Y. T. Kim, Secretary-General of the International Transport Forum: “Lithuania has a bright future”

In May 2023, Lithuania assumed the Presidency of the International Transport Forum (ITF). Young Tae Kim, Secretary-General of the world‘s only body with a global mandate for all transport modes, thinks this will be an opportunity for Lithuania to shine on the international stage and to establish itself as a leading transport hub in the Baltics.

The International Transport Forum (ITF) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental organisation. This “Davos” of transport serves as a platform for global dialogue on better transport.

“Two years ago, I shared the idea of Lithuania taking the role of Presidency of ITF with Marius Skuodis, the Minister of Transport and Communications”, Secretary-General reveals during his present visit to Vilnius for ITF quarterly meetings. “I had no doubt this role would perfectly fit him and Lithuania.”

Lithuania follows the United Kingdom, Morocco, Ireland, South Korea and neighbouring Latvia, which previously held the ITF Presidency. The ITF’s appreciation of diversity is one of the reasons why the organisation saw Lithuania as a suitable candidate for the presidency, according to Y. T. Kim. 

However, Lithuania’s presidency of the ITF also offers other significant advantages.

“Its geographical location allows Lithuania to immediately feel the dire impacts of the war in Ukraine on transport, both local, regional and global,” underlines Y. T. Kim. “Lithuania has a clearer and more detailed understanding than, for example, South American or Asian countries, and can be a uniquely authoritative voice in the organisation on these issues.”

The effects of war, climate change and pandemics are strongly felt

According to the ITF Secretary-General, the war in Ukraine has created additional challenges for the Lithuanian presidency of the organisation. Even during times of peace, leading a group of 66 diverse nations is not an easy task.

However, three concurrent global crises are currently being tackled in parallel: the war in Ukraine, climate change and the still-perceptible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on transport systems.

“I have absolutely no doubt that Lithuania can demonstrate leadership in critical moments. And I must say that the Baltic States in general have become significantly more important at the international level,” the Secretary-General says. “Recently, the Baltic states have become more visible internationally by showing exemplary leadership.”

A great pivot

As war in Ukraine has disrupted transport, logistics and export-import chains, some smaller countries are at the forefront of seeking new routes and corridors.

“Lithuania is turning away from the East-West axis of transport corridors towards others linking North and South. There are great opportunities in this change. And I see no good reason why Lithuania could not become an important Baltic transport hub, for example, linking freight traffic between the Baltic Sea region and the Mediterranean”, says the ITF Secretary-General.

(Young Tae Kim and Marius Skuodis)

The ambitions of the Lithuanian ITF presidency until the summer of 2024 are in line with the main objectives of the ITF Member States. These include decarbonisation and climate neutrality of the transport sector, rapid development of innovation and digitalisation in international logistics chains to make international freight transport smoother and more resilient to environmental factors.

“Lithuania has an impressive track record in digitisation and is rightly focusing on accelerating the digitisation of transport. Other members are certainly keen to learn more from you,” notes Y. T. Kim.

Public-private sector collaboration

Transport policy makers are increasingly looking for cooperation with private sector actors. The ITF promotes public-private partnerships through its Corporate Partnership Board (CPB), which is made up of 32 global companies, and through partnerships in projects with the organisation itself, such as decarbonisation, automated vehicles or shared services.

“I really encourage Lithuanian businesses to take advantage of this opportunity to join our Corporate Partnership Board. This can contribute to raising awareness among policy makers about what better transport products and services specific companies need to offer to the country’s society.

(The International Transport Forum at the OECD is an intergovernmental organisation with 66 member countries)

We already have large multinationals such as “Uber”, “Amazon” and “Shell” on the CPB, but we also have young start-ups or medium-sized companies that specialise only in the regional market. This diversity is the secret of a productive and valuable cooperation,” says the Secretary-General.

Between 23 and 27 October, ITF Secretary-General Y. T. Kim is visiting Lithuania for the fourth time. The ITF Transport Board, the governing body of the ITF, which is made up of representatives of the member countries, gathered in Vilnius to discuss the quarterly results. Concurrently, the ITF Transport Research Committee and the Corporate Partnership Board are meeting in Vilnius. The three departments will meet today in a joint session.

“I like Lithuania very much – every time I come here I admire the architecture and culture of Vilnius anew. Vilnius is very cosy, warm and beautiful, with a peaceful atmosphere. This is an advantage that megacities do not have,” says Y. T. Kim.

Learning from Korea

The ITF Secretary-General, based in Paris, was born and raised in South Korea. In some ways, he says, Vilnius makes him feel like his hometown, Seoul, which is three times the size of Lithuania in terms of population.

“Both South Korea and Lithuania have seen lightning-fast technological progress over the past few decades,” says Y. T. Kim. “Korea, however, has the advantage of a large population of around 50 million people. But Lithuania is also well on its way. Closer cooperation with South Korea can help you find a shorter path to success.”

(Seoul is the capital of South Korea and the economic and cultural center of the Republic of Korea)

The ITF Secretary-General notes that Lithuania is already looking for that path through bilateral ties. Minister of Transport and Communications M. Skuodis paid a working visit to South Korea and President Yoon Suk-yeol attended the NATO Summit in Vilnius in the summer.

“It is important that Lithuania makes the most of all opportunities. We can talk about joint business projects between Lithuania and South Korea,” adds Y. T. Kim. “I have had the opportunity to get to know Lithuania and I see a bright future for this country. I say this from deep of my heart. The most important thing is that your leaders do not lack ambition, but also concrete, firm decisions and steps to realise Lithuania’s potential.”