ACCORDING to a press release, on July 1, Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry led the United States’ delegation to the Sixth Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial Meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam. LMI is the region’s only forum for addressing cross-border development and policy challenges facing the five Lower Mekong partner countries. LMI holds three official events and many project and programme events annually across the six LMI pillars: agriculture and food security, connectivity, education, energy security, environment and water, and health, as well as non-pillar areas such as gender issues.
As an element of its strategic rebalance, the United States (us) has committed substantial resources to Asia, including LMI objectives that support regional efforts towards political, social, and economic integration and narrow the development gap in Asean over the long-term,
Agriculture and Food Security
As one of two new areas of engagement under LMI, the LMI Agriculture and Food Security Pillar (AFSP) priorities are to expand agricultural trade and investment in the region and increase private sector, farmer, and civil society engagement.
The US approved the Plan of Action for the Pillar.
· USAID supports a local institution to map donor activity in the Lower Mekong sub-region in the agriculture and food security sector, in order to detect programming gaps, identify potential partnerships, and avoid overlapping activities.
The US remains firm in its commitment to following-up on the ‘Connect Mekong’ platform, drawing on US expertise in fostering innovation, entrepreneurship, and trade; and developing technical and managerial expertise to promote infrastructure connectivity, leveraging public-private partnerships. Specific projects include:
· The Mekong Technology Innovation Generation and Entrepreneurship Resources (TIGERS) coordination platform, with the aim of enhancing and deepening the startup and innovation ecosystems of targeted Mekong economies, which will kick-off around the DEMO event in Vietnam in late August.
· Expansion of the Infrastructure Best Practices Exchange to include greater leveraging and engagement of private sector expertise and resources in infrastructure financing and development in sectors including aviation, health, energy, and information and communication technologies (ICTs).
· A new, signature LMI project Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training (COMET) seeks to increase the number of skilled workers in Asean-targeted sectors in the Mekong by using ICTs, improving access to scientific knowledge, and promoting innovative partnerships. COMET will develop skilled labour in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, accounting, and tourism. COMET will take advantage of economies of scale and the new “revolution” in higher education offered by online training and educational courses to engage workers in all the LMI countries in targeted trainings. This regional approach will permit greater exchange of information and ideas, which in turn will lead to economic growth and strengthen people-to-people connectivity in the Lower Mekong sub-region.
This cross-cutting pillar focuses on building educational ties and cooperation among the LMI member nations, including on such subjects as education policy and reform. The Pillar Working Group is examining equivalency of qualifications in tertiary programmes and accreditations among Lower Mekong partner countries with the goal of fully integrating LMI higher education standards into the Asean framework. The cross-cutting nature of the Education Pillar leads naturally to promising engagement within the educational space on training and capacity building within and between the other five LMI pillars. The signature Education Pillar programme ties education to the other pillars.
· The Professional Communications Skills for Leaders training programme will continue into Phase 2 in 2013-2014. This is English for Specific Purposes (ESP) technical training programme which promotes capacity building among government officials and technical experts from the six LMI pillar fields.
· The programme includes teacher training cohorts, professional networking, and an online/distance learning component.
Energy Security Pillar
Over the next decade energy consumption in the Mekong sub-region is expected to increase by at least five per cent annually. Priorities of the LMI Energy Security Pillar are to increase energy security and economic competitiveness through developing unconventional and renewable sources of energy, ensuring access to energy, and enhancing regional energy interconnectivity. Work under this pillar includes:
· National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) project, which provides technical assistance to support a regional interconnectivity assessment later this year.
Environment and Water Pillar
LMI Environment and Water Pillar (E&W) promotes dialogue and information exchange among LMI countries to support sound management of natural resources, with an emphasis on cross-cutting and transnational issues. The goal of the pillar is to advance economic growth and sustainable development through transnational policy dialogues and programs that improve the management of water and natural resources. New E&W Pillar projects include:
· USAID-funded planned Sustainable Mekong programmes that will support the development of a regional approach to environmental management and strengthen capacity to manage shared water resources. To help LMI partner countries to achieve sustainable, green growth, USAID is supporting three new complementary programmes, Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong (SIM), which is an on-demand USAID technical assistance mechanism for smart infrastructure design and development support; Mekong.
Partnership for the Environment Project (MPE) to inform civil society organisations in infrastructure development, and SERVIR Lower Mekong, new planned work to build capacity in GIS and remote sensing technologies for natural resource management.
· Expanding regional collaboration on the management of water, food and energy through the Bangkok Workshop of the Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions scheduled for late 2013.
· USAID-funded Grassroots Equity and Enhanced Networking in the Mekong (GREEN Mekong) programme builds capacities of policymakers and grassroots stakeholders across the Lower Mekong sub-region to engage effectively in national and regional multi-stakeholders processes to forest-based climate change mitigation, while fostering regional cooperation and promoting information sharing and networking.
LMI Health Pillar priorities include communicable and emerging infectious diseases; prevention and control of counterfeit and substandard medications; regional collaboration to support International Health Regulations implementation; and identifying and sharing best practices. LMI programming seeks to advance World Health Organisation compliance and encourages a regional approach for responding to public health emergencies from chemical, radiation and nuclear events. To advance progress in these areas, the ministers approved a number of new projects, including:
· A new Pandemic Health Threat Response programme to address outbreaks of H7N9.
· Hospital Management Workshop through the Third Country Training Programme (TCTP) jointly with Singapore.
· A new, multi-stakeholder approach to regional cross-border malaria cooperation.
· Phase II of a USAID-supported technical exchange between Cambodia and Laos to enhance gender integration in health policies and structures for improved health outcomes.
Lower Mekong Initiative members have made a commitment to integrate women’s issues in all LMI programmes and pillars.
· The US supports new language in the LMI Master Plan of Action designed to deepen gender integration efforts.
· The United States will aim to hold the second LMI Womens Empowerment and Gender Equality Policy Dialogue on the sidelines of the Asean Minister’s Meeting on Women once every three years.
· Informal meetings will be held on an ad-hoc basis on the margins of the Asean Committee on Women and Children (ACWC) annually.
· Annual support for gender-related programming and integration of a gender focus into existing programming, such as Mekong TIGERS.
The US, in collaboration with LMI Members, launched the LMI Eminent and Expert Persons Group (EEPG), with its approved terms of reference, to provide recommendations to LMI members on the strategic direction of the initiative.
The US has established funds for small projects generated in the region and will work with US Embassies to advance proposals from the region. In addition to involving partner countries in the planning process, the US looks forward to regional ideas for making LMI the most effective regional institution possible.
The US upgraded the LMI website www.lowermekong.org through the LMI Coordination Hub in response to partner countries requests to provide more information-sharing options.
The next host of the Regional Working Group Meeting will be Cambodia, and the host for the Senior Officials’ and Ministerial Meetings next year is Myanmar.
- Borneo Bulletin
(2 July 2013)