Lower Mekong Initiative Enhances US Cooperation With ASEAN Countries

In her remarks at the Fifth Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial

in Cambodia, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) is a key component of US ongoing cooperation with ASEAN and efforts to spur regional integration and close the development gap.

“The United States is proud of the work we are doing together in the (LMI).” -Ms. Clinton

She stresses that LMI is also a key component of US larger strategy in Asia, where it is working with partners to expand security, promote economic development, and strengthen people-to-people ties.

View of the Mekong before sunset.

The forum was created three and a half years ago because they saw great potential in coming together to solve challenges in health, infrastructure, the environment, and education, Ms. Clinton said.

Ms. Clinton says through the LMI, US and Lower Mekong Countries have improved the way they measure the effects of climate change, started sharing best practices in the management of great rivers like the Mekong, expanded opportunities for workers in key areas to learn English.

At the Forum, Ms. Clinton announces taking several steps they are taking that will build on the work they have already done together.

“First, because we recognize that our efforts must continue to evolve if we are going to advance the aspirations of our people, we are reorganizing some of our work.” -Ms. Clinton

She announces that Vietnam will co-chair a strengthened Pillar on Environment and Water which will include a broader focus on sanitation, flood management, urban water supplies, and related issues.

Nay Pyi Taw will co-chair a new Agriculture and Food Security Pillar which will further their collective efforts to sustain food security for people throughout the Mekong region, Ms. Clinton cited.

“Second, we have begun discussions about establishing a group of outside independent experts who could offer fresh thinking on subregional integration, sustainable development, economic competitiveness, and other areas of mutual interest.” -Ms. Clinton

Finally, Ms. Clinton announces a new, long-term commitment by the United States to support the Lower Mekong Initiative.

She stresses that as part of its Asia Pacific Security Engagement Initiative, the United States is launching LMI 2020.

She says as the name implies, it is a multiyear vision for how the United States can help each of its partners together as well as individually to build a more prosperous region through each of the LMI pillars.

As part of LMI 2020, Ms. Clinton says the US government will support a new partnership between the Government of Vietnam and Harvard University to train the region’s next generation of public policy experts and leaders in key areas.

Other efforts under LMI 2020 will ramp up the fight against malaria and climate change, she added.

Initially, the US will seek to invest $50 million in LMI 2020 over the next three years.

She cites this is in addition to the bilateral support the US already provides each of the Lower Mekong countries.

“We think this initiative has great potential, but it can only be successful if we have the full participation of all the partners, because we need your ideas and we need your very constructive and candid dialogue with us.” -Ms. Clinton

The US is developing an LMI coordinating network, and as the first step, they will set up a coordination hub at the USAID Mission in Bangkok.

“And it’s time to move the center of LMI closer to the Mekong River so that we can enhance cooperation and connectivity.” -Ms. Clinton

Through LMI 2020, Ms. Clinton says the US government is prepared to commit up to $1 million, along with other donors, to support studies on these unanswered questions.

The United States will also help the Mekong River Commission build up its technical capacity through an additional $2 million grant for its work on sustainable fisheries and rural livelihoods.

The United States is siezing th opportunity to increase its economic engagement with Asian countries.

Asian economies and populations are growing rapidly and so are the opportunities to expand US exports to the region.

In 2011, the United States exported nearly $900 billion in goods to APEC countries which are more exports than the US sent to any other group of regional economies, Mr. Hormats noted.

The United States was able to get KORUS passed, hosted a successful APEC year in 2011, and it is increasing its engagement with ASEAN as well, Mr. Hormats said.

In Southeast Asia in particular, the U.S. government is looking to launch new initiatives to support its private sectors interests in the region.

The U.S. Trade Development Agency (USTDA) is leading a Connectivity Cooperation Initiative with ASEAN and the State Department is collaborating with the U.S. ASEAN Business Council to organize a Lower Mekong Initiative Infrastructure Best Practices Exchange, he cited.

The decisions Asia’s emerging economies make together with the United States will help govern a rules-based system that will guide us through the 21st century.

Secretary Clinton has clearly articulated US vision that economic competition should be open, free, transparent, and fair, Mr. Hormats stressed.

In November 2011, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reported that trade between the United States and Southeast Asia has tripled over the past 20 years.

The United States shares ASEAN’s vision for strengthening the roads, rails, ports, power stations, and other infrastructure required for the efficient flow of goods and services.

The United States is committed to expanding trade and investment ties with Indonesia through the U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership and has witnessed measurable progress in the past year.

Two-way goods trade grew to $23.4 billion in 2010, and in the first half of 2011 U.S. goods exports to Indonesia expanded by 17 percent year-on-year while imports from Indonesia grew by 22 percent. Indonesia continues to be a top beneficiary of U.S. trade preferences extended under the Generalized System of Preferences, with $1.9 billion worth of goods entering the U.S. market duty free under the program in 2010. The investment relationship is also gaining strength: in 2009, U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) stock in Indonesia reached $16 billion and Indonesian FDI in the United States was up 175 percent from 2008, totaling $256 million.

Mina Fabulous
Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn't preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.