Mekong states boost co-operation
by Le Hung Vong
QUANG TRI — Representatives of the governments of Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam discussed measures to enhance cooperation at an international conference on cooperation for economic and tourism development along the Trans-Asia Highway (East-West Economic Corridor) in Quang Tri Province's Dong Ha City on Saturday.
|Thien Nien Ki supermarket in the central province of Quang Tri 's Lao Bao Special Trade Area. The province, is an important link along the Trans-Asia Highway. — VNA/VNS Photo Ho Cau
Speaking at the opening session of the conference, the chairman of Quang Tri People's Committee, Nguyen Duc Cuong, said the conference aimed to assess the potential and opportunities in the four countries for development along the corridor.
It would identify theoretical points as a basis for localities to set out policies and seek appropriate measures for economic and tourism development, investment mobilisation and human resource development, according to Cuong.
He said the conference would also help the host province assess the potential and advantages of its beach-head position on the corridor in economic development, investment mobilisation and cultural exchange.
"Quang Tri is a meeting point and important link connecting the cultural characteristics and traditional values of areas along the Trans-Asia Highway," said Cuong.
As an initiative put forward at the eighth Meeting of Ministers of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) countries in Manila in October 1998, the East-West Economic Corridor project has been co-financed by the Asian Development Bank, Japanese International Cooperation Agency and Japanese Bank for International Cooperation, aiming to direct support to local development strategies of the GMS countries.
The 1,450-km economic corridor runs through 19 cities and provinces of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Viet Nam.
In Viet Nam, it starts at the Lao Bao Border Gate in Quang Tri Province, running along Road No 9 in Dong Ha City, through Thua Thien-Hue to Tien Sa Port in Da Nang.
Lao tourism promotion
According to the Laos deputy minister of information, culture and tourism, Chaleune Warinthrasak, the provinces of Savanakhet (Laos), Mukdahan (Thailand) and Quang Tri (Viet Nam) have worked together to hold many tourism-promotion events, including joint efforts in advertising and exchanging experiences in travel and tourism development between Government agencies and enterprises.
They have also held annual tourism-development conferences in the three Laos provinces and three countries.
From Savannakhet, tourism cooperation has been expanded to five other provinces in Laos, Boli Khamsay, Kham Muon, Cham Pasac, Vientiane, Salavan and the capital city of Vientiane.
To promote tourism cooperation, each country must upgrade services to international standards, including qualifications, skills, quality of staff and management, as well as safety protection for tourists during travel, said Chaleune.
Chutathip Chareonlarp, head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand Office in HCM City, said along the 950-km Thai section of EWEC, the longest section in any country, there were few opportunities for trade and investment, but high potential for tourism development.
There are seven areas in Thailand, including Mukdahan, Kalasin, Khon Kaen, Phetchabun, Phitsanulok, Sutkhothai and Tak. Each province has its own character with various tourism attractions and services.
The number of arrivals and outgoing travellers at the Mukdahan checkpoint shows that traveling through the corridor has increased yearly.
As tourism infrastructure development is not complete in rural areas along the highway, most local people have moved to a metropolis or other business centre to improve their career opportunities, which has left a shortage of human resources for tourism businesses, according to Chuatathip.
"The linkage of land tranportation on the corridor can create career opportunities and economic growth along the route. But without business creation, the road will mean nothing," she said. "The awareness of the business sector and people, and how much interest they can gain from the linkage, are very important."
"The economic corridor is one of the goals of the ASEAN's "connectivity" plan leading to economic integration by 2015," the ambassador of Myanmar in Viet Nam, Thet Oo, said.
"In terms of ASEAN Connectivity plan, Myanmar has been one of the most important links to the western gateway of the East-West Corridor, and is considered to be the road to development from ASEAN countries to India, Middle East and Europe," he added.
The connectivity plan would fulfill ASEAN's mission to promote effective cooperation in the fields of culture through various projects and activities that include the conservation and preservation of cultural heritage, promotion and cooperation of cultural industry and the production of cultural showcases.
It would also raise ASEAN awareness about the region's rich and diverse culture, said the Ambassador.
Much more to be done
Commercial and services networks have been developed along the corridor, but mainly in cities and towns in some northwestern provinces of Thailand, in Savannakhet of Laos, and Quang Tri, Thua Thien-Hue and Da Nang of Viet Nam.
But no changes had been seen along more than 200 km from Den Savan (Laos), said Le Quang Vinh, director of the Quang Tri Department of Industry and Trade.
He said far distances without interesting stops and few unique products were the reasons why the corridor-crossing tours only stopped at Mukdahan, or from Mukdahan going to Bangkok and Pattaya, without venturing into northeastern Thailand and Myanmar.
Vinh said the the trade between the countries with Myanmar now stands at an "exploration" level, due to difficulties in transportation, the knowledge and habits and customs, and the demand for goods and payment methods.
According to recommendations from the deputy foreign-affairs ministers of Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam at a conference on May 16-18 of this year, there is an urgent need to repair and maintain roads, especially Road No 9 in Laos. Construction and upgrading of support facilities such as gas stations, motels and services station along the corridor also need upgrading.
Although countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region have signed all the documents guiding the implementation of the Cross-Border Trade Agreement (CBTA) for the 2004 – 2007 period, the implementation is facing difficulties due to the approval process of the annex and the protocols that have not been completed.
Viet Nam, Laos and Thailand should soon complete internal procedures for signing the CBTA Agreement Amendment on expanding the corridor out to Ha Noi, Hai Phong, Vientiane, Bangkok and Laem Chabang.
The three countries should agree to measures to simplify procedures at the border, reduce time for procedures and customs clearance, and fully implement the "One Door – One Stop" check-in at the earliest time.
It should also implement insurance systems, guarantee vehicles required between the three countries, and strengthen the control measures and increase transparency of the rules on fees and fines. — VNS