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The Mekong River Delta, also known as the Mekong Delta, is part of the southern key economic region and represents the final stretch of the Mekong River area. It spans a total natural area of nearly 4 million hectares, encompassing 13 provinces: Hau Giang, Long An, Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Dong Thap, Vinh Long, Tra Vinh, An Giang, Kien Giang, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu, and Ca Mau. With an area of 40.6 thousand km2, it accounts for 13% of the country's natural area, with a population of approximately 18 million people, making up 19% of the national population. This region holds a strategically important position, exerting significant influence in terms of geopolitics, geo-economics, and geo-military aspects for the entire country.

In recent years, the Mekong Delta has experienced substantial economic growth. The quality of this growth has improved as well, with the industrial and services sectors expanding rapidly. It has solidified its position as the leading center for paddy, rice, and fruit production and export in the country. The region has also established several high-tech processing industry centers for agricultural and fishery production, contributing to its emergence as an energy hub for the nation. The marine economy, particularly the fisheries sector, has seen significant development, becoming a key economic sector. The economic scale has expanded, reaching approximately 970 trillion VND in 2020, accounting for 11.95% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). The gross regional domestic product (GRDP) per capita has reached 56.02 million VND/person/year, with a trained worker rate of 62.8%. The Mekong Delta serves as the largest granary for rice, aquatic products, and fruit production in the country. It contributes 31.37% to the GDP of the entire agricultural sector, more than 50% of rice production, 65% of aquaculture production, 70% of fruit production, 95% of exported rice, and 60% of exported aquatic products. Furthermore, it plays a crucial role in ensuring national food security and export. The region also possesses substantial potential for oil, gas, and renewable energy sources such as wind energy, solar energy, and tidal energy. With its intricate network of rivers and canals, vast gardens and forests, and four biosphere reserves, national parks, recognized as world Ramsar sites, the Mekong Delta stands as a unique natural landscape.

Despite these achievements, the development of the Mekong Delta has not been proportional to its potential, advantages, and state investments. The infrastructure remains inadequate to meet development requirements, and systematic investment approaches have been lacking. The region's high-quality human resources, material well-being, and spiritual life of its people still lag behind compared to some other regions. Currently, the Mekong Delta faces numerous challenges, particularly the impact of climate change and water exploitation and usage upstream. Internal weaknesses, such as small-scale production, lack of cooperation and collaboration, and inadequate infrastructure for large-scale production, further hinder progress. The forms of production organization, particularly agricultural cooperatives (cooperatives), remain inefficient and illogical. Additionally, unpredictable market fluctuations, along with the growing demand for environmentally-friendly consumption, necessitate higher safety standards. While there have been investment projects aimed at addressing infrastructure bottlenecks, their implementation has been slow, resulting in limited new resources for regional development. Moreover, the Mekong Delta has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, six out of the nine localities experiencing negative growth nationwide were in the Mekong Delta, making it the second-lowest in terms of GRDP growth, only surpassing the Southeast region, which faced the most severe impact of the COVID-19 epidemic. This marks the first time in its development history that the Mekong Delta has recorded such low GRDP growth, reaching only +2.42% in 2020 and decreasing to -0.43% in 2021. The number of enterprises suspending operations and dissolving in 2021 exceeded the number of new establishments, surpassing the figures of previous years. Over the decades, the economic structure of the Mekong Delta has faced numerous difficulties and challenges, despite undergoing some shaping and changes. The trend of restructuring the production supply chain and enhancing productivity represents a significant opportunity, yet progress in this regard has been slow. For an extended period, the Mekong Delta has been known as the "rice bowl" of Vietnam and the world, tasked with ensuring food security. However, this focus on rice cultivation has limited opportunities for economic growth and development in the region, as the land cannot be easily repurposed. Additionally, the Mekong Delta confronts significant economic, social, and environmental challenges.

