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Regional Cooperation and Integration (RCI)

RCI promotes growth and narrows development gaps between ADB’s developing member countries by building high quality cross-border infrastructure, closer trade integration, intraregional supply chains, and stronger financial links, and motivating provision of regional public goods, enabling slow-moving economies to speed their own expansion.

ADB’s Work in Regional Cooperation and Integration

Stronger Together

Border check point on the Lao PDR side of the Mekong River
Border check point on the Lao PDR side of the Mekong River

Bringing Asia and the Pacific together through projects that promote regional cooperation and integration has been a cornerstone of ADB’s work since it was created. The fruits of those efforts can be seen in roads, power plants, bridges, border crossings, and other points of cooperation throughout the region.

In 2008, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) finished building the Route 3 Highway, which stretches from the country’s northern border with the People’s Republic of China (the PRC) to its southern border near Thailand. In 2013, the Fourth Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge spanning the Mekong River was completed.

“After the road was completed, trade volume increased by more than 70%,” says Tinnawat Silarug, a customs official in Thailand. “Then, after the Friendship Bridge was completed, the trade volume increased by a further 12%.”

The road and bridge are part of an ADB-supported project that is connecting Kunming in the PRC to Bangkok, Thailand via the northwest region of Lao PDR. The Greater Mekong Subregion North–South Economic Corridor Project is upgrading roads, building bridges, easing border restrictions, and taking other measures to make it easier for the three countries to trade, travel, and cooperate.

The project is one of dozens across Southeast Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, the Pacific and others areas where ADB is promoting regional cooperation and integration, a cornerstone of the institution’s work in the region.

Reasons to cooperate

Goods find their way to consumers in neighboring markets
Goods find their way to consumers in neighboring markets

Regional cooperation and integration is a process by which national economies become more connected regionally, allowing them to make greater connections, including on global agendas. The process builds stronger institutions and closer trade integration, intraregional supply chains, and stronger financial links. Reducing or removing barriers at the border and behind the border allows economies of scale to be tapped.

Trade in goods and services, cross-border investment, labor mobility, technology transfers, and financial transactions all support the creation of a much larger, regionally integrated market. The supply chains and production networks that thrive on economic efficiency and integration have made Asia’s enormous manufacturing growth possible.

As poorer countries’ economies become more integrated with those of their richer neighbors, they have the opportunity to move up the value chain, boost their growth potential, speed their expansion, and gradually forge convergence. Such cooperation provides a platform for all participating countries to reduce poverty and economic disparity, and work toward achieving rapid and sustained growth.

ADB and its partners across Asia and the Pacific have recognized that regional cooperation and integration can be a powerful mechanism for unlocking the vast economic potential of Asia and the Pacific for the benefit of its people.

Working together also helps policy makers in the region better respond to global challenges such as financial shocks, climate change, and threats of global pandemics. It creates safety nets—whether financial, social, environmental, or disaster-related—and enables countries to collectively confront cross-boundary challenges. For example, ADB is helping countries in the region work together to enhance their responses to infectious diseases that are posing new threats.

By speaking with a unified voice, the countries of Asia and the Pacific can make a greater impact on the global agenda, commensurate with the region’s growing economic might.

A history of cooperation

From the 1960s to the late 1980s, ADB helped the region work together primarily through technical assistance projects, including regional studies, seminars, and policy dialogue. This improved relations and understanding between countries.

Regional cooperation efforts were ramped up dramatically in the early 1990s with the establishment of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) in 1992, which linked two provinces of the PRC with five neighboring Mekong countries—Cambodia, the Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The program supports priority subregional projects in transport, energy, agriculture, the environment, and trade facilitation.

In 1994, ADB launched a formal Regional Cooperation Policy, which identified three complementary functions for the institution as provider of knowledge, honest broker, and a means of leveraging public and private resources for regional investments. Much of the policy’s initial focus was on the development of the GMS.

Cross-border roads facilitate the movement of goods and people.
Cross-border roads facilitate the movement of goods and people.

Subsequently, ADB helped establish the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation program in 1997, which supports priority projects in cross-border infrastructure and trade in the 11 member countries. In 2001, ADB helped set up the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation program, with a focus on transport, trade facilitation, energy, and economic corridor development.

