Opening remarks by Ahmed M. Saeed, ADB Vice-President, Operations 2, at the 25th GMS Ministerial Conference, 8 December 2022

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honored to join you today for this 25th GMS Ministerial Conference. I would like to thank our host, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, for organizing and hosting this conference. I would also like to convey my special thanks to His Excellency Minister Khamjany Vongphosy for chairing our meeting. It is my distinct honor and a privilege to co-chair this meeting with him.

First, I would like to congratulate you on the GMS Program’s 30th Anniversary. The Program’s past thirty years have been full of successes and achievements. For the Program to have lasted this long while maintaining its momentum is a testament to its continuing relevance, and to your commitment to cooperation based on mutual respect and goodwill.

We have much to celebrate at this landmark event. As other speakers have noted we are especially delighted to be meeting face-to-face again, after three years. We also remain cognizant of the numerous and complex challenges currently facing the subregion. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us keenly aware uncertainties that can disrupt and take hold of the world order. Its impact is now being compounded by other global challenges, including inflation, recession risks, disruptions in value and supply chains, instability in financial markets, energy and food insecurity, and the ever-present climate emergency.

These challenging times call for even stronger and closer cooperation. The complexity of the issues confronting us necessitates that our joint actions be more focused, knowledge-driven, and facts-based. We have already invested significant effort in this regard in the preparation and adoption of the current GMS Strategic Framework, GMS-2030, which sets broad directions for the GMS Program in this new decade, and the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Plan, which guides our immediate responses to the impacts of the pandemic under a novel and holistic “One Health” approach. These strategies hold the promise of significantly improving the precision, relevance, and effectiveness of our cooperation initiatives.

In particular, GMS-2030 emphasizes and has expressly introduced the elements of inclusivity and sustainability into the GMS Program’s basic Vision and Mission. Moreover, it has identified cross-cutting themes that have an important bearing across many sectors in the subregion. Guided by these new directions, the last two years have seen significant progress not only in the Program’s traditional priority sectors, but also in these cross-cutting thematic and emerging areas. Some of the fruits of these efforts will be presented to us today, including a new gender strategy; plans for spurring subregional trade and investment; a mechanism and institutional framework for undertaking and coordinating knowledge generation to guide policy; an initiative under which GMS countries can cooperate to effectively respond to the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital economy, the emerging key driver of competitiveness and growth; and proposed ways to further strengthen the engagement of development partners in the GMS Program, a key element in making it a more open regional cooperation platform.

However, as we have also recognized over the last two years, the regional and global context can suddenly and significantly change. We must therefore remain vigilant. In this regard there is an urgent need for a continued assessment of the prevailing and prospective global economic landscape, and of the continued relevance of our cooperative actions. Accurate information and practical and effective knowledge are two vital tools in this process. The establishment of the GMS Knowledge Network is an important step toward this end. But the Network is not intended to be the only source of useful knowledge in the GMS Program. All the parts of the Program’s institutional framework, such as sector working groups, forums, and task forces, must ground their initiatives and actions on knowledge and facts. The Knowledge Network will coordinate, curate, and present some of these facts and knowledge. Another important initiative that would help ensure the GMS Program’s continued success is the establishment of a reliable monitoring system under the Results Framework that has been formulated. We need this to continuously inform us if we are moving closer to the goals and vision we have established, and if we are not, to allow us to re-think our strategies and ways of implementing them.

The GMS Program also takes pride in being a regional cooperation and integration initiative that is backed by significant numbers of projects that contribute to the realization of our strategic priorities. In the past 30 years, we have been able to implement many projects with strong subregional impacts. With total funding of over $30 billion mobilized from GMS countries, ADB, and other development partners, the Program has much to be proud of. We are also pleased to share that a new GMS Regional Investment Framework 2023-2025, the pipeline of projects to be pursued in the medium term, has been prepared and is ready for your endorsement. These projects have been selected under new and stricter criteria that better ensures their viability and readiness for implementation and financing, and their contribution to subregional goals.

While it has been difficult to navigate through the challenges of the past two years, the GMS Program should take pride in the progress that has been made. Now, as we transition to the post-pandemic environment, I feel confident that the GMS Program will continue in its trajectory toward fulfilling its Mission and realizing its ultimate Vision of a more integrated, prosperous, sustainable, and inclusive subregion.

Thank you.