BUSINESS ROUND-UP (Monday, April 09)

By William Boot 9 April 2012

Thais to Make Decision by June on Dawei Port Plans

Thailand has not given up on developing Dawei on Burma’s southeast coast as a major port, a major Thai electricity company said.

Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding said it will decide by June on an alternative fuel for an electricity station at Dawei needed to power any development there.

Plans by a Thai consortium to develop a US $50 billion oil transshipment port and petrochemicals complex on the sleepy Burmese coast were rocked when the Burmese government ruled out construction of a huge 4,000 megawatt coal-fueled power plant.

That decision was taken after it became clear that, like major hydro-electric projects planned in Burma, much of the electricity to be generated at Dawei would be transmitted to Thailand.

The project is being led by Bangkok-based Italian-Thai Development (ITD) which secured the construction rights last year.

“We are still going ahead with the Dawei project. We are studying which type of investment and fuel would be used for building a power plant there,” Ratchaburi’s chief operating executive Peerawat Pumthong said in a media statement.

Ratchaburi describes itself as Thailand’s biggest privately owned electricity company, but is in fact 45 percent owned by the state through shares held by Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, or EGAT.

EGAT is involved also indirectly in plans to development of controversial  hydro-electric dams on the River Salween in Burma near the border with Thailand—projects which would also see much of the electricity pumped into Thailand.

Ratchaburi’s Peerawat said the Dawei developers are now considering a power plant which would be only 10 percent of the size of the original plan rejected by Burma’s ministry of energy on environmental grounds.

However, industry analysts question whether a 400-megawatt power plant would be big enough to fuel a port development of the size envisaged by ITD.

Peerawat gave no reason for the long delay in making a power plant investment decision on Dawei.

Japanese Chain Store Group ‘Plans 100 Shops in Burma’

The Japanese convenience store company Lawson Inc. is planning to make a big investment in Burma, according to the Tokyo news agency Jiji Press.

“Lawson officials in charge of overseas operations will visit the country next week to hold talks with several key local retailers to choose a business partner,” Jiji quoted unnamed company sources as saying.

It said Lawson aimed to open its first shop this year and build up a chain of 100 within three years.

Lawson Inc. began life in the United States but is now Japanese owned and based mostly in Japan. Its format is similar to the 7-eleven franchise found across much of East Asia.
The firm will initially target Rangoon to set up business, Jiji reported.

Chinese ‘Still Pushing Forward on Myitsone Dam Project’

More evidence appears to have emerged that the giant Chinese-financed Myitsone hydroelectric dam in Kachin State is going ahead despite official suspension by President Thein Sein.

The main developer, China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), has requested permission to import materials and labor to continue site preparations work, said news website Eurasia Review.

Documents supposedly from the local Kachin authorities detail requests by CPI for the movement of fuel, cement, bulldozers and other construction equipment across the border from China’s Yunnan province into Kachin, said the website.

“In a letter dated 28 March 2012, local authorities request the importation of materials to restart the US 3.6 billion dollar project,” said Eurasia Review.

The transshipment request backs allegations by the environment group Burma Rivers Network that, despite the official suspension, work by CPI has never really stopped. The group has alleged Burmese army connivance in intimidating local people to leave the construction area.

“China will continue to push for this big project to go on because it desperately needs the electricity in Yunnan where there is a growing power shortage, ironically made worse by a long-lasting drought which has depleted China’s own hydro dams further north,” Bangkok energy industries consultant-analyst Sar Watana told The Irrawaddy.

“Of course, Burma is also very short of electricity, but so far almost all the investment in this sector is geared to shipping power out of the country, to China, to Thailand.”

Beijing Urges West to Lift Economic Sanctions

China’s Foreign Ministry says Western countries should lift all economic sanctions against Burma as soon as possible.

Beijing’s rare comment on the West’s involvement in Burma follows the parliamentary by-elections last weekend, which also brought a reaction from China.

“Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the elections would be good for Myanmar’s stability and development,” the Associated Press reported on April 5.

“China welcomed reports that Western countries would ease their sanctions and that they should ‘fully lift’ them ‘as soon as possible,” AP reported.

It was the first time Beijing had commented on the elections.

Japanese Firms Should Invest in Burma ‘With Care’

Japan will be a “key source of investment funds” for the development of Burma, but should try to make sure the Naypyidaw government follows a path of “real and enduring reform,” a commentary in the Japan Times says.

But the Tokyo newspaper said the Japanese should invest in Burma thoughtfully, bearing in mind the strains that will develop as the country modernizes.

“Japan should play that role with care, working with Myanmar [Burma] to balance the influence of other nations that may not be as focused on the concerns of ordinary citizens and to ensure that the Myanmar government continues on the path of real and enduring reform,” the paper cautions.

Friends of Burma should reward its progress, “lifting sanctions and promoting investment and punishing its transgressions.”

“That is the only way to ensure that [Burma] keeps moving forward,” said the Japan Times.