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International Pact to Improve Mekong Region Transport
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China and its five neighbors along the Mekong River signed a collective agreement in Beijing yesterday agreeing to work together in setting up a modernized and effective transportation network.


The joint proposal, signed by officials from Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) nations, lays out details for improved highways and simplified cross-border procedures.


The Transport ministers from China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam signed the final four annexes and protocols of the GMS Cross-Border Transport Agreement, a program which eases methods of cross-border trade and transport.  This signing thus rounds out the previously established the GMS Cross-Border Transport Agreement.


According to the pact, the six countries pledge to take down non-physical barriers across borders, creating single-stop customs inspections, making visa assistance for cross-border trade more readily available, and reducing vehicle searches at border crossings. A further commitment has been made to improve the sub-regional transportation infrastructure, relying not only on internal funds but also on help from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).


"Improving transport infrastructure and lowering trade barriers is crucial to the economic development of the Mekong sub-region and for reducing poverty," said Arjun Thapan, director general of the ADB's Southeast Asia Department. "This agreement is a crucial instrument for advancing trade, investment, tourism and access to vital services."


The transport initiative forms a wing of the GMS Economic Cooperation Program that began in 1992 and aims to establish a prosperous, integrated and harmonious sub-region by working on the three alliterative areas of connectivity, competitiveness and community.


The program prioritizes projects across nine sectors deemed to be the most essential: transport, energy, telecommunications, the environment, agriculture, human resources, trade facilitation, investment and tourism.


Since 1994, ADB has provided US$1.232 billion in loans for transport infrastructure projects., namely seven highway, expressway and railway projects in southwest China's Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.


Weng Mengyong, vice-minister of communications, spoke of the Chinese government's full commitment to work within the GMS framework which has so far marked some veritable results.


For example, the Kunming-Bangkok Highway Laos section was completed in June 2006, a full year ahead of schedule. The 247-kilometer stretch of road, previously only usable in dry conditions has been converted to an all-weather surface. This success should be followed by the completion in 2007 of the 401-km long Chinese section of the Kunming-Hanoi-Haiphong Highway.


As the 12th longest river in the world, the 4,880-km Mekong River is the major river in Southeast Asia. It originates in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in China before winding its way through Yunnan to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.


(China Daily March 21, 2007)

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