EU-ASEAN open skies deal ‘on the cards’

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The European Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) may be heading towards a bloc-to-bloc open skies agreement that could mirror the deal that has liberalised transatlantic air travel, and even open an new corridor between the Far East and North America.

ASEAN's ten national transport ministers have written to the EU's transport commissioner, Siim Kallas, communicating interest in negotiating such a deal. And, according to the commission, a joint declaration could arise from the EU-ASEAN aviation summit planned for 18-19 November, possibly in Bangkok.

ASEAN member Singapore has long been pressing for a bilateral deal with the EU, but it has not been clear that EU member states consider the benefits of opening up fully to the city state's small market. However, a deal with the wider ASEAN region may prove attractive to Europeans.

Separately, the European Commission's transport directorate hopes this year to win a mandate from the EU's Council of Ministers, which represents the member states, to negotiate a single bilateral air travel deal with Russia.

There is much dismay in Brussels that Russia has effectively sidestepped provisions of its accession to the World Trade Organisation by, for example, insisting that European airlines pay for Siberian overflight rights. Worse, according to Commission insiders, Russian deals with individual EU countries have those payments - amounting to some €300 million yearly - made directly to Aeroflot, while some carriers are effectively banned from routes crossing Siberia.

"We have very difficult relations with Russia," says one official close to the issue.