In order to make significant strides in harnessing the potential and advantages of the Mekong Delta region, while effectively addressing past limitations and weaknesses, there is a need to create momentum for rapid and sustainable development that aligns with the region's strategic position and role. On June 18, 2022, the Government issued Resolution No. 78/NQ-CP, which outlines the action plan to implement Resolution No. 13-NQ/TW, dated April 2, 2022, of the Politburo. This resolution provides guidance on socio-economic development, national defense, and security in the Mekong Delta until 2030, with a vision for 2045. The goal is to transform the Mekong Delta into an ecological, civilized, and sustainable region, rooted in its river cultural identity. The aim is to establish the region as a dynamic and highly efficient agricultural economic center at the national, regional, and global levels. This will be achieved through the development of agricultural focal centers, economic corridors, and concentrated urban areas, complemented by diverse services and industries and supported by well-integrated infrastructure systems that can adapt to climate change. Emphasis will also be placed on marine economic development, the tourism economy, and the strengthening of intra-regional, inter-regional, domestic, and international connections. Furthermore, there will be a focus on science, technology, and innovation, as well as the enhancement of human resources' quality. Creating a sustainable living environment and improving the quality of life for the region's residents, while conserving natural resources and ecosystems, will be integral to the development efforts. The preservation and enrichment of the unique and diverse cultural identities of ethnic groups, along with ensuring national defense and security, strengthening the party organization, and maintaining a clean and robust political system, will also be prioritized. Ultimately, the unity among different ethnic groups will be fortified to promote a cohesive and prosperous region.

Specific targets for the period 2021-2030:

The average annual growth rate during the period 2021-2030 is projected to be approximately 6.5-7%. By 2030, the size of the economy is expected to be 2-2.5 times larger than in 2021. The regional income (GRDP) will be composed of approximately 20% from agriculture, forestry, and fishery; 32% from industry and construction; and 46% from services. The GRDP per capita target is about 146 million VND/person/year. The urbanization rate is aimed to reach 42-48%. Additionally, the goal is for 80% of communes to meet the new rural standards, with 30% of communes achieving advanced standards. The target for the rate of trained workers is 65%, of which 25% hold diplomas and certificates. The proportion of workers in the non-agricultural sector is expected to reach 75-80%. The plan is to reduce the poverty rate by 1.5-2% annually. Forest coverage is targeted to reach 7.5%. Access to clean and hygienic water is expected to reach 98-100% for urban residents and 70% in rural areas. Lastly, the aim is to achieve 100% collection and treatment of ordinary solid waste and hazardous waste from urban and industrial areas.

Tasks and solutions:

To successfully implement these specific targets, the government requires the cooperation and focus of various stakeholders. The Ministers, heads of ministerial-level agencies, agencies attached to the government, and the Chairman of the People's Committees of provinces and cities should direct the implementation of specific groups of tasks and solutions.

The relevant ministries, departments, and 13 localities in the region should promptly develop specific programs and action plans to diligently and effectively implement Resolution No. 13 of the Politburo and the Action Plan of the Government.

