Credit: Thai Ku Fah FB Page

New GMS strategic framework introduced with Green Recovery and Covid-19 resilience included

The GMS grouping has renewed its efforts to address regional challenges in the next decade and Green Recovery and Covid-19 resilience will be part of the new strategy supported by Asian Development Bank (ADB)

Masatsugu Asakawa, ADB’s President, delivered the speech online on September 9, where leaders of the Greater Mekong countries were invited to take part in the Seventh GMS Summit virtual meeting hosted by Cambodia.

Having attended the meeting included Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Lao Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh, Chairman of Myanmar’s State Administration Council Min Aung Hlaing, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang also joined them at the event, in addition.

Mr. Asakawa said the GMS countries now face urgent challenges including multiple waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. The GMS Program, he said, recognizes the need for coordinated efforts on vaccinations, mobility, social assistance, and support for businesses. 

The ADB’s President then introduced the new strategic framework of the GMS Program, or GMS-2030, which was endorsed by the leaders at the meeting. He said the bank believed that the GMS-2030 would enable the countries to meet the current challenges they face together so that they could achieve the vision of “a more integrated, sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive GMS.” 

“I believe we all agree that without strong cooperation among GMS countries, the region could experience a quick reversal of decades of successful development. This could undermine long-term sustainable economic growth and lead to increased poverty and inequality,” said Mr. Asakawa.

The GMS-2030, he said, lays out a comprehensive agenda for the next decade to deal collectively with these issues, and the so-called GMS COVID-19 Response and Recovery Plan 2021-2023 will supplement the GMS-2030. 

Mr. Asakawa said there are three prime areas where the grouping’s efforts should focus on under the GMS-2030. First, it must promote inclusion by protecting lives and livelihoods in GMS countries. Strengthened health cooperation, he said, is critical, and it must include fair, speedy, and safe administration of COVID-19 vaccines, along with robust social protections for the poor and vulnerable. 

Second, it must ensure a green and sustainable recovery by working together to promote green technologies, strengthen climate resilience, disaster risk management, and other relevant capacities, increase investment in climate-friendly, safe, and sustainable agricultural and food value chains, and develop high-quality green transport and clean energy infrastructure.

Mr. Asakawa said globalization will come back after this pandemic is over. So, the grouping should further promote open regionalism, which will complement this renewed globalization. This can be done by facilitating flows along regional and global supply chains, and it will require effective regional trade and investment facilitation and open borders that allow for the safe and efficient movement of migrant labor, he added.

The bank’s role

Since its inception in 1992, the GMS Program mobilized $27.7 billion in financing for GMS projects. The projects in key sectors such as health, transport, tourism, urban development, environment, human resources development, agriculture, and energy were undertaken through 109 cross-cutting investments and 230 technical assistance projects. Among the notable ones is the East-West Economic Corridor, which was once questioned hard by sustainable development advocates in the region.

In coordination with development partners and GMS countries, the Program pioneered regional cooperation and fostered greater connectivity, with “impressive results”, claimed Mr. Asakawa. The subregion, he said, is now one of the most dynamic in the global economy in gross domestic product growth, per capita income, foreign direct investment inflows, intra-regional trade, and tourist arrivals. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, the pandemic has pushed 8 million more people in the GMS countries into poverty, and more than 340,000 migrant workers have been forced to return home, according to the bank.

The bank quickly mobilized $50 million to support health security in the GMS, pointed Mr. Asakawa. The bank also provided $2 billion in emergency budget support to GMS governments that requested assistance in the face of strained revenues. Its financing aims to support households, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, as they cope with the pandemic. It has also supported small and medium enterprises, he said. 

Another key element of ADB’s pandemic response is the $9 billion Asia Pacific Vaccine Access (APVAX) Facility, said Mr. Asakawa. APVAX supports the safe, effective, and equitable delivery of vaccines, in coordination with the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access initiative and other partners and a new project in the GMS is currently being prepared for Cambodia under APVAX, ADB’s President said.

Mr. Asakawa said the bank will provide strong, tailored financing aligned with GMS-2030. It will also coordinate co-financing from development partners and the private sector, and prepare relevant knowledge and innovative knowledge solutions.

The 2021-2023 GMS COVID-19 Response and Recovery Plan, in particular, aims to help countries address the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic through regional cooperation in key areas, complementing country response plans.

The plan includes measures to protect the health of people, animals, crops, and food products, as well as urban environments. It also seeks to promote the safe, orderly movement of labour and support open borders, as well as inclusive, green, and resilient economic activities, according to the bank.

An initial list of priority projects worth $3.1 billion has been identified to support the plan.

“ADB will also continue to play a central role in coordinating the GMS Program,” said Mr. Asakawa.

The stances

PM Prayut, meanwhile, commended the responses of all member countries against the COVID-19 pandemic through the integrated effort of all sectors.

He said the meeting would be a good opportunity for the member countries to review and assess the progress, and promote constructive cooperation under the GMS framework.

The Thai premier emphasized the need to upgrade cooperation in order to build upon the success of the 3Cs strategy which is the key to GMS cooperation; Connectivity, Competitiveness, and Community.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang, meanwhile, addressed in his speech that China and the Mekong countries are close neighbours, akin to a family. He then proposed to build a community with a shared future in its neighbourhood, according to the Chinese Embassy in Thailand.

The Premier pointed out that the current COVID-19 pandemic is still fluctuating globally, instability and uncertainty in the global economy are increasing, and the economic recovery and sustainable growth of countries in the subregion are facing new challenges.

“We should build consensus, enhance political mutual trust, broaden cooperation areas, improve cooperation levels, and jointly promote the sustainable and inclusive development of the subregion,” H.E. Li Keqiang said while putting forward six suggestions.

They included deepening cooperation on water resources, making people’s lives the top priority and promoting joint efforts in pandemic control and vaccine cooperation with a scientific spirit and by adhering to scientific rules, strengthening trade and investment for joint economic recovery, promoting connectivity to achieve coordinated development, promoting sustainable development and improving people’s livelihoods, and consolidating political trust and safeguarding common interests of GMS countries.

Sources: ADB, the Thai Government, the Chinese Embassy in Thailand