A senior Asian Development Bank ( ADB) official said on Saturday that the economic cooperation being carried out by the countries in the Mekong River region could serve as a model for cooperation and integration of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.
In an interview with Xinhua to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of ASEAN, David J. Green, Director General of ADB's Southeast Asia Department, praised participant countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Economic Cooperation Program for showing great will and firm spirit of maintaining good political relation and carrying out economic cooperation since the project was launched 15 years ago.
Green said that GMS countries now take up about half of the ASEAN, although only Thailand was an ASEAN member when the GMS cooperation project was launched in 1992.
He said GMS success story could give inspiration to other ASEAN countries in building other sub-regional cooperation projects such as the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle and the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) .
He cited the GMS East-West corridor program, one of the major infrastructure projects financially supported by ADB and anchored at the Vietnamese port city of Da Nang, will make a lot of inner lands of GMS countries accessible to the sea, while new customs practices and border crossing services are making it easier for people and goods to move around.
Green said that 15 or 10 years ago, it is not easy for people of GMS countries to travel within the region due to lack of good roads and other infrastructures, but through the GMS project, physical connectivity linking member states has been greatly improved, benefiting greatly the poor in border areas.
Greater connectivity is helping GMS countries create jobs, reduce poverty and realize the Millennium Development Goals, he said.
GMS countries adopted "Connectivity, Competitiveness and Community" as the key for their Plan of Action at a ministerial meeting in Vientiane in December 2004, which was further endorsed by the GMS Kunming Summit held in July 2005.
Green said that in order to increase competitiveness, GMS countries should make improvement of "software" through an improved mechanism of consultation, more openness and transparency and higher working efficiency, which he said could take years to be accomplished.
The GMS countries, consisting of Cambodia, China's Yunnan and Guangxi, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, have seen their intra regional exports increasing by almost 15 times since 1992, while total exports by GMS countries grew by 400 percent from 1992 to 2006, according to ADB.
Economic progress has engendered a greater sense of community among Mekong countries and a "groundswell of goodwill", which in turn has also given them the impetus to mutually recognize and jointly address shared environmental and social concerns, says an ADB pamphlet marking the 15th anniversary of the GMS program.
Green said that the strong economic growth in China and Vietnam have played a very important role in the development of GMS projects, as economic growth in China and Vietnam have expanding impacts on poorer countries like Laos and Cambodia.
He said as the ASEAN Secretariat has asked ADB to work out a Initiative ASEAN Integration plan aimed at an ASEAN free market by 2015, ADB is willing to use the positive experience of GMS cooperation as references other ASEAN members.
As of December 2006, ADB has extended loans totaling about 1.92 billion U.S. dollars for 28 investment projects of GMS, including road networks, airport and railway improvements, hydropower projects for cross-border power supply, according to ADB statistics.
ADB has coordinated in organizing 2.18 billion U.S. dollars of financing by GMS governments and 2.67 billion U.S. dollars by cooperation partners, most of them private investors.
ADB also pays great emphasize on developing the rich tourism resources of GMS countries through cooperation projects. The result is that the annual tourist arrivals more than doubled from 10 million in 1995 to over 22 million in 2006.