On 29 May the Tunisian Transport Ministry organised a conference on the topic of “Railways as a vehicle for Maghreb integration.” The conference came in the broader context of the major inter-Maghreb rail transport project currently in progress to construct a trans-Maghreb high-speed line linking Casablanca with Tripoli via Algiers and Tunis.
Organised in collaboration with the Tunisian Industry, Trade and Crafts Union (UTICA) and chaired by Tunisian Transport Minister Mr Abderrahim Zouari, the conference brought together more than 250 participants, with high-level railway representatives from Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia, as well as experts, political figures, transport professionals, universities, representatives from international and financial organisations.
UIC was represented by Mr Jean-Pierre Lehman, Coordinator for the African Region, who reminded participants of the long-standing and close cooperation his association maintained with the African railways. This cooperation, he said, was linked to the strategic developments promoted by UIC members, in particular at the March 2009 General Assembly in Paris, and set to be upheld at the UIC General Assembly in Tokyo next week. He also reiterated UIC’s steadfast commitment in favour of the African railways, notably the MoU signed in 2007 between UIC and the African Union in Algiers. Signing this agreement had given UIC the opportunity to present its “Vision 2025” project. More recently in 2010, UIC’s Director General signed a MoU with the African Union in Addis Ababa, placing transport on the latter’s agenda as an issue of strategic priority. Mr Ignacio Barron, UIC Passenger Director and Bernard Schmidt, Senior Advisor for Freight, also took part in the conference. Mr Barron’s presentation focused on high speed and sustainable development while Mr Schmitt examined the Euro-Maghreb freight corridor.
The conference participants recommended developing a master-plan for Maghreb high-speed lines and an indicative timeline with dates.
- Called for the harmonisation of the technical bases selected for projects and the development of technical and administrative interoperability between Maghreb countries’ networks, as well as controlling logistics costs, which are considered relatively high in Maghreb countries compared to Europe.
- Recommended incorporating rail transport into the Maghreb logistics promotion strategy, providing storage space in line with international standards, and creating logistics spaces, zones and hubs in public railway areas.
The participants were equally in favour of those studies being carried out which were needed for the implementation of Maghreb corridors and their interconnection with European corridors and those of the Mashriq. These corridors are to be presented to financial backers as well as various authorities such as Euromed, the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), European Commission, and Union for the Mediterranean (UPM) in order to benefit from improved financing and from innovative and incentivising financing mechanisms.
Mr Chokri Mamoghli, Tunisian Secretary of State for Foreign Trade, stressed the importance of implementing an efficient and modern basic transport infrastructure, which represented a key component of company competitiveness on both a national and regional level.
The Maghreb plays a leading role in the transport sector, stemming from its strategic situation as a bridge between the African and European continents and between the Mediterranean in the east and the Atlantic Ocean in the west, as highlighted by the Secretary of State. Mr Mamoghli stressed the “importance of the trans-Maghreb railway project, railways being the least onerous means of transport in terms of cost and time, the bottom line in business competitiveness.”