The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Oct. 18, 2014)

By William Boot 18 October 2014

Thai Firm Financing Burma Dam Accused of Ignoring Safety at Home

A Thai state energy company involved in a major hydroelectric project on Burma’s Salween River has been accused of ignoring environmental safety checks and public opinion for a similar project it is financing in Laos.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) “has not conducted an environmental impact assessment in Thailand for the Xayaburi dam, nor has it conducted adequate public consultations,” said the Save the Mekong coalition.

The NGO, made up of representatives from several countries through which the Mekong flows, is seeking an injunction in a Thai court to suspend EGAT’s plans to buy electricity from the Xayaburi dam.

“Independent studies have found that EGAT has grossly over-estimated the amount of electricity Thailand needs, and that it also has not studied potentially cheaper or greener electricity generating options,” a statement by the NGO said.

The Mekong forms part of Burma’s border with Laos, and Cambodia and Vietnam have demanded work on the dam to stop, pending further environmental studies.

EGAT is planning to part finance the Hat Gyi Dam, the biggest of several proposed for the Salween River in eastern Burma with a generating capacity of 1,300 megawatts, and which would provide most of the electricity to Thailand.

Major Andaman Sea Gas Field to Get Chinese-Built Well Platforms

A major Chinese state-owned oil company has been awarded a US$367 million contract to build well-head platforms for the Zawtika gas field in Burma’s Andaman Sea.

The contract from field operator PTT Exploration & Production, the Thai state-owned oil firm, went to China Offshore Oil Engineering Company (COOEC), said industry newspaper Upstream.

COOEC is a subsidiary of China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

The Chinese firm has been commissioned to build four platforms, and these will be constructed at COOEC’s shipyard in the southern Chinese port city of Qingdao, said Upstream.

The platforms are contracted to be completed by April 2016 and will be towed to the Zawtika field by sea.

The Chinese company “will be responsible for design, construction and offshore installation of four wellhead platforms, along with corresponding subsea pipelines,” Offshore Energy Today magazine said.

None of the work will be carried out in Burma.

Zawtika is PTTEP’s biggest gas production project outside Thailand. It has been estimated to hold at least 50 billion cubic meters of gas, 80 percent of which will be piped to Thailand under the terms of an agreement made with the former Burmese military regime.

Mae Sot-Myawaddy Trade up 30% but ‘Better Roads Needed’ in Burma

Cross-border trade between Burma and Thailand is forecast to grow this year 10 percent more than in the 2013 calendar year, the Thai Chamber of Commerce said.

The chief growth area in trade between the two countries is the Mae Sot-Myawaddy crossing, chamber chairman Isara Vongkusolkit told the Bangkok Post. The increase in trade at this border point is expected to surge by 30 percent this year, he said.

Trade has grown so much that Thailand is financing a new US$94 million bridge over the River Moei linking Mae Sot with Myawaddy. Construction is slated to begin early in 2015.

Isara called for a new bridge farther north at Thailand’s Tak crossing into Burma to improve trade there and said better roads in the Myawaddy area would also help boost trade.

The Mae Sot area has been designated by the Bangkok government as one of several special economic zones to be developed on Thailand’s borders with Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia as well as Burma.

Tourism Chief Urges Naypyidaw to Finalize Visa-Free Travel With Asean

Burma’s tourism industry federation has urged the Naypyidaw government to complete visa-free travel agreements with all nine other member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

At present, Burma has agreed visa-free travel only with Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, while its biggest neighbor Thailand remains one of the four whose citizens still need visas to visit.

Special efforts should be made to reach agreements with Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, Myanmar Tourism Federation secretary Naung Naung Han told Mizzima.

The issue of Burmese migrant workers was a problem with these three countries on visa-free travel, he said, but the Naypyidaw government should use its current chairmanship of Asean to resolve the issue.

Ethical Business Call by UK is ‘Fantasy’ When Farmers Jailed for 7 Years

The imprisonment for seven years of nine Burmese farmers for working on land they say was confiscated by the military has brought sharp criticism in Britain of the London government’s relationship with Naypyidaw.

“The approach of the international community towards the situation in Burma has gone from rose-tinted to complete fantasy,” human rights group Burma Campaign UK told The Irrawaddy.

“British Foreign Office officials visit Burma and issue statements saying ‘We share the wish of President Thein Sein’s government to help create an environment where ethical business can flourish,’ and meanwhile Thein Sein’s government is jailing farmers for farming on their own fields.”

The British Foreign Office said recently that “business, both domestic and foreign, has a key role to play in the economic reform and democratisation” of Burma.

Land grabbing for business advantages has become a major problem in Burma, human rights NGOs say.

The nine farmers jailed for seven years had gone back to work on land at Thaton in Mon State that they said was unlawfully stolen by the Burmese military.

Jade Market in Naypyidaw Aims to Boost Burma’s Gems Industry

More than 7,000 pieces of jade are up for sale at a special market for the precious stones being held in Naypyidaw.

It’s the third jade sale in Burma this year as demand and prices for the stone grow, said Myanmar Business Today. The current market, which runs until Oct. 20, is “aimed at creating job opportunities and developing the domestic jewelry industries,” the organizers said.

“The latest official figures show that in 2013-14, Myanmar yielded 15,061 tons of jade and 16.31 million carats of gems, which include ruby, sapphire, spinel and peridot,” said Myanmar Business Today.