The focus should be on improving development institutions, policies, and promoting regional linkages. This includes completing the legal framework for regional cooperation in terms of organization, resources, implementation mechanisms, and policies. It is necessary to review and amend legal documents drafted by ministries, central agencies, and localities with the involvement of the Regional Coordinating Council, particularly those related to regional linkages. Improvements in development institutions should be made to enhance the quality and effective utilization of human resources, especially high-quality and skilled workers, to meet the socio-economic development needs of the Mekong Delta in the context of international integration and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Master Plan for the Mekong Delta region should be effectively implemented, and efforts should be made to mobilize domestic and international support resources for regional cooperation activities. Active participation in cooperation mechanisms within the Mekong, ASEAN, other international institutions, and relevant countries is crucial. Moreover, it is important to prepare and issue provincial plans for localities in the region that align with the Master Plan of the Mekong Delta for the period 2021-2030, with a vision towards 2050. These plans should ensure connectivity, synchronization, unity, efficiency, and sustainability, serving as a foundation for transforming the development model from scattered and small to centralized development through the establishment of production chains, industry clusters, economic corridors, and urban networks. The aim should be to develop Can Tho city into a regional hub for commercial services, healthcare, education, science and technology, culture, tourism, and modern processing industry. Similarly, My Tho, Tan An, Long Xuyen, Rach Gia, Ca Mau, and Soc Trang cities should be developed into general and specialized centers. Special attention should be given to building Phu Quoc into a hub for high-quality services, eco-tourism, and national and international-level sea and island tourism, connecting it with major economic centers in the region and the world. Gradually establishing agro-industrial urban centers linked to focal centers and promoting agricultural and rural tourism is also important. The implementation of programs for building residential lines and houses in flood-prone and landslide-affected areas should be continued. General hubs in Can Tho city should be developed in connection with development of logistics services in Hau Giang. General hubs in An Giang and Dong Thap should be connected to regional development of raw materials for freshwater aquatic products, fruits, and rice in freshwater ecological zones. General hubs in Kien Giang, Ca Mau, and Soc Trang should be connected to regional development of raw materials for aquatic products in coastal areas. General hubs in Tien Giang and Ben Tre should be connected to regional development of raw materials of fruits and vegetables. Investing in the development of the An Giang border-gate economic zone with state budget funds and other legally mobilized capital sources is a priority. Preferential policies should be promulgated to develop the Dong Thap border-gate economic zone as a comprehensive economic zone encompassing industry, commerce, services, tourism, urban areas, and agro-forestry-fishery, becoming a center for exchange and economic development among the countries of the Mekong sub-region. Investments should be made in the construction and modernization of irrigation systems to support sustainable agricultural transformation and development in ecological sub-regions. This includes integrated irrigation works and the development of basic infrastructure in areas requiring relocation. The implementation of the Project on Prevention and Control of Riverbank and Coastal Erosion until 2030 is essential. It is also important to develop power sources and grids in accordance with the power development planning and the national energy master plan. Furthermore, the establishment of regional-scale water plants to supply water to areas with limited water sources should be prioritized. Information and communication infrastructure should be developed in line with planning, incorporating new, synchronous, and modern technologies. Lastly, the infrastructure of clusters, industrial parks, logistics centers, traditional markets, and wholesale markets should be completed.

The development of the socio-economic infrastructure system, particularly the transportation infrastructure, should be prioritized. This includes completing the transport network to ensure a harmonious, reasonable, and effective connection between different modes of transportation. Emphasis should be placed on developing multimodal transport, with a focus on waterways. Infrastructure development should also consider climate change and aim for breakthroughs in the development of modern and intelligent information technology infrastructure. This should be closely associated with the development of economic corridors, promoting linkages and integration along the urban-industrial economic corridor from Can Tho to Long An, the economic corridor along the Tien River - Hau River, the coastal economic corridor from Long An to Ca Mau and Kien Giang, and the border economic corridor from Long An to Kien Giang. It is important to mobilize and effectively utilize resources for infrastructure development, particularly through public-private partnerships (PPPs), while promoting decentralization and granting more powers to local governments.

By 2030, the expressway system connecting the region with the Southeast region should be completed, along with the development of seaports and international border gates. This includes the North-South expressways to the East, North-South expressways to the West, Thanh Hoa to Ho Chi Minh City - Soc Trang, Chau Doc - Can Tho - Soc Trang, Ha Tien - Rach Gia - Bac Lieu, and Hong Ngu - Tra Vinh. The main national highway system and railway lines should be upgraded, and investments should be made in a coastal road system connecting the provinces of Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Tra Vinh, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu, Ca Mau, and Kien Giang. Additionally, axes connecting major transport hubs and industrial parks should be developed. Inland waterway infrastructure investment should focus on connecting focal centers with the main waterway transport corridor of the region. This includes the development of cargo ports, passenger ports, and specialized ports for inland waterways. The planned seaport system should be completed, with Tran De Port becoming a special port and regional gateway, and Hon Khoai port being upgraded to a general port. Navigational channels for large tonnage ships entering the Hau River and Tran De navigation channel should also be improved. Expansion of Phu Quoc international airport should be pursued, along with adjustments to the planning and investment in Rach Gia and Ca Mau airports. Preparation for investment in the Ho Chi Minh City - Can Tho railway line should be completed, and construction projects for container ports and road sections behind the ports, facilitating convenient connectivity between the seaports and the national transport network, should be expedited.

