The Royal Government of Cambodia hosted over 90 delegates from Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, and the United States in Siem Reap on November 6-7, 2013 for the 5th Lower Mekong Initiative Regional Working Group Meeting.  The Lower Mekong Initiative is a multinational forum for addressing trans-boundary policy and development challenges in the pillar areas of Agriculture and Food Security, Connectivity, Education, Energy Security, Environment and Water, and Health.  The Representatives exchanged ideas for strengthening links between the Lower Mekong Initiative and ASEAN to narrow the development gap and accelerate economic integration among ASEAN member countries in the lead-up to establishing the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015.  They explored regional challenges in the first Water and Energy Nexus cross-sectoral discussion and enhancing engagement with the Friends of the Lower Mekong donor coordination forum.  Delegates also promoted gender equality and women’s issues in the Lower Mekong sub-region through the pillars and defined the timeline for the Eminent and Expert Persons Group to provide strategic guidance for the Initiative.

Pillars: The Agricultural and Food Security Pillar discussed concepts and determined next steps for an agribusiness survey and analysis on the movement and supply of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and fish brood stock among LMI countries; and efforts to support sustainable development of aquaculture resources within the LMI region.  The Connectivity Pillar reviewed ongoing programs with interagency partners, particularly the next phase of the LMI Infrastructure Best Practices Exchange, and considered proposals from partner countries, including a proposal from Thailand for cross-border trade facilitation and two proposals focused on women’s leadership training and women entrepreneurs in Lower Mekong partner countries.  Education Pillar members support and the U.S. is committed to continuing one additional phase of the LMI Professional Communication Skills for Leaders project (Phase III) for 2014-15 and members agreed to review and comment on a draft concept paper for the next phase focusing on teacher training.  The Energy Security Pillar reviewed inaugural year progress and discussed 2014 opportunities, including continued work on natural gas, power sector regulation, electrical interconnections, energy efficiency, and energy demand management.  The Environment and Water Pillar reviewed progress on more than 14 initiatives across the range of water, conservation, and natural resources issues.  There was support for additional activities related to data collection and water monitoring, sustainable forest management, and tiger conservation.  The Health Pillar members agreed on specific activities to strengthen cross-border collaboration on infectious disease control and risk communication management; on technical assistance in 2014 to meet regionally certain International Health Regulation requirements; and on approaches to address more effectively the health needs of migrant populations.

LMI and ASEAN: As LMI seeks to build cooperation and capacity to narrow the development gap in ASEAN, Co-chairs recognized that close engagement with the ASEAN Secretariat is essential to understanding how LMI can be better linked to and contribute to the goals of ASEAN regional integration. In this regard, Co-chairs supported on-going efforts by the LMI Coordination Hub, the U.S. Mission to ASEAN, and the ASEAN Secretariat in working towards developing a systematic and practical process to coordinate and monitor the implementation of joint cooperation projects under LMI and the Initiative for ASEAN Integration.

Eminent and Expert Persons Group (EEPG): The Representatives noted the importance of bringing in outside voices to support and refine the Initiative and agreed that Foreign Ministers will task the Group, which will subsequently report to Senior Officials.  A timeline of next steps for the Group, including selecting EEPs, defining a tasking, and submitting names to the 2014 Senior Officials Meeting was set.

Friends of the Lower Mekong: The Representatives welcomed the first official participation of FLM members Australia and South Korea at the Regional Working Group Meeting.  The Representatives confirmed the importance of the annual policy dialogue and agreed that more work can be done on complementarity of donor efforts to identify gaps in and avoid duplication of programming.

The Representatives agreed to hold the Sixth LMI Regional Working Group Meeting at a time and location convenient to the partner countries and prior to the Seventh LMI Ministerial Meeting, which will be held in 2014 in Myanmar.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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