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Mekong Becomes Crucial Trade Channel for Neighboring Asian Countries

The Mekong River, linking China and five neighboring Asian nations, has turned out to be an important transport channel as the booming international shipping resulted in a cargo volume of 235,000 tons in 2003.

The figure was 168,600 tons in 2001, when shipping between China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand started.


The implementation of China-Thailand zero tax agreement on vegetables and fruits, beginning Oct. 1 last year, was the major contributor to the rapid growth in shipping on the river, with shipment rising sharply by 58 percent from the previous year, according to sources from the Navigation Administration of Yunnan, southwest China.


Statistics show the Mekong has become a significant trade passageway for nations in that area, said Qiao Xinmin, director of the administration. Yunnan has more than 80 cargo ships sailing on the river and plans to use first-class passenger ships to tap the potential tourism industry.


Originating in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in western China, the Mekong is called Lancang in the Chinese territory and runs through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before entering the South China Sea. It is the only river in Asia that flows through six nations.


The Chinese government regards the river as an important trade link with neighboring countries and started to dredge the 260-kilometer section of river in Yunnan in the 1990s, said Yang Guangcheng, director of the provincial transport department.


Water course deepening and cleaning projects continued in the previous two dry seasons since 2002 and the river's transport efficiency improved significantly. The transport capacity on the upper reaches rose by 50 percent to hit up 250 tons, costs were cut by 30-40 percent, and the navigation season was extended to 11 months from the former six to seven months, Yang said.


Yunnan is about to carry out a project to further improve navigation on the river.


The Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) countries, namely China, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, have worked together during the past decade for closer economic ties by speeding up the implementation of the GMS Economic Cooperation Program (GMS Program) since it was initiated by the Asian Development Bank in 1992.


Under the GMS Program, the six participating countries have prioritized some 100 projects in eight sectors, including investment, trade, transport, tourism, telecommunications, energy, the environment and human resource development, which have helped promote the sub-regional economic integration by increasing connectivity through infrastructure development and multilateral agreements.


The GMS has a combined land area of nearly 2.3 million square kilometers, and a total population of some 250 million, many of whom are dependent on fish for food. The sub-region's gross domestic product is expected to climb to US$863 billions in 2010 from US$212 billion in 1997. 


(Xinhua News Agency January 26, 2004)

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