Mekong Region (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Vietnam)

Switzerland aims to reduce poverty, support equitable and sustainable development, and foster democratic governance in Cambodia and Lao PDR with their own country programme portfolios as well as regional projects that include Vietnam and Myanmar. The overall regional rationale is to contribute to bridging the development gap between the CLM-countries and the better-off ASEAN-6.

Map of the region Mekong (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar)
© FDFA

Over the past 20 years, countries in the region experienced stable economic growth, allowing Cambodia and Lao PDR to reach the status of Lower Middle Income Country, but not graduate out of the Least Developed Country categorization. The economic growth led to an impressive reduction of overall poverty. However, major challenges such as increasing inequalities, lack of inclusion of vulnerable citizens, specifically women and minorities in rural and more remote areas, weak institutional capacities and environmental degradation persisted and partly grew. These challenges, if not appropriately dealt with, may jeopardize stability and the future development of the region.

Switzerland will continue addressing current development challenges in three main sectors. These are in line with national development priorities and cover Governance and Citizen Participation, Agriculture and Food Security and Skills Development and Employment. In Cambodia, maternal and child health continues to be supported.

Switzerland's activities in the region all include the cross-cutting themes of gender equality, governance and climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Swiss Cooperation is based on the Federal Council’s Dispatch on Switzerland’s International Cooperation 2017-2020, guided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the  commitment to support the implementation of the Development Effectiveness principles while applying a Whole of Government approach. In this spirit, Switzerland is engaged as member in the European Joint Programming in Cambodia and Lao PDR; supports Multi-stakeholder Partnerships; and aligns with existing results based on National Development Plans. Switzerland’s  presence in the region is also inspired by its status as Sectoral Dialogue Partner of ASEAN. The latter is considered as one of the key organisations to bridge the development gap between its member states.

Agriculture and food security

To improve food security, Switzerland provides support for responsible land and forest governance. This domain strongly complements work at the country level and capitalises on synergies of a regional approach to ensure smallholder farmer access to and control over land and forests. It builds on the governments’ increasing willingness to address land governance and smallholder tenure security and take into account that large land investments often have a transboundary aspect.

Agriculture and food security

Governance and citizen participation

Switzerland supports efforts to improve cross-border governance. This domain concentrates on strengthening regional multi-stakeholder platforms and institutions in CLMV to exchange knowledge and effectively manage transboundary issues such as water resources. Diplomacy, trust building and civil society engagement are central aspects of these efforts that, ultimately, should not only result in economic and environmental benefits; they are equally important for maintaining peace and stability.

Advocacy and Good Governance

Skills development and employment

In the region, Switzerland efforts include support to unskilled and low-skilled women and men, safer working conditions and better access to employment. Switzerland works with regional platforms and organisations such as the ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour and within regional processes such as the Colombo Process to promote and protect labour rights and to promote safe and secure working environments, especially for the millions of migrants and other vulnerable workers. By fostering collaboration and exchange across ASEAN partners, Switzerland supports better quality and increased relevance of skills development systems.

Basic education and vocational training

History of cooperation

From a bilateral to a regional approach

Active in the region since 1968, Switzerland can look back on a long tradition of bilateral cooperation with Vietnam, where the programme office closed after 25 years of cooperation. During this time, Vietnam attained the status of a middle-income country in 2010. Vietnam remains part of the regional approach and continues to be a SECO priority country.

In 2006, Switzerland opened a cooperation office in Vientiane in Lao PDR, which is responsible for the regional Mekong programme. The office celebrated 10 years of bilateral cooperation with the Government of Lao PDR in 2016.

The cooperation office in Phnom Penh in Cambodia opened in 2013, where Switzerland also provides support to the Kantha Bopha hospitals of the Swiss doctor, Beat Richner. The cooperation office also provides consular services to Swiss citizens.

Since 1994, Switzerland's Humanitarian Aid Department has been working in eastern Myanmar as well as in the camps for Myanmar refugees in Thailand. Switzerland has maintained an embassy in Yangon since 2012 after the political upheavals in the country. Given its specificities and importance for Swiss foreign policy, Myanmar is covered by a separate country specific Cooperation Strategy, while also included in the regional Mekong programme.