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GMS Needs Ambition and Private Investors

Leaders of the six countries making up the Greater Mekong Sub-regional (GMS) Economic Cooperation Program opened their summit Monday in Kunming of southwest China's Yunnan Province. 

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his counterparts from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam will witness the signing of a series of agreements on practical matters in sectors including transportation, power trade and control of animal epidemics. The leaders held talks with business representatives yesterday.


GMS nations still have scope to be more ambitious and bold in constructing cooperation mechanisms and attracting the private sector's participation in the program.


Launched in 1992, the program has focused on infrastructure and coordination in affairs concerning the Mekong River, known as the Lancang River in China.


So far the GMS program's approach has been project- or sector-oriented. Program architects stress they are more interested in results than rules and building up institutions.


The approach has been successful. Results in terms of infrastructure are remarkable.


However, as cooperation has deepened, the program's scope has gradually been broadened to other sectors such as customs, tourism, disease control and combating drug trafficking.


In terms of border control, many believe the cooperation could eventually lead to the signing of something like the Schengen Agreement in Europe permitting easier international travel.


More complicated plans require a more complete framework and, correspondingly, better-designed rules for cooperation.


The six countries have encouraged private sector's participation in the program. Without this participation progress cannot be sustained, making governments' plans irrelevant.


The relatively fresh memories of war and internal conflict, and slow development understandably affected investors' confidence.


In addition, the investment environment in the GMS region, which is heavily dependant on the local legal system and government efficiency, is still not very attractive, compared to other areas.


Nevertheless, the investment environment has already improved considerably over the past decade and international investors have shown interest in the sub-region.


The Asian Development Bank (ADB), which is the program's coordinator, and the GMS governments should do more to publicize their achievements and market the program in the private sector.


Within the world's complex network of free trade areas and regional economic cooperation schemes, GMS is not well known.


But home and overseas investors should be made aware of progressive trends. The region has grown at a respectable 3.5 percent over the past decade. The GMS area, linking East Asia to Southeast Asia, has enormous potential.


(China Daily July 5, 2005)

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