Fourth GMS Economic Corridors Forum (ECF-4)

Opening speech by ADB Vice-President Stephen P. Groff on 28 June 2012 in Mandalay, Myanmar

Excellencies, Members of the GMS Economic Corridors Forum, distinguished delegates and guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I am very pleased to participate in this Fourth GMS Economic Corridors Forum. I would like to start by thanking our hosts, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, and especially His Excellency, U Tin Naing Thein, for their warm hospitality and the excellent arrangements for our meeting today.

Although I have already had the opportunity to attend some GMS-related events and have had the pleasure of meeting some of you in the last several months since I assumed my post at the Asian Development Bank, including during the high-tea with GMS delegates to the 45th ADB Annual Meeting in Manila last May, this is really the first major GMS conference that I am participating in.  I am particularly pleased to be doing so at such an important meeting given that the Economic Corridors Forum is likely to become a central feature of the GMS program going forward.

We all realize that the GMS, together with the region and the whole global economy, faces serious challenges in this new decade. The adverse effects of the worst economic recession in recent history still linger and the road ahead remains volatile and full of uncertainty. Although our region is showing resilience and is moving toward recovery, the global economic crisis has left a negative imprint in terms of lost opportunities in traditional export markets and the pressing need to rebalance, both across regions and within countries. At the same time, other challenges are growing, such as climate change, disaster risks, communicable diseases, energy sufficiency, and food security.

The GMS Program, true to its dynamic and pragmatic character and building on its reputation of solid achievements  and very strong ownership, is already gearing up to meet these challenges. The endorsement of the new GMS Strategic Framework by the Fourth GMS Leaders' Summit, which was also held in Myanmar last December, may be considered a watershed in the GMS Program's history. The new Strategic Framework aims to adequately arm and re-tool the Program in meeting the challenges ahead.

As you are aware, the economic corridor approach remains at the center of the new GMS Strategic Framework. Against limited regional resources, it provides a spatial and thematic focus to cooperation efforts so as to maximize development impact. Under the new Framework, the corridors are seen as being much more than just a collection of points connecting the GMS countries, but rather as means of integrating centers of production and demand, within the countries and across the subregion, as well as to the outside world. The development of economic corridors has to contribute to inclusive growth at both country and subregional level, by spreading the benefits of subregional development as widely as possible.

Thus, the new Framework emphasizes efforts to widen and deepen the existing transport corridors through a multisector approach, including: urban development and development of other areas along the corridors;  increasing the geographic reach of corridors through secondary and rural roads; promotion of logistics development linked to the corridors; accelerating and better-coordinating implementation of transport and trade facilitation measures; addressing environmental and climate change concerns; and greater attention to social and human resource development.

In addition to the need for a new project pipeline to underpin such economic corridor development, it is evident that in order to promote corridor development we cannot employ a “business as usual” approach to coordination and capacity development going forward. As I already mentioned, the new generation of corridor development undertakings will  include more complex and integrated multi-sector initiatives and interventions, encompassing both hardware and software. This will entail greater need for knowledge generation and management, and institutional adaptation to a rapidly changing landscape.

We will also in this meeting need to explore institutional aspects of corridor development. The overall objective is of course to more effectively engage and enhance the coordination of key stakeholders in corridor development efforts, particularly the local authorities and the private sector in the corridor areas. Effective coordination and adequate implementation capacities will also require establishing the appropriate institutional mechanisms, with strong country and sector ownership. In this context, the role of ECF-4 will be key in promoting such development. This will be a critical requirement for effective delivery of an investment framework aligned to the development of inclusive economic corridors in the GMS.

The Fourth Economic Corridors Forum, being the first major and high-level event after the adoption of the new GMS Strategic Framework, therefore, provides an ideal venue for thoroughly assessing these challenges to developing these corridors, initiating appropriate action plans, and finding ways of enabling effective monitoring of corridor development. I am glad to note in this regard that the GMS Secretariat and the GMS sector working groups have not been idle since the new Framework's endorsement by the Summit last December. Since then, they have commissioned a number of sector assessments and studies that will prove very useful in understanding more clearly the nature and dynamics of the various aspects of economic corridor development, thus helping us to establish a new path and plan our actions going forward.

By reviewing this work, the Forum can help provide recommendations for capacity development and coordination actions to be considered for endorsement at the upcoming GMS Ministerial Meeting in Nanning, PRC in December 2012.

In addition, our substantive goal will be to identify a new generation of interventions and projects that will be able to translate these new perspectives and strategies into actual gains on the ground. The results of our meeting today are therefore intended to strengthen and guide the ongoing work on the preparation of a Regional Investment Framework (RIF) that will produce by 2013 a pipeline of projects aligned with the strategies and goals set in the new Strategic Framework.

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

We at ADB, being a key partner of the GMS Program since its inception, remains strongly committed to these efforts. We will endeavor to even more effectively perform our lead coordinator role for the Program. This is why we are strongly supporting the preparation of the RIF, which aims to provide a comprehensive program of actions and pipeline of projects for the medium to long term that will bring to fruition the goals set in the new Strategic Framework.

Needless to say, developing and implementing such a program and pipeline will require huge amounts of financial and other resources. ADB by itself can provide only a limited share of these investments. It is crucial to encourage strong engagement by all key stakeholders in the inclusive and sustainable development of the GMS. I am referring of course to the GMS countries' governments, the development partner community, and the private sector. Each has a critical role to play in this overall program.

The expectations and challenges facing us are quite daunting. I am quite confident, however, that we will prove equal to them. I wish all of us a constructive and fruitful meeting.

Thank you.