Curbs on Mekong traffic ease

Curbs on Mekong traffic ease

People walk at the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge in Nakhon Phanom. (Bangkok Post file photo)
People walk at the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge in Nakhon Phanom. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Six Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries have agreed to allow commercial trucks and tourist buses to travel more freely from country to country starting Dec 1, following lengthy talks.

Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China, which form a vast economic areas connected by the Mekong River, have agreed to give each country a quota of 500 vehicles under the transnational transport plan to promote regional logistics and tourism.

This programme, which will initially last three years, will be applied to all member countries, except Myanmar which "has asked for more preparation time", Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said Thursday after a meeting with his counterparts.

Myanmar authorities argued their country has not had experience running such a programme, especially following its recent transition to democracy.

However, during a grace period expected to last until the end of 2019, Myanmar and Thailand are required to hold bilateral talks on border transport.

Bangkok expects it will help boost travel between Tak's Mae Sot district and Myanmar's border town of Myawaddy, Mr Arkhom said.

Mae Sot has been part of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's plan to develop Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to strengthen cross-border trade.

Also listed under the GMS international transport agreement are routes linking Sa Kaeo's Aranyaprathet district and the Cambodian town of Poipet, as well as Chiang Rai's Chiang Khong district and Laos' Ban Houayxay; and Mukdahan in northeastern Thailand and Savanakhet province, which is also in Laos, according to Mr Arkhom.

Mukdahan is another SEZ declared by the Thai government.

Before Dec 1, each country has to fine-tune details about international transport and deal with "some complicated issues", Mr Arkhom said, expecting talks to cover the types of vehicles and goods to be moved, and foreshadowing separate negotiations on tourist coach management.

Road safety will also be on the agenda, he said, adding that Laos is worried about the state of some roads and authorities are aware some routes are in bad condition and need improvement.

Another issue is right- and left-hand traffic as Thailand is the only country adopting right-hand traffic rules, the minister said. He is worried Thai drivers may not be familiar with traffic rules in other countries.

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