ADB serves as the secretariat for the GMS, South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation, and Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation programs.

The Asian financial crisis of 1997–1998 brought greater urgency to the issue of cooperation and integration. After the economic devastation brought about by the crisis, the GMS countries deepened their resolve to pursue regional cooperation and integration, and cemented their commitment to a shared vision of an integrated, prosperous, and harmonious subregion.

In 1999, the Regional Economic Monitoring Unit, which became the Office of Regional Economic Integration in 2005, was established to drive ADB’s regional cooperation agenda. A new Regional Cooperation and Integration Strategy was established in 2006, and it was supported by ADB’s long-term planning document, Strategy 2020. This was followed by an increase in the volume and share of regional cooperation and integration projects in total operations.

Regional cooperation and integration was further mainstreamed into ADB’s operations in 2015 when the Economic Research Department and the Office of Regional Economic Integration were merged into the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department. Following the merger, a new Regional Cooperation and Integration Operational Plan, 2016–2020 was formulated and approved in 2016.

The result of this sustained effort to promote regional cooperation and integration has been better dialogue, increased people-to-people exchanges, more economic ties, and improved physical connections throughout the region.

As the region has developed, so too have its regional cooperation and integration needs. Wencai Zhang, ADB vice-president, outlines the current thrust: “ADB is paving the way for a new dimension of economic corridor development, leveraging trade and transport networks, and helping economies integrate into regional and global value chains and production networks.”

Read more

This article was originally published in a special edition of Together We Deliver, which tells 50 stories highlighting the importance of good partnerships in Asia and the Pacific in meeting the complex development challenges of this dynamic region.

Subregional Programs

The Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area initiative was launched in 1994 as a cooperation initiative to close the development gap across and within the EAGA member countries.

Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA)

Established in 1994, the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) aims to accelerate the socioeconomic development of less-developed, marginalized, and geographically remote areas in these four countries as part of a broader goal to narrow the development gaps, not only among ASEAN Member States, but also within them.

BIMP-EAGA covers the entire sultanate of Brunei Darussalam; the provinces of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, and Papua of Indonesia; the states of Sabah and Sarawak and the federal territory of Labuan in Malaysia; and Mindanao and the province of Palawan in the Philippines. The subregion covers a land area of 1.6 million square kilometers with an estimated population of 73 million.

BIMP-EAGA cooperation aims to increase trade, tourism, and investments by facilitating the free movement of people, goods, and services; making the best use of common infrastructure and natural resources; and taking the fullest advantage of economic complementation.

BIMP-EAGA’s underlying strategy is to mobilize private sector investments with the governments (national, state, provincial and local) providing the facilitative environment and support.

To achieve its development goals, the BIMP-EAGA cooperation is anchored on five strategic pillars: connectivity; food basket; tourism; environment; and socio-cultural and education.

As the Regional Development Advisor to BIMP-EAGA, ADB provides technical and strategic guidance as well as knowledge and capacity building support.

The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program is a partnership of 11 countries and development partners working together to promote development through cooperation, leading to accelerated economic growth and poverty reduction.

Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program

The program is a proactive facilitator of practical, results-based regional projects, and policy initiatives critical to sustainable economic growth and shared prosperity in the region. It is guided by the overarching vision of “Good Neighbors, Good Partners, and Good Prospects.”

CAREC 2030 provides the new long-term strategic framework for the program and prioritizes five operational clusters, encompassing both traditional and new areas of cooperation: (i)Economic and Financial Stability; (ii) Trade, Tourism, and Economic Corridors; (iii) Infrastructure and Connectivity; (iv) Agriculture and Water; and (v) Human Development.

In addition, CAREC supports the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) across the spectrum of CAREC operations to promote productivity and efficiency gains in all operational clusters.

CAREC Secretariat
Asian Development Bank, CAREC Unit
6 ADB Avenue, Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila 1550, Philippines
Telephone: +632-8632-4474
Fax: +632-8636-2387
  Visit the CAREC website
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The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) is a natural economic area bound together by the Mekong River, covering 2.6 million square kilometers and a combined population of around 326 million.

Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS)

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) is a natural economic area bound together by the Mekong River, covering 2.6 million square kilometers and a combined population of around 326 million.

The GMS countries are Cambodia, the People's Republic of China (PRC, specifically Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

In 1992, with assistance from ADB, the six countries entered into a program of subregional economic cooperation, designed to enhance economic relations among the countries. Read more

Greater Mekong Subregion Secretariat Regional Cooperation and Operations Coordination DivisionSoutheast Asia DepartmentAsian Development Bank 6 ADB Avenue, Mandaluyong City 1550 Metro Manila, Philippines
  Tel +63 2 86324444   Fax +63 2 86362226 GMS Secretariat


Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand are neighbors sharing close historical, cultural, and linguistic ties.

Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT)

Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand are neighbors sharing close historical, cultural, and linguistic ties. With southern Thailand and northern Malaysia sharing a land border, and separated from Sumatra, Indonesia only by the narrow Straits of Malacca, these three Southeast Asian nations also share vibrant and growing economic linkages.

The Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) subregional program aims to stimulate economic development in 32 of these three countries’ less-developed states and provinces, which are home to over 54 million people. The IMT-GT is comprised of:

The IMT-GT consists of:

  • 14 provinces in southern Thailand: Krabi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Narathiwat, Pattani, Phattalung, Satun, Songkhla, Trang, Yala, Chumphon, Ranong, Surat Thani, Phang Nga, and Phuket;
  • 8 northern states of Peninsular Malaysia: Kedah, Kelantan, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, Perak, Perlis, and Selangor; and
  • 10 provinces of Sumatra, Indonesia: Aceh, Bangka-Belitung, Bengkulu, Jambi, Lampung, North Sumatra, Riau, Riau Islands, South Sumatra, and West Sumatra.

ADB has been involved in the IMT-GT program since its inception, and has been a Regional Development Partner since 2007. IMT-GT distinguishes itself from other regional cooperation initiatives supported by ADB in that:

  1. it is a grouping of sub-national entities;
  2. the private sector participates as an equal member;
  3. it has a permanent secretariat, the Centre for IMT-GT Subregional Cooperation (CIMT) funded by its members; and
  4. it focuses on fostering not only overland trade and transport, but rather a full array of multi-modal transport links.

ADB Assistance to Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT)

ADB has been a long-term supporter of the IMT-GT as its Regional Development Partner. Technical support includes: IMT-GT Vision 2036 and Implementation Blueprint 2017-2021. The Leaders have adopted an Implementation Blueprint 2017-2021 (under the IMT-GT Vision 2036) at the 10th IMT-GT Summit on 29 April 2017 in Manila, Philippines. A pipeline of Priority Connectivity Projects estimated at US$47 billion was also endorsed. The IMT-GT’s Vision is to become an integrated, innovative, inclusive and sustainable subregion by 2036. ADB will support implementation of the IMT-GT Vision 2036 in close collaboration with the working groups, national secretariats, the Centre for IMT-GT Subregional Cooperation (CIMT) and other subregional mechanisms.

Green Cities Initiative

ADB support for this initiative, which was launched by the Chief Ministers and Governor’s Forum, commenced the preparation of a Green City Action Plan (GCAP) for Melaka adopted by the Melaka State Government. An implementation plan for Melaka was also prepared, with strong support from the Malaysian government. In 2016, ADB’s Office of the Public-Private Partnership signed with Melaka Green Technology Corporation a transaction advisory service agreement for a public-private partnership to install 100,000 smart energy efficient streetlights in Melaka. Green City Action Plans for Songkhla and Hat Yai (Thailand) were completed in 2016, while Green Cities Action Plans for Medan and Batam in Indonesia have both been completed in 2017. ADB also supported the 2nd Asia-Pacific Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation/16th International Convention on Melaka Twin Cities in 2016, which enabled GCAP cities to share learnings and enhance regional integration of GCAPs.


ADB is assisting in preparing the IMT-GT Tourism Sector Strategic Framework (TSSF) that would build on the national tourism strategies of the IMT-GT countries, with an aim of promoting the subregion as a single destination. The TSSF is expected to be endorsed at the 23rd IMT-GT Ministerial Meeting in 2017.