3. Rapid and Sustainable Development of the Regional Economy

  • Accelerate the restructuring of the regional economy by aligning it with a growth model that emphasizes the application of science and technology, digital technology, innovation, and the development of the digital and circular green economy. The development should be based on the ecosystem, in harmony with the laws of nature, biodiversity, culture, and the people of the Mekong Delta.
  • Foster the growth of green industries and clean, renewable energy, particularly wind and solar power, while also promoting forest and coastal protection. Emphasize the development of processing industries, industries that support agriculture, the high-tech sector, and telecommunications and information technology. Enhance rural industries to enable fine and deep processing, thereby adding value and increasing the technological content of industrial and handicraft products.
  • Foster diverse service sectors, with a focus on supporting services for industrial and agricultural development. Develop Can Tho city as a commercial and service center for the region. Promote tourism characterized by river and water areas to become a leading industry, while also preserving natural ecosystems and cultural and historical values. Develop and synchronize the regional logistics system, including the completion of planning and investment in the Logistics Center in Cai Cui (Can Tho) and the expansion of air logistics services.
  • Promote the development of the marine economy, with a focus on tourism, marine services, maritime economy, oil and gas extraction, renewable energy, offshore aquaculture, economic zones, and coastal industrial parks. Rehabilitate aquatic resources, protect marine biodiversity resources, and proactively adapt to climate change. Develop Kien Giang into a national marine economic center.
  • Strengthen the management and efficient use of natural resources, particularly land and water resources. Prioritize environmental protection and proactively respond to natural disasters and climate change, considering them critical tasks central to regional development decisions, mechanisms, and policies. Ensure the exploitation and use of water sources are in accordance with zoning and water source protection functions. Control and limit the use of underground water sources and pilot flow regulation works. Introduce policies and financial mechanisms tailored to the water sector of the region, with a focus on smart governance. Promote international cooperation in the protection and efficient use of water resources in the Mekong River and related resources. Take proactive measures to control floods, prevent riverbank erosion, invest in irrigation systems, enhance water collection, storage, drainage, and flood regulation capabilities.
  • Protect and develop nature reserves, biodiversity, and important wetlands. Establish a biodiversity corridor connecting Ca Mau Cape National Park, Dam Doi bird sanctuary, Thanh Phu, and Can Gio Biosphere Reserve. Establish a biodiversity research center in Phu Quoc.
  • Develop science, technology, and innovation, and foster digital transformation as the primary drivers of regional economic growth. Foster the development and application of biotechnology and environmental technology to establish circular economic models. Support businesses to actively participate in global value chains, leveraging opportunities arising from the Fourth Industrial Revolution and free trade agreements signed by Vietnam. Prioritize investment in digital infrastructure to establish a digital government, digital economy, and assist businesses in digital transformation and smart production. Enhance the operational efficiency of high-tech parks, concentrated information technology zones, and technology incubators. Establish and develop a regional innovation and entrepreneurship center in Can Tho city. Transform Can Tho Hi-tech Park into a national high-tech park.
  • Continue to foster a thriving ecosystem for innovation and startups. Strengthen collaboration between universities, research institutes, industries, and businesses. Promote the role of innovation start-up centers, supply-demand connection points, and innovation space in enhancing quality, increasing competitiveness, and creating and developing markets for key products in each locality within the region.
  • Enhance the search for advanced technologies, promote technology application, facilitate technology transfer, and encourage technological innovation to address pressing challenges in production, business, services, socio-economic development, and ensure national defense and security within each locality and the entire region.
  • Research and refine principles and criteria for budget allocation in the region. Prioritize and allocate resources effectively to invest in key projects. Improve the business investment environment and drive administrative reform. Attract and efficiently utilize loans and private capital through public-private partnerships (PPP) to develop infrastructure and industries that have advantages and proactively adapt to climate change. Selectively attract foreign direct investment projects.

Dinh Thi Bich Lien

                           Department of Information and Trade Promotion - VIOIT