When Ho Chi Minh City’s Long Thanh International Airport cargo terminal becomes operational in 2020, it is expected to handle up to five million metric tons of cargo annually. This is about 830,000 metric tons more than Hong Kong in 2010, when it edged Memphis in the US, home to FedEx’s world headquarters, to become the world’s busiest air cargo hub.

Ho Chi Minh City’s rapid development into a major air cargo thoroughfare is consistent with growth that is equally solidifying the broader Asia-Pacific region’s mantle as the most active aviation-based shipping center.

Carriers in the Asia Pacific haul about half of air cargo worldwide, with traffic here increasing faster than any other region. APEC economies are the clear growth drivers—in 2010, eight APEC members were home to 21 out of 25 of the world’s busiest airports by cargo traffic.

And though economic uncertainty, most notably in Europe, is weighing on industry demand, Boeing, for its part, predicts air cargo traffic globally will expand 5.9 percent annually over the next twenty years, led by the Asia-Pacific. The inter-Asia market alone is expected to expand 7.9 percent annually over this period.

Magnifying this trend’s significance, while air cargo accounts for only 0.5 percent of volume traded globally, it constitutes 35 percent of goods traded by value.

APEC safeguards trade

What this means is that now more than ever, the onus is on APEC economies, in particular, to ensure the secure, efficient flow of air cargo and, by extension, safeguard arteries of integrated trade and investment that are at the heart of APEC and the modern global economy.

The goal is to protect a supply chain that today brings in USD66 billion or 11 percent of total revenue for the airline business, which itself supports 33 million jobs and USD3.5 trillion in economic activity, according to the International Air Transport Association.

This task is even more crucial when you consider the high volume of perishable food that relies on international air cargo to arrive quickly and securely before going to market, and feeds billions of consumers worldwide.

APEC Leaders grasp the stakes and need for the region’s economies to take immediate action.

In the APEC Growth Strategy, APEC Leaders specifically called upon members to sustain efforts to identify and embrace initiatives to mitigate the risk of attack, disruption and misuse in the air cargo space, and promote secure trade expansion.

APEC is making considerable strides as we seek to make good on our commitment in practical, meaningful and lasting ways.

Delivering results

For one, APEC is coordinating efforts to help member economies implement and standardize initiatives that safely and effectively streamline cargo security checks by customs authorities and limit shipment delays, added cost and uncertainty.

Notably, APEC measures lowered trade transaction costs by 5 percent between 2007 and 2010, and are on-track to bring an APEC-wide 10 percent improvement in supply chain performance by 2015, with significant potential benefits for air cargo entities and the economic activity they facilitate.

On the security front, APEC is conducting practical exercises to help customs authorities identify model practices for effective border enforcement and map ways to effectively target and interdict a broader range of dangerous and illicit goods.

Related APEC capacity building projects and training are examining issues such as canine screening, explosives detection and technical checkpoint and security bottlenecks, while promoting harmonized, business-friendly policy responses in-line with international standards.

We are conscious of the need to deal with all manner of contingencies and are pushing ahead with the APEC Trade Recovery Program to ensure that the flow-of-goods is restored as quickly as possible in the event of a major disruption, including a terrorist attack.

APEC’s Consolidated Counter-Terrorism and Secure Trade Strategy spells out APEC’s related efforts for the next five-plus years and offers member economies an integrated framework for approaching air cargo security challenges and opportunities within APEC’s broader agenda.

This on-going push further lays the groundwork for achieving APEC’s 2012 goals, among them the creation of a secure environment that fosters the opening of trade and investment corridors and economic integration, food security protection and supply chains connectivity.

Last week’s air cargo security dialogue in Ho Chi Minh City is another extension of APEC’s commitment to jointly and proactively bolstering air cargo security in our region, for the benefit of our integrated economies and shared future.

Ambassador Muhamad Noor is the Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat in Singapore.