MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The six member countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) celebrate 20 years of economic cooperation today, with the once conflict-ridden area now an Asian showcase for growth, poverty reduction, and regional integration.
"The GMS Program transformed a once isolated subregion into a model for economic integration," said Stephen Groff, Vice-President for East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific at the Asian Development Bank (ADB). "If GMS countries continue to strengthen cooperation, the future is an integrated, prosperous, and harmonious subregion at the heart of the world's most dynamic continent."
To mark the 20th anniversary, high-level government officials, and representatives from the private sector and development agencies are taking part in a day-long celebration that includes a look back at past achievements and assessing prospects for future cooperation.
Over the course of two decades, the GMS Program has invested about $15 billion in projects covering subregional roads, airports and railways, power facilities, tourism infrastructure, and communicable disease prevention, with ADB's share totaling more than $5 billion.
ADB has supported the GMS Economic Cooperation Program since its inception in 1992. Along with providing financial, technical, and advisory assistance, ADB acts as secretariat and coordinator of the GMS Program to work as an honest broker.
Transport corridors have been rolled out, power has been sold across borders, and initiatives have been put in place to boost tourism, counter the spread of diseases, and protect the region's fragile biodiversity. These investments have coincided with annual economic growth in the GMS region of 6% to 8% a year, a sharp fall in extreme poverty, and a tripling of real per capita incomes.
Leaders of the member countries endorsed at the last GMS Summit Meeting in December 2011 a new strategic plan for the next decade. The plan will build on infrastructure achievements while putting more focus on institutional, policy and regulatory issues to unlock the region's vast trade and investment potential, and to make growth more inclusive and environmentally sustainable in the face of rising development and wealth gaps.
New initiatives will focus on turning transport corridors into fully fledged economic centers of activity which can tap opportunities across Asia; promoting urban development along the corridors; improving secondary roads to boost access to markets for poor and isolated communities; developing a regional power market; fully implementing cross-border transport agreements to speed up the flow of people and goods through multi modal transport; and stepping up collective efforts to address climate change, urbanization, labor migration, and human trafficking. The GMS Program will also target ways of increasing private sector investment in regional projects, including public-private partnerships.
The GMS members are Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, and the People's Republic of China with focus on Yunnan province and the Guangxi Autonomous Region. The subregion, bound together by the Mekong River, covers an area about the size of Western Europe and has a combined population of more than 320 million.