On August 9, 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry led the United States’ delegation to the Seventh Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial Meeting in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. LMI is the region’s only forum for addressing cross-border development and policy challenges facing the five Lower Mekong partner countries: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. LMI holds four official events and many project and program events annually across six pillar areas: agriculture and food security, connectivity, education, energy security, environment and water, and health, as well as cross-cutting areas such as Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality and the Water, Energy, and Food Security Nexus.
As an element of the strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, the United States has committed substantial resources to the region, including support for LMI’s regional efforts towards political, social, and economic integration and narrowing the development gap within ASEAN. These efforts have been accelerated in preparation for the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015.
Foreign Ministers praised LMI’s achievements during its first five years in addressing complex, transnational development and policy challenges and 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, and elevating cross-cutting thematic discussions like the Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus.
LMI Signature Programs
As LMI crosses its five-year anniversary, Ministers agreed to give regular 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:
- 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 Economic Community in 2015.
- Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong (SIM) – In its first year, LMI partner 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.
- 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 on-line 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 White House’s 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 announcing regular Signature Programs, LMI partner countries agreed to focus future policy dialogues on cross-cutting areas that represent the most pressing regional challenges – such as the Water, Energy, and Food Security Nexus; Connectivity; and Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality. Cross-cutting discussions that bring together stakeholders working to address regional challenges will provide a venue for government officials, academia, research institutions, and 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.
The LMI Pillars
LMI’s six Pillars have proactively developed relevant responses to regional development challenges during the first five years of this partnership. On-the-ground activities comprise over twenty active interagency programs, which together with in-depth policy discussions advance economic growth, strengthen regional integration, and promote sustainable development. A representative list and overview of current and trending LMI programs under each Pillar was released at the 2014 LMI Ministerial meeting and is available at the Lower Mekong Initiative website www.lowermekong.org and www.facebook.com/lowermekong.