Tuesday, April 3, 2012

NESDB to submit Dawei proposals

The Thai and Burmese governments have a lot of work to do to facilitate investment in Burma's Dawei special economic zone, including the construction of a highway linking Thailand's Eastern Seaboard to Dawei, Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board, said yesterday.

He said the NESDB would soon propose many measures related to the deep-sea port and industrial park in Dawei to the Cabinet for consideration.

In the short run, the two governments need to facilitate trade at the Baan Namphuron crossing and then establish a permanent checkpoint there, Arkhom said at a conference.

He said the NESDB was studying the proposed highway, which would be about 300 kilometres long.

Thailand needs to find another port because of the congestion at the port in Singapore, he said, adding that Dawei would serve as a western gate for Thai exports to Europe.

Dawei would also accommodate key clusters of industries, such as steel, auto parts and electronics, he said.

"It may take another 10 or 15 years to complete the development of Dawei, which was begun five years ago," Arkhom said.

Development of the deep-sea port is expected to be completed in 2015, while power generation, water works and the industrial park will be completed in later phases, he said.

Another key issue facing the Burmese economy is the exchange rate, Arkhom said.

He urged the two governments to hold further discussions on investment protection, take steps to harmonise their tax systems - such as through a double-taxation agreement - and fully demarcate the border to prevent disputes.

Asean countries - in particular the Lower Mekong Subregion - have committed to creating road and rail links with Dawei. The Chinese government has also expressed interest in using the Dawei seaport in the future.

Dawei Development Co, a subsidiary of the Italthai Group, needs of lot of funding to develop the project, and must have a clear plan spelling out where the funding will come from, Arkhom said.

In the long run, Thailand has to think about how to develop Kanchanaburi province, next-door to Dawei, he said.

Apirath Vieanravi, a former Thai ambassador to Burma, expressed confidence in that country's political stability. "Burma is unlikely to reverse its openness policy," he said.

He is worried, however, about the continuity of democratisation in Burma after President Thein Sein leaves office.

"Thein Sein, a former army general, is a man who can compromise with other parties and who does what he says he will do," Apirath said.

Myo Thet, secretary-general of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said Thai investment in Burma was second only to China's. He said food, palm-oil plantations and supporting industries had good potential for Thai investment.

At a separate event, Internet provider True International Gateway, owned by True Corp, announced that it would invest about Bt50 million to create a fibre-optic link with Burma.

Construction is expected to be complete by the middle of this year, said the executive product manager for business development, Rungkiet Kamondetdacha.

The company already has fibre-optic links with Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

True International Gateway provides data and Internet gateway services for both domestic and international markets. It targets revenue of about Bt1 billion this year, up from about Bt800 million last year.