New Mekong bridge to narrow gaps via special economic zones

MUKDAHAN, Thailand, Nov. 22 Kyodo

Foreign ministers from Laos, Vietnam and Thailand met Thursday with a senior Japanese official and pledged to promote trade and investment by establishing special economic zones in Thailand’s Mukdahan Province and Laos’s Savannakhet Province, which will be linked by a Japanese-financed bridge being built across the Mekong River.

After the meeting, they issued a joint statement welcoming ”the positive progress made toward the construction of the Second Thai-Lao Mekong Bridge, Route 9 (in Laos) and Highway 1 (in Vietnam) leading to Danang Deep-Sea Port.”

The meeting was attended by Thai Foreign Minister Surakiat Sathirathai, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien, Laotian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Somsavat Lengsavad, and Japanese Parliamentary Foreign Secretary Taimei Yamaguchi.

In their statement, they said they expected the East-West Economic Corridor linking Thailand, Laos and Vietnam to be completed by 2005, when the construction of the Thai-Lao bridge would be completed. Road construction in Laos is expected to be completed by 2003 and in Vietnam by 2004.

They also called for a joint feasibility study for establishing special economic zones in Mukdahan, Savannakhet and another economic border zone in Lao Bao in Laos. They envisioned the special economic zone ”could serve as a co-production base,” for the Mekong subregion.

Laotian Foreign Minister Somsavat told reporters he hoped the efforts to improve the land route connecting Thailand, Laos and Vietnam would help narrow the developmental gap among the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The ministers also expressed hope the road linkage could be extended to Myanmar in the near future, so ”the plan for a complete East-West Economic Corridor can be realized.”

After the meeting, they inspected the 1,600-meter bridge’s construction site and toured Savannakhet Province. They later flew to the Vietnamese coastal city Danang.

The bridge, to cost 3.2 billion baht (about $72.2 million), is being financed by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. The bank has already signed a loan agreement with Laos and is expected to sign one with Thailand in December. The loan agreements entail each country borrowing half the construction cost.

On Tuesday, the Thai cabinet agreed with the Finance Ministry to secure a six-year disbursement loan of 4.08 billion yen from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation for the construction of the second Mekong bridge.

Out of the total loan, 3,495 million yen is expected to be used for construction work, and another 235 million yen will be used for hiring consultants. It is a 30-year loan with a 1% interest rate, and a 10-year grace period for the construction cost, and a 40-year loan at 0.75% interest and a 10-year grace period for the consulting costs, according to the Thai cabinet.

The bridge is expected to get a final contractor early next year and construction is expected to begin in September next year.

The project is part of the East-West corridor sponsored by the Asian Development Bank and aimed at boosting trade and tourism in the Mekong basin.

In 1994, Thailand and Laos opened an Australian-funded bridge over the Mekong known as the Friendship Bridge. It links Thailand’s northeastern Nongkhai Province and the Lao capital Vientiane.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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