Policy Brief

Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS)

Twenty-five years of cooperation under the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Program have witnessed the evolving cooperation and partnership among the six countries that share the Mekong River. In 1992, Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam established the GMS Economic Cooperation Program and requested the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for support. It was not until 2002 that the Building on Success: A Strategic Framework for the Next Ten Years of the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Program (GMS SF-I) was adopted covering the period 2002–2012. It was succeeded by the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Program Strategic Framework 2012–2022 (GMS SF-II), for which a midterm review (MTR) has been conducted. This Ha Noi Action Plan 2018–2022 (HAP) reflects the GMS Program’s agenda for the remaining 5 years of GMS SF-II based on the findings of the MTR, as well as the new thrusts and operational priorities of sector strategies. It builds on past achievements and lessons learned, and charts the way forward to address the emerging development challenges through regional cooperation.


The MTR focused on five assessment areas with the following key findings:
•     Continued relevance of the GmS SF-II in supporting national priorities. The GMS SF-II remains relevant and responsive to the GMS countries’ development agenda. Transport and economic corridor development were considered by the GMS countries to be the most beneficial areas of cooperation, as these directly support their industrialization, economic diversification, and value chain integration strategies.
•     Consistency between sector strategies and overall GmS Program strategy. On the whole, the overall GMS SF-II strategies and sector strategies are aligned, i.e., they are positioned relative to each other toward achieving the same goals. A review of the project portfolio, however, indicates that some sector priorities were supported more strongly than others.
•     Implementation performance. The implementation performance across sectors was mixed. The strong sector performers were transport, tourism, agriculture, and environment. The energy and trade facilitation sectors made incremental but slow progress. Urban development is still at the initial stages of operationalizing its strategic framework. The human resource development sector recently went through a process of rationalizing cooperation modalities in its four subsectors. Cooperation in information and communication technology (ICT) has not progressed in the absence of an updated strategy, although the private sector-led e-commerce platform has reported some results.
•     Planning and programming processes. The GMS Program does not have a welldefined planning and programming process. The timeframes of sector strategies vary; goals are not defined in measureable terms; and results monitoring has not been fully developed and operationalized. The Regional Investment Framework (RIF)—the planning framework for project identification and prioritization—has had limited effectiveness because of its limited project coverage (i.e., mostly projects funded by the Asian Development Bank [ADB]). Prioritization criteria has focused mainly on financing availability, and undercounting of projects occurs in some sectors.
•     Institutional performance. The GMS institutional mechanisms remain effective and have been responsive to the demands of delivering on sector goals. Specialized bodies have been formed at the sector level (e.g., Greater Mekong Railway Association, Regional Power Trade Coordination Center, Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office). New working groups have been established in health and urban development (replacing the Urban Task Force which initially served as a platform to exchange information and upgraded to a working group tasked to develop and implement the urban strategic framework). Beyond participation in GMS meetings, the private sector has been engaged in concrete initiatives. There is encouraging evidence of partnerships with stakeholders, including with community-based groups, occurring at the project level. ADB’s role as lead financier and central secretariat has been cited as one of the core strengths of the GMS Program. 

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Asian Development Bank (ADB)