUAM Transport Corridor should be perceived and function as a single and competitive transport corridor. Moreover, in addition to a transport corridor, we want to develop this area as a free-trade zone, another main objective. Our ultimate goal is to bring together all actors interested in the development of a safe, reliable and competitive transport/transit route connecting Europe with Central Asia, the Persian Gulf and beyond. We strongly believe that this will be to the benefit of the wider international community.”
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