By Puy Kea
PHNOM PENH, Nov. 17, Kyodo - The leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam held a second day of talks in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, this time joined by Thailand's prime minister, to discuss cooperation in rice production and export among other areas.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said in remarks at the start of the expanded meeting that cooperation among the five countries in rice production and trade would strengthen their position in the world market and help raise the living standard of their farmers.
''We have to promote the development of agricultural sector to a new height to strengthen and diversify the base of economic growth as well as to promote poverty reduction for our peoples,'' he said.
The five countries produce about 62.05 million tons of milled rice per annum, accounting for 13 percent of the world's total rice production, and export to the world approximately 16.61 million tons per year, or 45 percent of the world rice exports.
Hun Sen said the Mekong sub-region can be considered as a ''rice bowl'' of the world as Thailand and Vietnam are ranked first and second respectively in terms of rice exports while Myanmar also has high potential in this sector.
The five countries, which are all members of the 10-member Association of Southeast Nations, have been pursuing cooperation in recent years under the framework of the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, or ACMECS.
Eight sectors for cooperation have been identified: agriculture, investment and trade facilitation, industry and energy, transport linkages, tourism, human resource development, public health, and environment.
The strategy is intended to capitalize on both economic disparities and complementarities of the five countries in order to narrow the development gaps in the Mekong sub-region, which would contribute to the building of the ASEAN Community by 2015.
ASEAN also includes Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.