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Development funding key focus of ACMECS leaders

Jun 15. 2018
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By WASAMON AUDJARINT
THE NATION

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THE LEADERS of five countries in mainland Southeast Asia will today gather under the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) to map out their five-year plan for development cooperation.

It is the eighth summit of the group comprising Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam that was established in 2003 during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. 

The summit, chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, would see the adoption of major documents including the Bangkok Declaration and the 2019-2023 master plan. 

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Myanmar President U Win Myint arrived in the capital yesterday to attend the ACMECS CEO forum with the business community, focusing on regional development and business opportunities.

During yesterday’s opening ceremony, Prayut encouraged the private sector to cooperate with their public sector counterparts to drive investments in not only target industries but also in infrastructure.

“The Asian Development Bank estimates that the Southeast Asia region would require as much as US$15 billion [Bt486 billion), accounting for 6 per cent of GDP [gross domestic product],” Prayut said. “The amount is too huge for governments alone to foot the bill, hence we need to forge public-private partnership.”

To drive ACMECS funding, the Thai PM said there was a need to increase fiscal regulation flexibility via, for instance, promotion of the Eastern Economic Corridor to lubricate connectivity at the subregional and regional level like China’s One Belt One Road initiative. 

A draft of the Bangkok Declaration seen by The Nation said the leaders would comment on Thailand’s initiative in proposing the creation of an ACMECS fund and an ACMECS infrastructure fund and trust as a financing mechanism for cooperation projects in the region.

The five-year master plan mentions the sectors of cooperation and projects that would require huge capital investment. 

The leaders said in the declaration that they pledged to work together closely to set up the funds by 2019.

“In this connection, we further encourage the active engagement of ACMECS member countries, potential development partners, regional and international organisations, as well as international institutions in the setting up of these funds,” the declaration said.

Financial officials of the member countries are tasked with working out the terms of reference for the funds and Thailand would host meetings to discuss and brainstorm the matter within this year.

The proposed five-year master plan indicated that ACMECS cooperation would happen with three pillars: seamless ACMECS to promote connectivity in the region; synchronised ACMECS to promote harmonisation of trade, investment and industry policies; and smart and sustainable ACMECS to promote development of human resources.

Greater role for private sector

To emphasise their commitment to development, the leaders said in the statement that they would give importance to the role of the private sector notably under the public-private partnership format to implement the master plan.

The ACMECS nations mostly focus on economic and infrastructure development although some members face difficulties due to domestic conflicts and political setbacks. The leaders of the ACMECS member nations refrain from commenting on the internal affairs of another country.

Meanwhile, Prayut had bilateral meetings with Hun Sen, his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Laotian PM Thongloun Sisoulith on the sidelines of the ACMECS CEO Forum yesterday.

With the economy being the primary focus, most of the discussions revolved around border trade issues as well as migrant workers as Thailand is a hotspot for labour from neighbouring countries.

With Hun Sen, Prayut said that Thailand and Cambodia should support “seamless connectivity” via roads, rails and ships as well as connectivity on laws and regulations. The shipping project connecting Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam should also be promoted to support subregional trade and tourism, Prayut said.

With Vietnam, Thailand expects bilateral trade to reach $20 billion (Bt650 billion) by 2020 via the 3rd Joint Trade Committee meeting to be held in August.

Meanwhile, Laos and Thailand agreed to boost cooperation on energy and anti-drugs and narcotics. Thongloun also thanked Thailand’s support on domestic developments, especially infrastructure and land connectivity.

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