On August 9, 2014, the Foreign Ministers of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam, the Secretary-General of ASEAN and the U.S. Secretary of State met in NayPyiTaw, Myanmar, for the Seventh Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial Meeting.
Ministers affirmed LMI’s effectiveness during its first five years in addressing complex, transnational development and policy challenges through dozens of cooperative programs led by LMI’s six pillars focused on: agriculture and food security, connectivity, education, energy security, environment and water, and health, and cross-pillar areas such as gender. Through the pillars, LMI Members have advanced the vision of narrowing the development gap in ASEAN and accelerating economic integration in the lead-up to establishing the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015.
At their annual gathering, Ministers announced a renewed Lower Mekong Initiative program for the next five years that includes focusing the organization on its most successful, in-demand Signature Programs, while simultaneously elevating cross-cutting thematic discussions like the nexus of food, water, and energy security.
LMI Signature Programs
As LMI crosses its five-year anniversary, Ministers agreed that LMI should give permanent status to activities that have proven successful in meeting the Initiative’s strategic objectives and are strongly supported by partner countries. While LMI currently supports a wide variety of highly valuable programs, and will continue to do so, partner countries and the United States committed to delivering the following regular programs, which we believe illustrate the effective nature of LMI:
- Connect Mekong – This program promotes physical, institutional and people-to-people connectivity through the delivery of trainings, technical assistance and Best Practice Exchanges, leveraging U.S. experts from across many agencies and the private sector to foster trade, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Activities seek to narrow the development gap in ASEAN and promote the realization of the ASEAN Community in 2015.
- Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong (SIM) – In its first year, LMI countries submitted twelve proposals through this technical and scientific assistance program which supports environmentally sound and socially equitable infrastructure, clean energy, and land/water use. Ministers welcomed these proposals and looked forward to review and adoption of appropriate projects in the future.
- Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training (COMET) – The five-year workforce development project, with an initial commitment of $4 million, will assist universities and vocational centers to increase the number of skilled workers in the ASEAN priority sectors through online education and in-person training. COMET will include strategic partnerships with the business community, including Microsoft and Cisco Systems.
- Professional Communication Skills for Leaders (PCSL) – PCSL develops technical English proficiency in mid- to upper-level government officials so that they can present ideas and actively contribute to LMI meetings and other regional fora in the official working language. The program, in its third year, is highly rated by LMI countries.
- Women’s Entrepreneurial Centers of Resources, Education, Access, and Training for Economic Empowerment (WECREATE). Ministers affirmed their support for WECREATE and welcomed the upcoming launch of the first Center in Cambodia, which will form part of a regional network to promote women’s entrepreneurship under LMI. Ministers reaffirmed the importance of integrating gender issues across development and policy planning.
- The Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) Program – EPT promotes early detection and response to diseases in animals before they become threats to human health. Ministers affirmed the importance of the Global Health Security Agenda broadly and the need to enhance regional capacity for disease prevention, surveillance, detection, and response across multiple sectors, including human and animal health, and the environment.
In addition to elevating Signature Programs, partner countries and the United States will focus LMI policy dialogues on cross-cutting areas that represent the most pressing regional challenges – such as the nexus of food, water, and energy security; connectivity; and women’s empowerment and gender equality. These areas are vital to the sustainable development and economic growth of the Lower Mekong sub-region. Cross-cutting discussions that bring together stakeholders working to address regional challenges will provide a venue for government officials, academia, research institutions, the private and banking sectors, and other LMI development partners to jointly improve policy approaches and launch appropriate capacity-building programs.
Eminent and Expert Persons’ Group
Ministers announced their countries’ designees to the Eminent and Expert Persons Group (EEPG). Ministers tasked the group with finding concrete ways to promote a sustainable future for the Mekong River Basin. They agreed that the group will subsequently report their findings to senior officials at the next LMI Senior Officials Meeting.
LMI and ASEAN
Ministers praised the recent increase in information sharing between LMI members and the ASEAN Secretariat, and strong ASEAN participation at LMI meetings, notably the March 2014 LMI Regional Working Group in Vientiane, Lao PDR, and the June 2014 LMI Senior Officials’ Meeting in Yangon, Myanmar. Ministers agreed to promote continued programming collaboration so that LMI can productively support narrowing the development gap in ASEAN and identified priorities under the Initiative for ASEAN Integration.
Finally, Ministers lauded the ongoing work under each of LMI’s six pillars – agriculture and food security, connectivity, education, energy security, environment and water, and health – comprising over twenty-five active interagency programs, which together with in-depth policy discussions advance economic growth, strengthen regional integration, and promote sustainable development. Noting the promise and success of the first five years, Ministers charged the pillars to continue to focus efforts on their most effective activities. Ministers reaffirmed their commitments to LMI as a primary driver of Lower Mekong sub-regional economic integration and sustainable growth for the next five years.
Heads of Delegations:
1. Union Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Wunna Maung Lwin (co-chair)
2. Secretary of State of the United States of America John Kerry (co-chair)
3. Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia Hor Namhong
4. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thongloun Sisoulith
5. Acting Foreign Minister of the Royal Kingdom of Thailand Sihasak Phuangketkeow
6. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam Pham Binh Minh
7. Secretary-General of ASEAN Le Luong Minh