The GMS20 Anniversary – Stephen P. Groff

Speech | 14 September 2012

Remarks by ADB Vice-President Stephen P. Groff on 14 September 2012 in Manila, Philippines.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

It is my distinct honor and pleasure to welcome you today to this significant event – the celebration of two decades of the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Program, or the GMS as it is now known to all.

There is good reason to celebrate. The GMS has indeed come a long way. The GMS brand is now known everywhere in the region, and even globally. Such reputation is built on solid achievements.

These six countries are more deeply and better connected than they were 20 years ago. Transport corridors now criss-cross the subregion, and good progress is being made on the agreements and systems to facilitate the movement of goods and people along them. Trade is also certainly more vibrant. Electric power and ICT development is proceeding with an eye toward subregional integration. Joint undertakings have been initiated to spur subregional activity in agriculture, tourism, and investment. Addressing concerns about the environment through well-coordinated joint efforts has become the norm. Likewise, building human and institutional capacities for greater competitiveness as well as securing the welfare of migrant workers are being coordinated at the subregional level.

Let me just emphasize, however, that these are your achievements. You created the GMS brand. We at ADB, and other development partner organizations, are very happy and proud to be involved with the GMS Program; but our purpose to support you. Your countries drive the Program and you are responsible for its past successes as well as for determining its future.

We at ADB are, of course, firm believers in regional cooperation and never doubted that you would succeed. We know that more can be achieved by joining hands than by going it alone - a principle that is even enshrined in our charter. There is no secret recipe for your success. Everybody knows the "3Cs" you have focused on – connectivity, competitiveness, and community. But there is another key "C". I call it the "can-do spirit"—focusing on the doable, doing what needs to be done one step at a time, until we reach our goals.

Resting on the laurels of GMS success, however, is definitely not an option. We have surveyed the terrain ahead and know that the future is not an orchard of low-hanging fruit. The subregion has proven its adaptability, but it must also be anticipatory and resilient. The challenges we face now are quite different from those that we faced twenty years ago. While the world may be slowly emerging from a serious recession, some parts of the globe continue to struggle. At the same time new challenges are upon us – climate change, natural disasters, food security, energy insufficiency, and communicable diseases.

To add to all of this, the GMS Program is maturing. As I said a moment ago we've harvested the low-hanging fruit. There is little choice now but to tackle the more difficult and complicated aspects of regional cooperation, such as institutional strengthening and reform, multi-sector interventions, and systems harmonization and coordination.

Despite these challenges, however, the horizon also holds much promise. If we play our cards well and continue to be alert and nimble, the GMS stands to gain from the growing dynamism in the region. As we know, Asia is expected to lead the global economy in this new era. The region has not only become the world's production center, but is also gradually gaining importance as a hub for knowledge industries.

Anticipating these opportunities, last year your leaders endorsed a new GMS Strategic Framework for the next ten years. At the ministerial and working levels, the pipeline of new generation projects is being hammered out to achieve the Framework goals. The subregion is therefore poised to meet the challenges and opportunities of the new decade. We realize that this requires a lot of hard work. The GMS Program has already proven that it has the stamina and fortitude for this. But today we deserve a break.

Today let us celebrate. It is a good time to look back; to see how our partnership began; to take pride and pleasure from the victories we won, big and small; and to enjoy the company of our fellow travelers and adventurers during those fruitful two decades.

Again, I welcome you all to the Asian Development Bank. It is our great honor and privilege to host this 20th Anniversary of the GMS as it also was when we hosted the conference that launched the Program in 1992.

In closing, I will to take this opportunity to reassure you of ADB's continued strong commitment to the GMS Program.

I hope that you will enjoy the activities and festivities that are planned for the rest of the day.

I thank you and wish you all a happy 20th anniversary.