On July 1, Secretary of State John Kerry led the United States delegation to the Sixth Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial Meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam. LMI is the region’s only forum for addressing cross-border development and policy challenges facing the five Lower Mekong partner countries. LMI holds three official events and many project and program events annually across the six LMI pillars: agriculture and food security, connectivity, education, energy security, environment and water, and health, as well as non-pillar areas such as gender issues.
As an element of our strategic rebalance, the United States has committed substantial resources to Asia, including LMI objectives that support regional efforts towards political, social, and economic integration and narrow the development gap in ASEAN over the long-term.
Agriculture and Food Security
As one of two new areas of engagement under LMI, the LMI Agriculture and Food Security Pillar (AFSP) priorities are to expand agricultural trade and investment in the region and increase private sector, farmer, and civil society engagement.
The United States remains firm in its commitment to following-up on the ‘Connect Mekong’ platform, drawing on U.S. expertise in fostering innovation, entrepreneurship, and trade; and developing technical and managerial expertise to promote infrastructure connectivity, leveraging public-private partnerships. Specific projects include:
This cross-cutting pillar focuses on building educational ties and cooperation among the LMI member nations, including on such subjects as education policy and reform. The Pillar Working Group is examining equivalency of qualifications in tertiary programs and accreditations among Lower Mekong partner countries with the goal of fully integrating LMI higher education standards into the ASEAN framework. The cross-cutting nature of the Education Pillar leads naturally to promising engagement within the educational space on training and capacity building within and between the other five LMI pillars. The signature Education Pillar program ties education to the other pillars.
Energy Security Pillar
Over the next decade energy consumption in the Mekong sub-region is expected to increase by at least five percent annually. Priorities of the LMI Energy Security Pillar are to increase energy security and economic competitiveness through developing unconventional and renewable sources of energy, ensuring access to energy, and enhancing regional energy interconnectivity. The United States and the LMI partner countries decided on a robust plan of action which will kick-off with peer-to-peer engagement on power sector reform and regulation between the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and those performing regulatory functions in the Lower Mekong sub- region.
Environment and Water Pillar
LMI Environment and Water Pillar (E&W) promotes dialogue and information exchange among LMI countries to support sound management of natural resources, with an emphasis on cross-cutting and transnational issues. The goal of the pillar is to advance economic growth and sustainable development through transnational policy dialogues and programs that improve the management of water and natural resources. New E&W Pillar projects include:
LMI Health Pillar priorities include communicable and emerging infectious diseases; prevention and control of counterfeit and substandard medications; regional collaboration to support International Health Regulations implementation; and identifying and sharing best practices. LMI programming seeks to advance World Health Organization compliance and encourages a regional approach for responding to public health emergencies from chemical, radiation and nuclear events. To advance progress in these areas, the Ministers approved a number of new projects, including:
Lower Mekong Initiative members have made a commitment to integrate women’s issues in all LMI programs and pillars.
The United States supports the draft Terms of Reference, describing the objectives of the Eminent and Expert Persons Group (EEPG).
The United States has established funds for small projects generated in the region and will work with U.S. Embassies to advance proposals from the region. In addition to involving partner countries in the planning process, the United States looks forward to regional ideas for making LMI the most effective regional institution possible.
The United States upgraded the LMI website www.lowermekong.org through the LMI Coordination Hub in response to partner countries requests to provide more information-sharing options and to make it easier to use overall.
The next host of the Regional Working Group Meeting will be Cambodia, and the host for the Senior Officials and Ministerial Meetings next year is Myanmar.