In the context of rapid economic globalization and regional integration, and increased national trade protection, countries bordering the Mekong River have strengthened multi-faceted ties, especially economic cooperation, by signing several significant agreements this year.
The Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) countries, namely China, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam have worked together 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, environment and human resource development, which have helped promote the sub-regional economic integration by increasing connectivity through infrastructure development and multilateral agreements.
The Mekong countries have this year experienced significant gatherings, including the GMS Program's 12th Ministerial Conference held in China's Yunnan Province, and meetings on aviation deal, anti-narcotics and anti-fake medicine cooperation in Vietnam, and on the usage of the Mekong River and manpower development cooperation in Cambodia.
Ministers of the GMS countries, at the 12th Ministerial Conference in September, pledged to intensify joint efforts in the eight sectors which are essential to meet the challenges and reap the benefits of increasing regional integration and globalization. They discussed proposals made by GMS leaders, reviewed the progress of GMS initiatives, and continue the dialogue with development partners.
Transport is the top priority sector for the GMS Program, since sub-regional cooperation in the transport sector supports national development goals of the Mekong countries through the establishment of infrastructure linkages and cross-border facilitation measures which help strengthen trade and investment. Mekong countries have paid great attention to jointly upgrading roads, especially cross-border linkages. China, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are making greater efforts to finalize the implementation of the Framework Agreement for the Facilitation of the Cross-Border Movement of Goods and People in the GMS by 2005.
In December, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam signed a multilateral aviation agreement, under which they will remove all flying limits such as flight frequency and airplane types, and allow their airlines to compete with one another.
The official launch of the Phnom Penh Plan for Development Management in December this year in Cambodia is a great step toward the facilitation of multi-faceted cooperation of Mekong countries. The plan is a regional human resource initiative aimed at training their officials, mainly in strategic planning and program implementation.
Under the sub-regional manpower development cooperation, the Mekong countries have paid great attention to a joint project named the Study on Drug Eradication, given the fact that the "Golden Triangle" in the GMS is one of the world's biggest sources of opium and heroin.
In September, the countries issued the Hanoi Declaration which says they agree to make greater efforts to combat drug production, trafficking and use by issuing joint policies, and strengthening cross-border, bilateral, regional and international collaboration. They hope to achieve a drug-free Southeast Asia by 2015.
While stepping up economic ties, the Mekong countries still remember to put environmental considerations in the forefront of all development decision-making, given that further infrastructure development in the GMS will put more pressure on its environment which is being degraded mainly due to pollution and deforestation.
Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, in November, agreed to further protect shared natural resources and monitor environmental impacts by signing two documents on sharing interests in the use of the Mekong River. Under the documents, they will jointly manage and exploit shared resources of the Mekong River. They will also notify and consult one another before building works on the river.
To deal with the rampant trading of counterfeit drugs in the GMS, the Mekong countries, in December, agreed in principle to establish a forum for jointly combating fake medicines, and an alert system to offer counterfeit drug-related early warnings, advice and support to each member via electronic means.
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 fairly dependent on fish for food. The sub-region's gross domestic product is expected to climb to US$863 billion in 2010 from US$212 billion in 1997.
(Xinhua News Agency January 1, 2004)