Statistical Database

An IMT-GT Database on Trade, Investment, and Tourism was developed to monitor IMT-GT economy. A statistical booklet was also produced. ADB supported the establishment of a database taskforce comprised of representatives from statistical agencies. The databases were handed over to the subregional secretariats for administration and management in 2017.

Capacity Building Support for IMT-GT

ADB assisted in the development of a project manual as a guide for project identification and implementation and organized a training workshop on project management in Penang.

ADB also organized several capacity building and training programs for IMT-GT officials in 2016 and early 2017:

  • Workshop on Cross-border E-commerce: Towards Seamless Connectivity on 9-11 March 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand
  • Tourism Management – Enhancing People-to-People Connectivity for Inclusive Growth Training on 24-29 April 2016 in Guilin, People’s Republic of China
  • Economic Corridor Development for Competitive and Inclusive Asia on 17-26 August 2016 in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand
  • Regional Power Market and Cross-border Interconnections Training on 25-30 September 2016 in Seoul, Korea
  • Special Economic Zones as Catalysts for Economic Corridors, Value Chains and Production Networks Training on 17-22 October 2016 in Shanghai, PRC
  • Social Protection on 16-20 January 2017 in Manila, Philippines
  • Tourism Management on 25-30 April 2017 in Guilin, People’s Republic of China
  • Workshop on Cross-border E-commerce: Towards Seamless Connectivity on 16-18 May 2017 in Bangkok, Thailand
Capacity Building Support for the CIMT Secretariat

ADB and the CIMT signed a Cooperation Agreement in 2014 which identified areas of cooperation and strengthened ADB’s continued support for the subregion. ADB has also provided assistance to the CIMT to prepare its business plan and operations manual.

Increasing Cooperation with ASEAN

ADB organized an ASEAN, BIMP-EAGA and IMT-GT Land Transport Facilitation Consultation Meeting in Surabaya, Indonesia. Encouraged by the favorable outcome of the first dialogue, ADB plans to organize a roundtable on the ASEAN Vision 2025 and complementarities with the new strategic documents of IMT-GT and other subregions in 2018.

Resources on the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT)

The SASEC Program brings together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in a project-based partnership to build a better quality of life for the people of the subregion.

South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC)

The South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) program brings together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in a project-based partnership that aims to promote regional prosperity, improve economic opportunities, and build a better quality of life for the people of the subregion. SASEC countries share a common vision of boosting intraregional trade and cooperation in South Asia, while also developing connectivity and trade with Southeast Asia through Myanmar, to the People’s Republic of China, and the global market.

Improving trade and energy security

SASEC seeks to strengthen multimodal cross-border transport networks that boost intraregional trade and open up trade opportunities with East and Southeast Asia. The program helps build modern and effective customs administration that speeds up the time and reduces the costs of moving goods, vehicles, and people across borders. Better connectivity will help unleash the tremendous potential for mutually beneficial trade between the seven SASEC countries, which remain some of the least economically integrated in the world.

SASEC also assists member countries in improving energy security by developing infrastructure and promoting intraregional power trade to reduce costs and import dependence.

Developing economic corridors

In 2016, the SASEC countries approved the SASEC Operational Plan 2016-2025, a 10-year strategic roadmap, which introduced Economic Corridor Development as a fourth sectoral area of focus, to promote synergies and linkages between economic corridors across SASEC countries. This will help optimize development gains in the subregion, including industrial growth and competitiveness, the creation of high-quality jobs, increased productivity, and strengthening existing value chains.

More than a decade of cooperation

SASEC members gather regularly to discuss and address shared interests, creating support and ownership for the program at the policy level as well as practical collaboration at the technical working level. Over a decade of successful cooperation has built confidence and mutual trust through various discussion platforms that decide on coordinated actions for the benefit of all. ADB serves as the SASEC Secretariat.

As of June 2020, SASEC countries have implemented 61 regional projects worth over $13.5 billion in the energy, economic corridor development, transport, trade facilitation, and information and communications technology sectors.