18th GMS Ministerial Conference

Speech | 12 December 2012

Opening Remarks by ADB Vice-President Stephen P. Groff on 12 December 2012 in Nanning, People's Republic of China.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates and guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I am delighted to participate in the 18th Ministerial Conference of the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Program. First of all, please allow me to thank our hosts, the People's Republic of China and the authorities of Nanning and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region for their warm hospitality and the excellent arrangements for the Conference. I would like to especially thank His Excellency, Minister Xie Xuren for welcoming us so graciously and for chairing our meeting today. It is my honor and pleasure to co-chair it with him.

Just three months ago we celebrated the GMS Program's 20th Anniversary. Twenty years is perhaps a long time if viewed from the arc of our personal histories. But in the context of a whole region striving for dynamic and sustained progress through cooperation and integration, it is quite a short period indeed. However, the GMS can already claim substantial achievements in this relatively short time.

The new GMS Strategic Framework endorsed by GMS leaders at the 4th Summit last year marks a major milestone in the evolution of the GMS program as it enters its third decade. The Framework is intended as the compass to provide us with our bearings going forward. We know where we want to go with this compass to guide us. We now need to determine the specific requirements for the expedition – the vehicles we will use, the speed at which we will travel, the team members we must have on board, and even the kind and source of fuel to use and the specific turns to make along the way. We now have to be sure that we are properly equipped if we are to reach the desired destination.

I have been speaking in metaphors. But I am sure you appreciate what I am trying to say. The Strategic Framework has to be translated into a plan of action. It has to be supported by a well thought out investment program. This is precisely why our meeting today is so important, as we will now look into the Regional Investment Framework, or RIF, which embodies these varied elements, ensuring that we are doing things right based on the directions set by the Strategic Framework.

The analyses and assessments done under the RIF so far have given us some very interesting and novel results, it has shown us clearly some things we have not noticed before and others that may be entirely new and were not yet on our radar screen. These things may not have been evident previously because our circumstances and perspectives were different.

The world then -- certainly in 1992 when the GMS Program began and even in 2002 when the first GMS Strategic Framework was adopted -- was very different from what it is now. In 1992, the countries in the subregion were just coming out of difficult periods of conflict. In 2002, although the phenomenon of globalization was on the rise, the global economic landscape then had little of the fast-paced seamless inter-connectedness and intense competition that characterize today's reality.

Today virtually the entire globe is also still reeling from the most serious economic recession in recent times. Moreover, the joint undertakings that were possible a decade or two ago were quite easy to identify. What was important then was to build confidence in the Program. Our supply-driven momentum was an entirely reasonable strategy at that time. There were still a lot of low-hanging fruit to pick.

But the significantly changed and increasingly dynamic regional and global economy of today shows us that such a strategy has reached the end of its usefulness. This is why the new GMS Strategic Framework and the RIF are now emphasizing a "demand-driven" approach. Broadly interpreted, such an approach means that the projects and interventions we should now undertake must not only be considered high priority by the countries but also address these new dynamics and be clearly economically viable.

Thus the RIF assessments and analyses have yielded findings and recommendations that may still be quite new to us. While still anchored on the proven economic corridors approach, the RIF now proposes such novel undertakings as spatially prioritized and integrated urban development, building secondary transport links, developing gateway ports and their links to the interior, and logistics development. It also emphasizes well-coordinated multisectoral interventions, developing effective software, establishing and maintaining a strong knowledge platform, and institutional strengthening and capacity building.

Some headway is in fact already being made along these lines with the progress on the establishment of the Regional Power Coordination Center and the Greater Mekong Railways Association. The RIF is providing us the means to reinvent the GMS Program and thus sustain its relevance in a greatly changed environment.

We are therefore entering a new era for GMS cooperation. This is what makes our Ministerial Conference a landmark event – it is the Conference that will usher in this new period, as we review and further shape new approaches and undertakings. To be sure, more work has to be done to further solidify the RIF's results and come up with a detailed pipeline of specific and time-bound projects, with identified and realistic financing options. Certainly, it will take still more work to rigorously develop and implement these projects. But if the GMS Program has proven anything, it is that it has the pragmatic attitude, the stamina, and the persistence to pursue joint undertakings to their successful conclusion once collective agreement on them is reached.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen: The GMS countries have already reached a level of confidence and goodwill that will now serve you well as you face an admittedly difficult and challenging new decade. The Asian Development Bank will continue to be by your side. We are proud to have been there with you since day one and to have struggled with you through the difficulties of the past. It will be our privilege to continue navigating the future with you. We will also do our best to help catalyse broader support for the GMS from the whole development community. We are quite confident that other development partners, some of whom are present here today, will continue to have a keen interest and commitment to support the subregion in its aspirations.

With the strong ownership of the GMS Program that you, the GMS member countries, continue to demonstrate, and with the boldness, optimism, and determination that you continue to show in various GMS activities and initiatives, there should be no doubt that you, with some help from your friends, will prove equal to the challenges ahead.

I wish all of us a very productive conference.

Thank you.