Connecting the Mekong Through Education and Training
USAID supports closer integration, peace and prosperity in Southeast Asia and the broader Asia-Pacific region. Pictured above, students take part in USAID's Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training workshop.
Montakan Tanchaisawat, USAID

Asia Regional Context

Southeast Asia is a diverse region, encompassing some of the world’s wealthiest countries and some of its poorest. Consequently, the development challenges the region faces are also numerous, complex, and varied. Most of these challenges are best dealt with by nation-states. However, other challenges, including increasing regional and international trade and managing transboundary threats (such as trafficking in persons, global climate change and illegal trade of wildlife), require concerted cross-border and international efforts and cooperation.

The rapid growth of the Asia-Pacific region, as well as its embrace of economic globalization, have resulted in renewed emphasis by the United States on promoting global prosperity through trade, economic openness and sound governance practices within Asia. The region already generates more than half of global output and nearly half of global trade.

A major factor favoring the region’s rapid growth is that it has enthusiastically embraced the concepts of globalization and regional integration. Economic integration can accelerate growth and poverty reduction, but also needs to be done in a manner which is sustainable and which promotes economic inclusion and broad-based participation in emerging economic opportunities. The United States has a strong commitment to fostering regional and global economic integration, and in helping continues to work together to institutionalize inclusive economic development, poverty reduction and resolution of commonly-shared development challenges.

What We’re Doing

USAID is providing technical assistance in support of closer integration, peace, prosperity in Southeast Asia and the broader Asia-Pacific region. This involves working closely with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Secretariat, and the ten ASEAN member states, as well as with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Secretariat and APEC member economies.

In recent years, the USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA), has provided technical assistance to ASEAN focusing on enhancing the Association’s ability to achieve political, security, and economic objectives as well as promote fair and sustainable human development and improve regional connectivity.

Recent initiatives include:

  • Providing Technical Assistance to the ASEAN Secretariat and Sectoral Working Groups: to become stronger organizations for promoting regional cooperation in areas such as human rights, transnational crime, disaster preparedness and management, and trade facilitation.
  • Workforce Development: USAID's Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training project will conduct instructor trainings at universities and vocational colleges over the next several years to prepare young adults for the workforce in the Lower Mekong region. This approach has been wecolmed during a pilot training event held at Mahidol University.
  • Youth Development: supporting the ASEAN Youth Volunteers Program and developing approaches to increase the number of skilled workers in ASEAN by improving the quality and reach of education at universities and vocational schools in the least developed countries. 
  • Promoting Science and Technology: supporting ASEAN to further institutionalize science-based, data-driven decision-making, and to raise awareness about the role of data and research in policy-making through the media, the private sector and civil society.
  • Advancing Trade: helping ASEAN establish the ASEAN Single Window for customs clearance, a hallmark of ASEAN’s progress in economic integration that will speed clearance procedures, lower costs for businesses and increase trade.
  • Connecting ASEAN and U.S. Businesses: the US-ASEAN Business Alliance for Competitive Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) combines the expertise and resources of USAID and major U.S. corporations through the US-ASEAN Business Council to provide training programs and mentorship opportunities to increase small business access to finance, access to regional and international markets, and access to technology and innovation.
  • Laos Economic Integration: assisting the Government of Laos to modernize and adapt its legal system and economic policies to meet the requirements of various trade agreements, including the World Trade Organization, the 2005 U.S.-Laos bilateral trade agreement and the ASEAN Economic Community.

USAID RDMA’s support for APEC has focused on:

  • Strengthening Institutions: including a broad range of support to the APEC Secretariat intended to strengthen IT systems, improve personnel and financial management systems, and generally build staff capabilities so that the Secretariat becomes a stronger, more strategically managed institution.
  • Trade and Investment: strengthening APEC’s ability under the Trade and Investment Liberalization Pillar to promote and support further liberalization of trade in goods and services and investment flows as well as the multilateral trading system in general.
  • Business Facilitation: strengthening APEC’s ability under the Business Facilitation Pillar to improve the business environment to reduce costs of business transactions, improve access to trade information and align policy and business strategies to facilitate growth and free trade.
  • Economic and Technical Cooperation: strengthening APEC’s capabilities in specific sectors such as transport and communications under the Economic and Technical Cooperation pillar to take advantage of global trade.

What We’ve Achieved

USAID assistance to ASEAN has made significant contributions towards the establishment of the ASEAN Community in 2015. In economic integration, USAID and ASEAN have worked closely together since 2008 to establish the ASEAN Single Window for customs clearance as a backbone of the ASEAN Economic Community objectives.

The U.S.-ASEAN Science & Technology Fellowship program placed fellows in eight out of the 10 ASEAN member states working on energy, coastal management and fisheries.

USAID’s technical assistance has strengthened APEC in cross border services trade, corporate governance, public consultation in the rules making process, environmental goods and services, investment dispute prevention and resolution, disaster preparedness, and microfinance.

USAID supported APEC's development of a Women and the Economy Dashboard, a tool to gather and analyze data from across APEC member economies to understand better the status of women's economic empowerment in the region.

USAID assistance has improved the trade enabling environment in Laos, culminating in their accession to the World Trade Organization. USAID also supported the launch of an online official gazette providing access to laws and regulations and increasing the transparency of governance in the country.

USAID supported the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Program that encourages young leaders ages 18 to 30 from all ASEAN countries to serve as volunteers in their communities, while enhancing cross-cultural and understanding among ASEAN youth. Through an annual summer program, volunteers learn about community development and form lifelong friendships with peers from all across the ASEAN region. Twenty percent of the volunteers who participated in the program have identified independent funding to launch their own community-based projects in their respective countries. Click here to see the inaugural video.

USAID's Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training project has conducted the first broad-based regional assessment designed to identify key skills sets leading industries require, and that instructors, job seekers and governments will need to bridge the gap between education and employment. The study analyzed hiring trends in science, technology, engineering, math, accounting and tourism (STEM+AT) through a survey response from the largest industries in the region including the agriculture, automotive, construction and tourism industries. The survey also found that businesses in the region want job seekers to participate in internships and work-based learning programs to help close the gap in work skills and professional readiness.

Last updated: March 29, 2016

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