The GMS Economic Cooperation Program has helped uplift countries of Greater Mekong Subregion that were once ravaged by poverty. These nations are now economic success stories with stunning progress over the past quarter century.
Since it was established in 1992 as a means to enhance economic relations and promote regional cooperation, its six member countries—Cambodia, China, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam—have built a platform for economic cooperation that has mobilized almost $21 billion for high-priority infrastructure projects. Foreign direct investment into the subregion has surged ten times and trade among its countries has climbed from $5 billion to over $414 billion.
But the subregion faces challenges to its prosperity. Further reducing poverty, managing climate change, energy efficiency, food security, and sustainable urbanization remain priorities of the GMS Program. New challenges countries face include growing inequality, rising levels of cross-border migration, and the potential impact on jobs of the fourth industrial revolution.
Moreover, GMS countries have agreed to significant commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
There are also emerging opportunities for the region, including new technologies in various sectors such as education, agriculture, health, and finance. GMS countries are situated at the crossroads of South and Southeast Asia, and hence can benefit from the increased momentum for growth in South Asia.
As GMS leaders gather this week in Hanoi to chart the future of the program, it's a good time to consider how a new generation of initiatives can ensure the Program remains relevant to the subregion's needs.
The Hanoi Action Plan and the GMS Regional Investment Framework 2022, both proposed for adoption at the Summit, provide a platform for countries to strengthen cooperation through continuous innovation. The latter has identified a new pipeline of 227 projects worth about $66 billion. These two documents will have a sharpened focus on the GMS Program's strategic goals of enhancing connectivity, competitiveness, and community in the subregion.
Connectivity has dramatically improved under GMS program. More than 10,000 kilometers of new or upgraded roads and 3,000 kilometers of transmission and distribution lines have been added. The Hanoi Action Plan calls for the continued expansion of these economic corridors based upon transport networks to boost connectivity both between and within countries.
Competitiveness in the subregion is improving. Looking ahead, it will be important to continue cutting red tape and remove remaining barriers to transport and trade.
Finally, communities are being strengthened through cross-border initiatives to control the spread of communicable diseases, expand educational opportunities, protect the subregion's rich biodiversity, and mitigate the impact of climate change.
ADB, which has been the program's secretariat since its inception, expects to provide $7 billion over the next 5 years for a range of projects supporting transport, tourism, energy, climate change mitigation, agribusiness value chains, and urban development. This builds on more than $8 billion in financing provided by ADB so far under the program.
To deliver these projects and achieve these goals in the two documents, strong partnerships are vital. The GMS Program depends on the collaboration of many stakeholders, including local administration and communities, development partners, academia, and the media.
The GMS will benefit from strengthened partnerships with other regional and global cooperation platforms, leading to new opportunities for future development.
China has been an active player in cooperation at various levels and in all areas under the GMS program, and has made significant contribution to boost economic growth and improve people's wellbeing in the subregion. To further these gains, I believe the GMS program can deepen its collaboration with the Belt and Road Initiative, ASEAN and other regional and subregional programs.
Partnerships with the private sector will also be increasingly important, and it is gratifying to see them deepening through platforms such as GMS Business Council, the e-Commerce Platform, GMS tourism and agriculture forums, and the recent Finance Sector and Trade Finance Conference.
I am optimistic that the subregion will meet its challenges and capitalize on emerging opportunities. By working together, GMS countries can deliver rapid, sustainable, and inclusive growth for another 25 years and beyond. ADB will continue to be an important and trusted partner in that endeavor.
(The author is the President of Asian Development Bank)