Mekong Utility Watch

Mekong River pact to be signed today

The Nation
April 20, 2000

FOUR Mekong riparian states will today sign an historic pact to open a navigation route along the upper reaches of the 4,200-km-long Mekong River. The agreement marks an end to decades of political and geographic barriers that have prevented cross-border navigation along that section of the river.

The pact will be signed today in the Burmese border town of Tachilek, opposite Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, by transport ministers from China, Burma, Thailand and Laos. It will take effect one year from today.

A four-party committee will meet afterwards in China to draft common navigation rules.

Dubbed the “Agreement on commercial navigation along the upper reach of the Mekong River”, it will allow commercial navigation covering 786km from Simao in China’s Yunnan Province, to Luang Prabang in northern Laos.

Fourteen ports – China’s Simao, Jinghong, Menghan and Guanlei; Laos’ Ban Sai, Xiengkok, Muangmom, Ban Khouane, Houaysai and Luang Prabang; Burma’s Wang Seng and Wan Pong and; Thailand’s Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong – have been designated as official ports able to handle goods and passengers.

As part of the agreement, the parties concerned will not collect transit fees from vessels authorised to operate along the route, and use will begin without any alteration to the river’s condition.

Kobsak Chutikul, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s economic affairs department, said the agreement was the first concrete economic framework signed under the 10yearold economic quadrilateral cooperation agreement.

The agreement covers areas of northern Thailand, northern Laos, northeast Burma and China’s southern province of Yunnan.

The new transport route is expected to increase the flow of goods andĀ  people and promote tourism in the region, where land transport is stillĀ  limited by inept infrastructure.

The official said benefit-sharing from the project might not be equal among the four participants, but this would be offset by several other projects in the pipeline, to be made under the quadrangular cooperation.

China stands to gain most from the river route’s potential as it will open up landlocked Yunnan to its southern neighbours.

Thailand and Laos will benefit from an anticipated tourist boom expected from the opening of this largely untapped river attraction.

The navigation pact only won final approval at a meeting in Rangoon in March, after being stalled for almost six years because of differences over navigation safety, immigration, water levels and the environmental impact Laos initially feared that the agreement would lead to physical adjustments to the river to facilitate navigation which could impact the river’s flows.

Another hitch was a dispute about the river’s name.

Beijing negotiated successfully to call its section of the river – which flows from Tibet through Yunnan – Mekong – LancangJing.

Rangoon has not been cooperative during negotiations because of the small gains expected for the country from its participation.

The Burmese junta has been preoccupied with security risks in its narcotic and insurgency-plagued area, the eastern Shan State, through which the river passes.

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s