On 27-28 September 2012, senior representatives of the Lower Mekong Basin countries, namely Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, and the United States gathered in Phuket, Thailand, for the Third Regional Working Group Meeting of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI). Members of the six delegations reviewed progress on the LMI Plan of Action and discussed plans for future cooperative activities in the six LMI pillars of education, environment and water, health, connectivity, agriculture and food security, and energy security. The Representatives reaffirmed that the LMI is an essential regional mechanism and forum for building cooperation and capacity to address pressing challenges in LMI’s six areas of endeavor. They noted the importance of increasing cross-sectoral collaboration across all LMI pillars.
Agriculture and Food Security Pillar: The Representatives approved the Concept Note for the Agriculture and Food Security Pillar. They agreed to further collective efforts to improve regional food security and agriculture for people throughout the Mekong region in an environmentally sustainable manner. They noted opportunities for cross-sectoral collaboration with all other pillars.
The approved Concept Note focuses on 7 agreed-upon areas of priority, including:
- Promoting collaboration in research and development, extension, institutional capacity building, and human resources development;
- Identifying agricultural policies and enhance the implementation of agreements to improve food production, access, quality and nutrition through technical cooperation;
- Enhancing the household capacity to meet food security and nutritional needs;
- Promoting the implementation of sustainable land and water use management for agriculture and aquaculture;
- Strengthening regional cooperation for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture;
- Encouraging the sustainable trade of agricultural products; and
- Promoting Public-Private Cooperation for agri-business development and investment.
Representatives also agreed to develop a solid draft Plan of Action for review by LMI partner countries by the end of 2012.
Energy Security Pillar: Representatives agreed on the importance of enhancing energy security in the Lower Mekong region. They agreed the proposed Pillar will seek to increase energy accessibility and reliability; ensure diversification, development, and conservation of resources; encourage information sharing and capacity building; strengthen cross-border cooperation; and engage and leverage private sector expertise and resources through public-private partnerships. They also agreed to five proposed areas of cooperation as outlined in the Concept Paper on Energy Security in the Lower Mekong sub-region: (1) Energy Efficiency and Conservation; (2) Regional Energy Market Development; (3) Power Interconnection; (4) Energy Research and Development; and (5) Transparency and Good Governance. The Representatives tasked the Working Group to develop a draft work plan for ministerial approval. The Representatives approved the Concept Note, which is attached.
Coordinating Hub and Regional Coordination Network: The Representatives agreed that a regionally-based interim coordination hub for the LMI should be established, and should be located initially at USAID’s offices in Bangkok. Country delegates provided initial feedback to the U.S. on improvements that could be made in supporting virtual LMI communications as the Hub is established. Representatives set a deadline of October 12, 2012 for provision of additional feedback on this topic. They also agreed that Points of Contact for each LMI partner country should be identified.
The Representatives welcomed the announcement that the LMI Virtual Secretariat will be based in the new Coordinating Hub, and agreed that updates are needed to make it more effective as a tool to foster collaboration, share best practices and lessons learned, and to facilitate the planning of LMI activities.
Eminent and Expert Persons Group: The Representatives welcomed the establishment of the EEP group, but agreed that additional time should be spent developing its concept, structure, scope and potential first tasking.
Education: The Representatives noted with appreciation the success of the LMI English project, Professional Communication Skills for Leaders and confirmed that it should be continued and expanded. Representatives also confirmed that building a network to share educational reform best practices should be a priority. Representatives noted that several items could be considered and developed prior to the next RWG including: discussing ways to assure access to basic education in each country; increasing efforts to share information through alumni, including of Fulbright and International Visitor Leadership programs; and, developing an LMI university network. The representatives welcomed two Thai proposals for further consideration on the GLOBE project and on ASEAN Leadership training. Viet Nam raised the idea of promoting public disaster risk awareness education in schools.
Environment and Water: The Representatives noted progress on Pillar priorities including in water management, environment, and wildlife trafficking since the last meeting in Vientiane, Lao PDR in November, 2011; discussed a framework for determining priorities; and considered project proposals from Vietnam (Dry Season Management of Lower Mekong Basin Water Resources and Ground Water Management in the Lower Mekong River Basin) and Thailand (Protected Area Monitoring/Disaster Warning Data Center). They agreed to share the proposals within their governments and provide comments. The Representatives agreed on a number of practical measures to improve the efficiency of efforts under the Pillar, particularly by establishing a mechanism for regular contact among members. This will allow for inter-sessional circulation and comment and facilitate more interactive and useful discussions during future Pillar meetings.
