Five lower Mekong countries and the United States are taking steps to boost cooperation in key areas to drive development in the region with the U.S. pledging further support to help address challenges faced by the region.

Around 100 delegates from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the US met yesterday in Vientiane to discuss cooperation under the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) introduced by foreign ministers of the US and the five countries when they met in 2009 in Thailand.

The multinational forum aims to address trans-boundary policy and development challenges in the key areas of agriculture and food security, connectivity, education, energy security, environment, water and health.

In his keynote address, U.S. ambassador to Laos Mr. Daniel A. Clune touched upon the important need for cooperation in these areas.

“Cooperation and collaboration on issues such as climate change, public health and energy security is essential. We are all facing these same challenges,” Mr. Clune said.

The ambassador added that the US was committed to utilising its expertise and experience to support the LMI countries as they face these challenges.

“We will continue to share best practices and provide assistance where we can as you work to develop in an efficient, well-governed and sustainable manner, especially as you move toward the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015,” he told the meeting.

The U.S. and Laos collaborate on a variety of programmes through the LMI including English language for specialised purposes, classes to improve English for Lao officials and a modern infrastructure for the Mekong programme, which helps ensure the sustainable development of hydropower, according to the U.S. embassy.

The Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the two-day 6th LMI Regional Working Group Meeting will adopt the minutes of the meeting, which will later be submitted to the 7th meeting of foreign ministers of the U.S. and the five countries.

Lao Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Bounkeut Sangsomsak headed the Lao delegates at the meeting.

Participants reviewed progress made in carrying out the Action Plan of the LMI for 2011-2015 that covered the key areas, the ministry said.

During the meeting, delegates also exchanged ideas for narrowing the development gap in ASEAN and accelerating economic integration.  They also sought ways to strengthen cooperation between the six countries in order to develop in a more efficient, well-governed, and sustainable manner, the U.S. embassy said.

In the field of Water Management, the US will assist in developing environmental programmes in the Mekong region to help address future challenges.  The programmes include the development of ‘Forecast Mekong,' a predictive modeling tool to illustrate the impact of climate change and other challenges to the sustainable development of the Mekong River Basin, according to a U.S. official website.

U.S. education assistance includes support for more than 500 students and scholarly exchanges with Mekong countries each year through the Fulbright Programme and other educational programmes.  U.S. assistance to the Mekong countries in the health field has contributed to a 50 percent reduction in the HIV/AIDS infection rate in Cambodia, and has provided treatment and prevention services to over 2 million people across the region.

By Times Reporters 

Source: Vientiane Times

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