Vietnam's Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta region needs a special mechanism to improve its transport infrastructure to reduce logistics costs, bolster competitiveness and boost agricultural exports, Minister of Transport Nguyen Van The has said.

Speaking at a recent online meeting, The said his ministry would increase investment in transport infrastructure in the region with a focus on the Trung Luong-My Thuan expressway, especially its My Thuan 2 Bridge and My Thuan-Can Tho and Can Tho-Ca Mau sections.

It would work with provinces to solicit private investment in the Ho Chi Minh City- (HCMC) Can Tho railway, he said.

To fund the works, he proposed that the government should issue bonds.

He also called on local provinces to focus on major projects such as Tran De Port and the Can Tho-Ca Mau, Chau Doc-Ca Mau and Kien Giang-Bac Lieu expressways.

Institute of Transport Strategy and Development director Le Do Muoi said infrastructure in the region has improved significantly in recent times, allowing businesses to buy agricultural products directly instead of through traders.

As of last year, the national highway network in the region stretched some 2,688km, 52 per cent longer than in 2002.

It has an inland waterways network of more than 6,100km and 12 ports with 7,642m of wharves, 23 berths and 16 transhipment areas.

Many ports have been built in the last 20 years, including Cai Cui-Can Tho port, Vinalines Hau Giang port complex and Tra Cu-Tra Vinh port, which can berth ships of up to 20,000 deadweight tonnage (DWT).

The Can Tho and Phu Quoc international airports and Ca Mau and Rach Gia domestic airports have all been upgraded to have a total capacity of 7.45 million passengers and 12,000 tonnes of cargo a year.

But Muoi also pointed out that inter-provincial roads in the region are poorly connected and provincial roads are too narrow.

Many highways connecting local provinces and cities with commercial and logistics centres in HCMC are under construction, he said.

“The Mekong Delta lacks a special policy for development and human resources. But the poorly connected transport infrastructure is the most critical issue.”

Experts said the region has great potential for development, especially of agricultural and seafood exports, but faces difficulties due to the poorly connected transport system, which results in high transport costs.

The region also lacks a deep-water port to ship exports, and so all the goods must be taken to ports in HCMC and Ba Ria-Vung Tau province, increasing costs.

Mekong Delta provinces wanted the government and transport ministry to speed up work on major roads in the region such as the East-West and North-South expressways.

Dong Thap provincial People’s Committee vice-chairman Tran Tri Quang said priority should be given to improving connectivity within the region.

An Giang People’s Committee vice-chairman Tran Anh Thu recommended the use of build-operate-transfer (BOT) and public-private partnership (PPP) models to invest in transport infrastructure to reduce pressure on public resources.

The said his ministry has proposed a number of policies to the government to mobilise investment for the region.

He urged provinces and agencies to speed up the construction of highways and develop a comprehensive water transport system.

According to a report by the ministry, public spending in the region in 2003-2020 has been around 109.24 trillion dong ($4.8 billion), higher than the national average (87.87 trillion dong).

The delta is home to nearly 20 million people and an agro hub for the country.