Health: The Representatives reviewed the progress made on building regional capacity to counter infectious diseases, on closing gaps in reaching the standards required by the World Health Organization for compliance with International Health Regulations (IHR), and in sharing information and experience of some LMI members with others on health sector reform and health financing with an emphasis on prioritizing women’s health. They discussed efforts to continue workshops identifying and stopping distribution of counterfeit and substandard medicines in conjunction with law enforcement.
They further emphasized the value of improving and deepening the network of points of contact among LMI partners on health topics; sharing experience and combining efforts to build field epidemiology capacity; laboratory and surveillance
capacity to meet International Health Regulations. The representatives emphasized enhancing the role of women in health policy, education, and health services delivery in remote areas, including the active engagement of women employed in each health center and women community leaders. They noted the importance of maternal and child health care. Representatives agreed on continuing opportunities for training in English for Special Purposes in the health sector, expanding collaboration on cross-border controls for disease surveillance and outbreak control, with attention to legal and illegal migrant populations; enlisting the private sector and civil society organizations in contributing resources and technical expertise.
Representatives also noted the importance of mobilizing resources from member countries to conduct multi-disciplinary table-top exercises on pandemic and disaster preparedness; promoting partner country membership in the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and raising awareness among populations about health benefits of clean cookstoves. They emphasized the need to build synergies with the other LMI Pillars’ colleagues on Environment and Water in water, sanitation and hygiene; on Food Security in food safety and cross-border trade issues; and on Connectivity to improve road and IT networks that enhance health services access for impoverished and remote populations.
Connectivity: The Representatives noted the importance of aligning the Connectivity Pillar with the framework of the ASEAN Master Plan on Connectivity. They discussed the ongoing projects, including the development of physical and institutional infrastructure being undertaken in each LMI partner country, and welcomed the sharing of U.S. expertise in improving regional connectivity. They acknowledged the importance of addressing challenges related to migration, trafficking, and other transnational crimes.
They welcomed the announcement that the LMI Best Practices Exchange on Infrastructure Development will be held in early 2013 in Viet Nam. This exchange will bring together LMI government officials responsible for infrastructure development and experts from the private and public sectors with the support of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council. The Representatives welcomed a series of LMI Engineering Best Practices seminars focused on infrastructure needs in the region, including on engineering, fire safety, regulatory, and maintenance systems. They noted with appreciation the progress being made in implementing the LMI Roads and Bridges series of workshops, and agreed to begin consultations on the first phase of the program. They also welcomed the announcement of a workshop on urban transportation planning.
Under new language in the Plan of Action on enhancing economic development and capacity for cross-border commerce, the Representatives noted with appreciation the U.S. proposed Mekong Technology Innovation Generation and Entrepreneurship Resources (TIGER) concept paper, which will increase opportunities for small- and medium-sized business development in the region. Consensus was reached on taking action to refine the Mekong TIGER Concept Note and begin implementation of the program in 2013. The Representatives also discussed the LMI Investment and Trade Facilitation Workshop and its potential for supporting the ASEAN Single Window Initiative. They welcomed the announcement of a stronger focus on the Mekong sub-region in the next phase of the ADVANCE program. They also noted the up-coming Women, Peace, and Security Workshop and fostering greater people-to-people exchanges through track 1.5 and track 2 dialogues.
Representatives underscored the importance of increasing cooperation with the private sector by establishing joint projects and including private sector companies as partners in LMI programs. They reviewed current public-private cooperation in the Mekong sub-region and discussed potential for further developing cooperation within the LMI Plan of Action.
The Representatives affirmed the need to address gender issues in all LMI activities and agreed that integrating women’s and gender perspective into all LMI programming will be critical to improving our development impacts. They agreed that the recommendations from the LMI Women’s Policy Dialogue in Siem Reap, Cambodia in July 2012 should be taken into account in future LMI programs and activities.
The Representatives took note of a U.S. proposal for a second LMI Women’s Policy Dialogue to be held in July 2013 and committed to further consideration of the proposal.
The Representatives agreed to hold the Fourth LMI Regional Working Group Meeting in Viet Nam, at a time convenient to the partner countries and prior to the Sixth LMI Ministerial Meeting, which will be held in 2013 in Brunei Darussalam.