The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Oct. 11, 2014)

By William Boot 11 October 2014

Thailand Looks at Using Burma as Gas Transit Conduit

Thailand’s state oil and gas company PTT and electricity distributor EGAT are investigating the feasibility of building a large liquid natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal on Burma’s southeast coast near Dawei.

The terminal would reformat LNG, shipped from the Middle East, to pump by pipeline into Thailand, reports said. Pipelines currently pumping gas to Thailand from production fields in the Andaman Sea come ashore near Dawei.

The terminal would need to have an annual processing capacity of 5 million tons, PTT’s chief operating officer Nuttachat Charuchinda told Reuters.

“PTT operates one LNG terminal of 5 million tons annual capacity at Map ta Phut on the [Thai] coast at the head of the Gulf of Thailand and is building a second one in the same location, due to be completed in 2017,” Asia Oil & Gas Monitor reported.

However, a receiving base on the [Burma] coast facing the Indian Ocean would be more convenient than shipping through the Malacca Strait at the southern tip of Malaysia, the monitor said, also quoting Nuttachat.

Burmese gas fuels about 25 percent of Thailand’s electricity generation because domestic production from fields in the Gulf of Thailand is not enough. However, some of the supply from Burma is expected to end within the next 10 years, the governor of EGAT, Soonchai Kumnoonsate, told Reuters.

Thailand is still interested in developing a special economic zone around Dawei with Burma, Bangkok’s military-run government said recently.

Burma’s Economy Growing Faster Than Expected, Says World Bank

Burma’s economic growth in the current 2014-2015 financial year will be higher than previously estimated, the World Bank said.

Growth is now forecast to be about 8.5 percent, the bank said in its latest East Asia review.

But it urged the Naypyidaw government to increase state revenue from tax and warned of a need to keep a rein on borrowing.

“It is critical to increase tax revenues. Revenues are temporarily high because of one-off receipts from the grant of telecommunications licences. However, tax exemptions have increased, transfers to states and regions have expanded, and the government has resorted to external borrowing to finance off-budget operations,” the review said.

Burma continues to face significant challenges but is beginning to benefit from reforms and international re-engagement.

“Construction, manufacturing and services all performed well. Investment has been rising, led by growing domestic investment and boosted further by large [foreign direct investment] inflows,” it said.

Thai Officials Accused of Involvement in Burmese Worker Slavery Racket

Burmese workers in Thailand arrested for not having correct documents are being handed over to racketeers who sell them on as slave labor, a rights group has alleged.

The illegal trafficking of Burmese is occurring most commonly in the Mae Sot area opposite Burma’s border town of Myawaddy, said the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN).

More than 200,000 migrants from Burma live in the Mae Sot district working in hundreds of factories and on farms, said MWRN.

“After arresting undocumented [Burmese] workers, Thai officials often do not formally deport these workers but allegedly send [them] to local armed ethnic groups [from Burma] where local brokers then extort money for their release.

“MWRN receives frequent reports of deported workers, particularly in the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border areas, sold to Thai fishing boats or to sexual venues where they are forced as human trafficking victims to work as slaves.”

Burmese working legally in the Mae Sot district “have never benefited from basic rights under Thai law,” the NGO said.

“Almost every worker doesn’t receive the 300 baht (US$9.25) minimum wage but more likely only earns between 120 baht and 180 baht ($3.70-$5.50) per day.”

Similar conditions exist in border areas of Thailand’s Sangklaburi, Chaingrai and Ranong provinces, MWRN said.

Jade Mining Resumes in Kachin State After Two-Year Halt due to Conflict

Jade mining has restarted in an area of Kachin State noted for the valuable stone after a two-year halt due to conflicts between Burma’s Army and Kachin militia, a report said.

Mining resumed in Hpakant district after digging equipment was transported into the area by river, Eleven Media quoted local residents saying.

“Two companies have resumed mining with heavy machinery, but independent miners have not returned to the area,” the local residents said.

Individual miners had been forced out by demands for taxes made by the Army and the militia, Eleven Media said.

Jade valued at more than US$1.3 billion has been exported from Burma over the last three years, the Ministry of Economic Development said in August.

No volume figures are available but values have risen considerably, from $34.2 million in the 2011-12 financial year to $1 billion in the 2013-14 year, the ministry said.

The chief buying countries are China and India, plus merchants from the Chinese Hong Kong enclave.

‘Killing Fields’ Director Criticized on Trade Envoy Visit to Naypyidaw

Oscar-winning filmmaker and now also a British trade envoy David Puttnam was criticized for visiting Burma and making no public reference to human rights violations in the country.

Puttnam made the award-winning movie “The Killing Fields” about Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia in the 1970s.

He was in Burma this week as a representative of the London government to “identify business opportunities for British companies and take part in high-level discussions on public policy and culture,” the British Embassy in Rangoon said.

“Burma is a country with many well preserved traditions and fascinating cultures, while simultaneously undergoing exciting economic and political changes,” Puttnam, now a British peer, said. “As new opportunities emerge, I am thrilled to be part of connecting UK business with local counterparts across a range of sectors.”

But the director of human rights group Burma Campaign UK, Mark Farmaner, said in a statement: “It’s hard to believe the director of the ‘Killing Fields’ would visit a country where there are war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing against minorities, and make no mention of it, instead promoting business with the government involved in those crimes.”

Puttnam was accused in March of naivety during a visit to Cambodia also as a British trade representative for praising the Phnom Penh government while corruption and repression continue there.