Opening Statement at the 19th GMS Ministerial Conference

Opening statement by ADB Vice-President Stephen P. Groff at the 19th GMS Ministerial Conference on 11 December 2013 held at Vientiane, Lao People's Democratic Republic

(as drafted)

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen:

It is with great pleasure that I join you at this 19th Ministerial Conference of the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Program. Please allow me to first thank our hosts, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to me and all participants, as well as for the excellent arrangements for our meeting. I would like to especially thank His Excellency Mr. Noulinh Sinbandhit, Lao
PDR's GMS Minister, for welcoming us so graciously, and for chairing our meeting. It is my honor and pleasure to co-chair this meeting with him today.

Our meeting today focuses on a new generation of GMS initiatives, embodied in the pipeline of potential projects that are consolidated into the Regional Investment Framework (or RIF). Taken together, these projects and initiatives will further deepen cooperation in the subregion.

As you will recall, planning for this new phase of GMS investments began at our last Ministerial Conference in 2012, following the endorsement of the GMS Strategic Framework in 2011 and a commitment to work together to develop an action plan for its implementation.

The RIF is the outcome of this planning process, and it reflects strong ownership and commitment among the GMS countries to deepen regional connectivity, competitiveness, and sense of community. The sector-level pipelines of priority projects were generated through a country-driven, bottom-up process of involving extensive consultations with counterparts in various ministries and line agencies, as well as inputs from the various GMS sector forums, working groups and task forces.

At the end of these consultations, it was clear that emphasis must be placed on transforming the physical infrastructure linkages across the GMS into true economic corridors that bring greater benefits to a wider range of people.

The RIF pipeline - which represents over $50 billion in potential projects - can help boost cross border trade and investment, and stimulate jobs and growth. Along with developing urban and logistics centers, the RIF will attempt to create a subregional power market - something of crucial importance given the energy security issues facing the subregion. The RIF also emphasizes the need for investments to help member countries strengthen resilience to climate change, to enhance agricultural competitiveness, and to promote food safety and security.

Since the 2012 Ministerial Conference, the region has made substantial headway, most notably with agreement on two important memorandums of understanding; the first is to establish the Greater Mekong Railway Association, and the second to establish the Regional Power Coordination Center. This represents unrivaled commitment to build better, more efficient and environmentally sound railway links in the GMS, and also to harness and share significant natural resources to sustainably address the subregion's growing energy needs.

Also since we last met, funding has been secured for the second phase of the Core Agricultural Support Program and the Core Environment Program Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Initiative. An action plan for human resource development in the GMS is also being carried out. Furthermore, the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Viet Nam have signed a memorandum of understanding to formulate a joint master plan on a number of new cross border economic zones.

And just today, a new bridge linking Lao PDR and Thailand has been completed and is open for traffic, thereby, providing the last “missing link” to ensure seamless connectivity along the entire GMS North-South Economic Corridor.

Moving forward, the RIF will build upon these achievements and its endorsement will be a key output of this Conference.

The new, second generation projects in the RIF include urban development along existing transport corridors; better road, rail, and multi-modal transport links; building up regional power grids; establishing sustainable tourism projects; boosting environmental planning and management; and shoring up human resource capacity.

These projects and initiatives, both both hard and soft infrastructure, are essential to help GMS countries, and the subregion, transform transport corridors into economic corridors, and to ensure that future development is more sustainable and inclusive.

This transformation is critically important, not only to maximize the benefits of physical connectivity, but also to strengthen the competitiveness and resiliency of GMS countries in an increasingly integrated regional and global economy.

Completing missing connectivity links remains at the core of the Regional Investment Framework. But the RIF also emphasizes the need to strengthen software and knowledge in areas such as transport and trade facilitation, skill development, and collectively managing regional public goods.

This is also imperative for the GMS to meet rising challenges in food security, energy sufficiency and accessibility, safe trade, safe migration, and transboundary health risks.

These issues pose serious challenges that need consistent and collective action in the long term.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Consistent with our commitment to prepare RIF when last we met, today's meeting must come with a commitment to implement this Framework. Execution will be no small task. But among GMS countries, there is a tremendous stock of experience, goodwill, and determination to Ensure that implementation is effective and yield tangible results and benefits.

Let me reaffirm ADB's commitment to stand by you as you endeavor to implement the Regional Investment Framework and realize the GMS vision of an integrated, prosperous and harmonious subregion.

I wish all of us a very productive conference.

Thank you.