KUNMING, April 5 (Xinhua) -- China has reached a landmark agreement with its Southeast Asian neighbors on oil shipping along the Mekong River.
The agreement with Laos, Myanmar and Thailand will see a trial program of processed oil shipping from May to December, said a maritime affairs official of southwest China's Yunnan Province.
The river rises on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea. It is called Lancang River in China.
The cooperation framework for the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) allows a monthly quota of 1,200 tons of oil to be shipped on the river, said Qiao Xinmin, director of the Maritime Affairs Bureau of the Lancang River.
The agreement is expected to provide China with an alternative to the Strait of Malacca as a route for oil shipping, he said.
China and Thailand will set up a joint emergency response team to ensure safety on the river.
The four countries also agreed to implement uniform charges on cargo vessels.
The agreement describes the Mekong River as a link of peace and friendship by strengthening joint security mechanism to safeguard oil shipping and the lives and property of maritime workers.
It is expected to boost transport cooperation on the Mekong, which opened to commercial navigation 16 years ago, said Qiao.
The river became a tourist route and major channel for ore, fruits and commodities between China and the ASEAN countries after the GMS partners began to explore its potential in the early 1990s.
It now serves as a major trade channel between China and its ASEAN neighbors. In the past five years, the river has carried up to two million tons of goods, representing trade volume worth more than 10 billion yuan (1.25 billion U.S. dollars).
The transport agreement was the most fruitful program under the GMS and the new agreement demonstrated a "substantial" move in the cooperation, Qiao said.
Transport costs on the Mekong dropped 30 percent after the countries dredged the waterway in the low water seasons from 2002 to 2004, said Qiao. Enditem