Mekong Utility Watch

River borders opened to commerce

Bangkok Post
June 28, 2001

Four Mekong nations have approved commercial navigation on the Lancang-Mekong river, to promote trade and tourism in the region.

Historic four-nation accord inaugurated in Chinese port.

The inauguration was celebrated at Jing Hong port in China. It is the first such collaboration between the four countries since before World War II.

In April last year, an agreement was signed in the Burmese border town of Tachilek aimed at developing the Mekong river basin through commercial navigation. The agreement allows trade and tour vessels of the four nations to cruise freely along the river from Simao, in southern China, to Luang Prabang, in northern Laos.

Each country must share the responsibility of developing four piers along the river course and facilitate passage of vessels and customs procedures.

After signing the pact last year, they set up a joint committee to study all relevant problems including its environmental impact to make sure the project was viable and would not run into problems later.

Results of the study are expected to be forwarded to each country before September.

This co-operation is expected to increase the transport volume in the Mekong to 1.5-4 million metric tonnes a year, and should also help boost trade in the Quadrangle Economic Zone.

Most of the vessels currently operating in the Mekong belong to China, which already has modern, well-equipped piers and better facilities than its Mekong neighbours.

Representatives of the four countries at the opening ceremony included Pracha Maleenond, deputy transport and communications minister, Huang Zhen Gong, China’s communications and transport minister, Buathong Wonglokham, Lao minister of communications and transport, and U Pe Than, Burma’s communications minister.

Mr Buathong raised concern about the possible environmental impact of trade.

“Like the degrading forests, it could affect the countries at the river’s end,” the Lao minister said.

He asked the working committee to study the project carefully although it provides good trade and economic opportunities.

Thanomsak Serivithayasak, president of the Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce, said opening the river would strengthen Sino-Thai trade relations, but he was concerned about Thailand’s lack of readiness.

Chiang Saen, one of only two Thai commercial piers on the Mekong river, was badly located on a river bend and had been seriously damaged by currents even before the opening, Mr Thanomsak said.

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

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