Keynote Address at “Enhancing Regional Connectivity to promote ACMECS’ Economic Integration ACMECS Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong Subregion”, 7th ACMECS Summit

Delivered at 7th ACMECS Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The ACMECS countries offer key advantages through their natural resources, strategic location, human capital and their position within the emerging ASEAN Economic Community, with a GDP of almost two and a half trillion dollars. Enhanced regional connectivity within the Mekong subregion is critical for ASEAN and for the rest of Asia.

Two broad trends have required the acceleration and deepening of regional connectivity to ensure holistic economic corridors are developed for the Mekong subregion.

First, as highlighted by recent IMF research, as China rebalances its growth, investment and export-led strategies and moves from reliance on manufacturing to the services sector, new opportunities are created for ACMECS countries. These countries have proven their adaptability and capacity to enhance and diversify their productive capacity; and serve not only regional but global markets.

Second, implementing the recently approved ASEAN Master Plan for Transport is not only critical for ASEAN connectivity, but will serve as a backbone for several other regional cooperation initiatives such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which brings a grand design of connectivity along with financing support.

ESCAP’s long-standing involvement in the Mekong subregion’s connectivity will be further harnessed as progress from the standalone connectivity to holistic and seamless connectivity ensues. This will focus on nurturing multisectoral and multimodal connectivity, with modern approaches and modalities. This is illustrated by the need to ensure that the Asian Highway is more effectively reinforced by both the Asian Railway networks, which have previously lagged because of the weaknesses of the parastatal organization steering this modality of connectivity. At the same time, our 2015 Dry Port Agreement which has thus far been ratified by 18 member countries is more widely adopted and operationalized. Furthermore, the missing links of the Asian Highway are being developed to ensure better connectivity with the external markets. Moreover these land links will lay sound foundations with more sustainable, safer and better vehicle and construction standards to promote more resilient transport systems.

Another priority agenda will be to promote enhanced energy security and more integrated power grid systems to ensure they can manage variable generation as renewable energy sources supplement the traditional fossil energy. The GMS subregional electricity market has expanded access to electricity across the subregion, increased security and reduced costs, with an estimated saving of $200 billion over the next two decades, but the demand for energy outstrips the supply in the subregion. Trading opportunities do exist as the region has a number of countries with energy surpluses, which through grid connectivity will supply the energy deficit zones in the region.

To address the digital divide in the region, ESCAP member states have now approved the Master Plan for the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway and its supportive Regional Framework, which together will enhance the cross border ICT connectivity through fiber-optic cables.

To conclude, as the region’s sole multi-sectoral intergovernmental platform, ESCAP is committed to the implementation of the Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration agenda and reinforcing it with the 2030 Agenda which targets the “development of quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and trans-border infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being.”

Sustainable connectivity requires enhanced multi-modal transport links, freer flow of energy resources and greater access to modern internet communications by facilitating regional agreements, promoting harmonization of cross-border standards and providing technical assistance to member States. This Agenda, if pursued comprehensively, can augment and enhance the capacity of regional groupings to address the many transboundary and global challenges faced in the 21st Century. ESCAP stands ready to support the next and most important phase of AMECS’ subregional cooperation which will serve to forge a path for sustainable development.

I thank you.