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The upcoming 16th Great Mekong Subregion (GMS) Ministerial Meeting scheduled for August 19-20 in Hanoi will focus discussions on challenges faced by the subregion in the next decade, said a senior official from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Granting an interview to Vietnam News Agency, Kunio Senda, Director General of the ADB’s Southeast Asia Department, said the challenges are transforming the GMS transport corridors into genuine economic corridors and enabling the GMS to tap more fully into the opportunities that the current economic resurgence and dynamism in Asia offers.
The critical issues include how to effectively link the GMS with India and the rest of South Asia, in a similar manner that it is now benefiting from its increasing links with China, a GMS member, in terms of increased exports, supply of manufactured goods and FDI; and how to strengthen complementarities and synergies with other regional cooperation initiatives, particularly ASEAN and ASEAN+3, he said.
Another challenge faced by the GMS is to address the risks of global warming and climate change. “It is important to integrate climate change adaptation and mitigation measures in both national and subsregional development efforts. Among the possible directions of efforts in this regard are, for instance, the further development of railway links as substitute to fossil fuel-based transport modes and the development of renewable energy sources,” he said.
The GMS countries must effectively address other risks usually associated with increased connectivity, including communicable diseases, human trafficking and transnational crime, and biodiversity losses, he added.
In addition, the subregion also faces challenges posed by its changing demographics and increased urbanisation, including human resource development, education, labour reforms, migration and protection of migrant workers.
The ADB official also dealt with the GMS’s increased mobilisation of private investments for its economic cooperation programme, including public-private partnerships.
He expressed the confidence in the GMS’s settlement of challenges with assistance from the ADB, saying that despite the challenges faced by the GMS region in the next decade, ADB is optimistic that the GMS Programme would continue to move forward and will be better equipped to deal with a rapidly changing regional and global landscape under its new Strategic Framework (SF) for the 2012-2022 GMS Programme.
“The maturity we have gained as a cooperation programme, along with a well thought of new strategic framework, will ensure that we can effectively help address the challenges and expand the frontiers of out cooperation among the six GMS countries,” he affirmed.
ADB will endeavour to address and maintain its relevance vis-à-vis emerging trends and issues, and continue to help the Mekong countries achieve their vision of an integrated, prosperous and harmonious subregion, even in the midst if a rapidly changing and challenging regional and global landscape, he added.
As a regional institution, ADB will continue to coordinate with key GMS stakeholders and particularly with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to promote efforts to ensure the sustainable development of the Mekong subregion.
According to Kunio Senga, transport improvement leads to trade improvement and eventually translating into improved quality of life of people in the GMS. Definitely, the transformation of transport corridors into full-pledged economic corridors will require improved transport and trade facilitation in the subregion.
“The countries are now working intently on a programme of action for transport and trade facilitation, which aims to expand and deepen exchange of traffic rights, improve border procedures and coordinated border management, and strengthen sanitary regime for GMS trade,” he added.
The ADB official stressed that the GMS Programme recognises the key role of building strategic alliances and partnerships with other international organisations, particularly with ASEAN and the MRC.
As the GMS Programme is the principal facilitating regional cooperation mechanism for the subregion, it needs to work more to avoid duplication and ensure complementarities with other subregional cooperation initiatives that also operate in two or more GMS countries such as the Ayeyawaddy-Chao Phrya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS), the ASEAN-Mekong Basin Development Cooperation (AMBDC) and the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam (CLV) Development Triangle.
The GMS comprises China and five Southeast Asian countries, namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam./.