Oct 15, 2012

Myanmar - Act now, says Thai ambassador

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The $50-billion Dawei project will play a major role in helping Thai firms enter Myanmar over the next three years, helping bilateral partnerships, says the Thai ambassador to Myanmar.

Both countries have agreed to get the deep-sea port and special economic zone off the ground, said Pisanu Suvanajata during his return to Thailand.

The project has already been one of the key promises of Myanmar's leaders in bringing the country forward ahead of the 2015 general election.

"Dawei is very important not only for Thailand and Myanmar but also Asean. Once the project is completed, both countries will become a land bridge. The time it takes to ship Thai goods to Europe will be shortened by three days, making them more competitive in terms of logistic costs," he said.

"I can guarantee this project will be implemented but because of its size, it may take time before the project reaches a full scale," he said.

Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD), Thailand's largest contractor by market value, was granted the right to develop the 205-square-kilometre project under the framework agreement with Myanmar Port Authority in 2010.

About US$8.5 billion is required to develop infrastructure in the first phase, mainly roads and the port. The next phases include industrial facilities such as an integrated steel mill and an oil refinery.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinwatra and her Myanmar counterpart Thein Sein met in New York last month to discuss the project after which a memorandum of understanding for the joint development and three-level mechanisms were signed.

After Ms Yingluck's scheduled visit to Dawei next month, Mr Pisanu said the two leaders will meet again at several meetings including the Asia-Europe Meeting in Vientiane, Laos and the Asean Summit in Cambodia where both plan to announce a clear development plan.

He played down criticism that the Yingluck government will use Thai taxpayers' money to help ITD with the project.

"The government will invest only in infrastructure on the Thai side such as roads. In case Myanmar needs financial help, it will be in the form of soft loans or partial grants," said the ambassador.

Mr Pisanu said Myanmar will host the 27th Southeast Asian Games next year, its first in 44 years. It will also chair Asean in 2014 when the member countries and 16 dialogue partners will attend.

"After Myanmar's general election [in 2015], nobody knows what will happen and who will become the new government. But by then, Thailand and Myanmar bilateral relations will prosper as Thailand will play a significant role in the development there," said Mr Wisanu.

He said the timing is right for Thai companies to set up a foothold in Myanmar.

"I'm afraid we can't wait. If we fail to gain a foothold in Myanmar in three years, we'll face a very tough competition," he warned, noting that in doing so, reliable local partners are required.

The Thai embassy in Rangoon recently joined hands with New York-based Dale Carnegie to organise trainings for Myanmar senior government officials. Two 30-member groups attended the trainings.

Mr Pisanu said the trainings support Thailand's strategies to help its neighbour improve its capacity. More trainings will be held in the future for other groups.

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