The economic structure of south-western provinces has shifted positively and strongly, reported the region's Steering Committee at a conference on July 14 to review a 10-year development plan.

Deputy director of the committee, Nguyen Phong Quang, said industry and construction has increased from 18 percent in 2000 to 26 percent of the region's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2010.

Services had increased from 28 percent to 35 percent in the last 10 years while agriculture, forestry and aqua-culture had dropped from 53.5 percent to 35 percent.

The region's GDP growth had also shown a positive figure of 11.7 percent per year, while export-import turnover was 6.83 billion USD in 2010, 9.1 percent of the total for the nation, according to Quang.

The development of the region had also been clearly reflected in people's average incomes, which had increased two-and-a-half times in the last 10 years, he said.

Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Bui Quang Vinh said the most important achievement of the south-western region was to have agriculture, forestry and aqua-culture developed in a good balance and create specialising areas for specific product cultivation.

Vinh reported that in the last 10 years, production value of the sector had almost doubled from about 56 trillion VND to 101 trillion VND (2.67 billion USD to 4.8 billion USD) while the rice yield increased from 16 million tonnes to 21.6 million tonnes.

He said the value of industry had increased 18.8 percent per year and reached 156 trillion VND (7.4 billion USD) in 2010.

Social welfare was also emphasised by the authorities. In the last 10 years, more than 88,000 houses were built specifically for poor ethnic people and more than 10,000 jobs had been created.

Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung, who chaired the conference, said the region had performed a great job by lowering the number of the poor by 13 percent in 10 years and improved living standards for local people, including 1.4 million ethnic people.

However, Hung said many problems will need to be resolved in the next few years such as the lack of smooth connection between policy and planning; the connections between provinces in the region.

Infrastructure development has not yet met the requirement to protect the region from climate change or pollution.

During the meeting, the committee set a target to develop the region over the next 10 years, concentrating on building infrastructure.

The region hopes to achieve a GDP growth of 12-13 percent. Agriculture, forestry and aquaculture will drop to 32 percent in the total economic structure while industry and construction will reach 34 percent and services will be at 36 percent by 2020.

The committee also decided to put more focus on infrastructure construction such as transportation, irrigation infrastructure, and roads that connect major provinces.

Prioritised projects in the next years include thermal power centres in O Mon of Can Tho City, Kien Luong of Kien Giang province, Duyen Hai of Tra Vinh province, Trung Luong-Can Tho Highway and Co Chien Bridge.

Phu Quoc Island will also be developed into an administration, economic and service centre of the region.

Education, health care, vocational training, and rural development are also among areas of focus in the 10 year plan./.