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EU, ASEAN take another step towards "open skies" agreement

The push for an "open skies" agreement between the European Union and Association of Southeast Asian Nations has taken another step forward. Both sides will set up a working group to track progress in aviation cooperation.

SINGAPORE: The push for an "open skies" agreement between the European Union and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has taken another step forward.

Both sides will set up a working group to track progress in aviation cooperation.

A formal "green light" will also be sought from the European Union to start negotiations for liberalising air travel.

The possibility of cheaper airfares when flying to Europe may become real if a comprehensive air transport agreement is reached between the European Union and ASEAN.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said: "But beyond this, I think actually it is not just... extending the people-to-people links but it also provides the environment, the landscape for businesses, for institutions, for organisations to work closer together."

Transport leaders from both sides have issued a "Joint Declaration on Aviation Cooperation".

It formally acknowledges the prospects for greater air transport integration.

Air traffic between the two regional blocs has grown steadily in recent years. Over a 15-year period, it has nearly doubled to reach more than 10 million passengers in 2012.

For air travel to be liberalised on a region-to-region basis, the European Commission has to seek the European Union's mandate to start proper negotiations.

The negotiations will look at how aviation regulations can be streamlined and restrictions removed.

Siim Kallas, vice president and commissioner for transport of the European Commission, said: "We have a lot of technical work. We are in a very new area, a very new type of negotiations, but we are ready to use all our resources and possibilities to facilitate this process."

After the European mandate is given, a joint Aviation Working Group will discuss the finer details of inter-region air travel liberalisation.

The whole process to reach a final agreement is expected to be a long affair, and no timeline has been set for the deal to take flight.

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