Burma, Thailand Agree To Boost Trade

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 30 June 2016

RANGOON — The Burmese and Thai governments have agreed to boost bilateral trade volume to reach US$20 billion in 2017, Burma’s President’s Office announced on Wednesday.

The announcement was made after President Htin Kyaw met Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn and Minister of Defense Gen Prawit Wongsuwon on Wednesday in Naypyidaw.

Both governments agreed to finish construction of the new Myawaddy-Mae Sot bridge connecting the two countries, which could help boost trade along Thai-Burma border. Myawaddy in Karen State is the largest of four official border crossings for overland trade between Burma and Thailand, with some 150 to 200 trucks crossing through the border station into Burma each day.

The Thai delegates also met with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, where the talks focused on convening a joint committee to demarcate borders, as well as the development of southeastern Burma’s Dawei Special Economic Zone, a project in which Thailand is a primary partner.

Other topics of discussion in the meeting included the resolution of labor disputes and ensuring protections for Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, as well as a national verification and resettlement plan for migrant workers interested in returning to Burma.

“We can reached the target of $20 billion in 2017 if both governments open more border trading posts and crack down on the informal trade,” said Than Win, director of the Ministry of Commerce.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, Burma currently has 16 border trading posts, four of which border Thailand. Negotiations are currently under way to open another Thailand-Burma post in Mese Township of Karenni State.

“I think more Thai investment will come, but so far, the figure of bilateral trading is not that high,” Than Win said.

However, some experts questioned the plausibility of the ministry’s goal.

“The total trade volume between Thailand and Burma was only about US$6 billion last year [2014-2015], so it’s a little hard to believe they could triple that within a year, but if both governments can control informal trading, it is possible,” said Maung Aung, senior consultant with the Ministry of Commerce.

Informal trade involves large amounts of smuggling that is known to cross both borders.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, the Thai-Burma trade volume fell to $4.8 billion in the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with $1.1 billion linked to four stations along the border.

“The problem is we have different figures from each country, and data from Thailand is always higher than Burma’s,” Maung Aung said. “So this becomes an issue when it comes to boosting trade.”

The majority of imports from Thailand are electronics, foods and beverages, agricultural equipment and other home appliances, while exports from Burma include agricultural and marine products. Thailand is second only to China as Burma’s largest trading partner; both countries’ leaders have expressed hope that they will be able to boost total trade in the years ahead.