At a virtual summit on 2 June 2021, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) have concluded negotiations on a bloc-to-bloc bilateral air transport agreement entitled, “the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (AE CATA)” that will allow for unlimited flying between the two regions.
According to the AE CATA, airlines of the combined 37 states will be able to fly any number of nonstop flights between countries in both blocs. The EU and ASEAN carriers will also be permitted to fly more stopovers in the other bloc, for passenger and cargo services.
The ETF and its aviation affiliates worked hard to ensure that aviation workers’ rights and conditions are safeguarded. Therefore, the AE CATA contains a labour clause to this end, and the ETF and its affiliates will closely monitor its implementation as well as its effectiveness.
The agreement is the world’s first bloc-to-bloc air transport agreement and hailed as groundbreaking both by several EU and ASEAN top-ranking officials.
A joint press release issued on 4 June reads, “The Agreement will help rebuild air connectivity between ASEAN and Europe which has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic and open up new growth opportunities for the aviation industry in both regions. Both parties expressed the intent to maintain close discussions and coordination to minimize disruptions to air services caused by the pandemic.”
With the AE CATA, the parties also envisage establishing “a foundation for closer cooperation between ASEAN and the EU in areas such as aviation safety, air traffic management, consumer protection, and environmental and social matters.”
However, there are also doubts voiced over the deal’s effectiveness, including the thorny issue of scarcity of airport slots. Moreover, some believe that the multilateralism of the bloc-to-bloc deal is likely to bring benefits chiefly to the EU, which has a unified aviation market, rather than to individual airlines from Southeast Asia.
The ETF head of aviation, Eoin Coates commented: “Together with our affiliates, we insisted that this new agreement should also provide us with a solid platform to promote high standards on safety, security, air traffic management, environment, and social matters. As aviation unions, we worked in good cooperation to ensure respect for workers’ rights, employment, high-quality jobs, quality training, social protection and social dialogue.”
The ITF civil aviation section secretary Gabriel Mocho Rodriguez said: “Increasing the connectivity between ASEAN and the EU is a big deal, of course. However, as we always remind all stakeholders in relevant platforms in ICAO, such a development shouldn’t come at the expense of aviation workers. This first bloc-to-bloc agreement is also a testament to the increasing importance of global trade union cooperation without leaving behind the social aspects.”