Trade Volume Below Govt Forecasts Despite Increase in Border Commerce

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 1 September 2015

RANGOON — Trade volume in Burma has risen only slightly since the same time last year, with total imports and exports looking set to fall below an optimistic government forecast for the financial year, according to figures from the Ministry of Commerce.

Total imports and exports for the first five months of the 2015-16 fiscal year were US$11.19 billion, a modest rise of $860 million from September 2014 but trending below government’s $30 billion full-year forecast.

Sea trading fell slightly to $8.4 billion, while border trade rose from $1.8 billion to $2.69 billion compared to the first five months of the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Widespread farmland and paddy field damage from August’s floods is further expected to dent the government’s $2.9 billion forecast for full-year agricultural exports.

Commerce Ministry officials are optimistic that the construction of a second, cargo-priority bridge over the river separating the Karen town of Myawaddy with the Thai border town of Mae Sot, will boost trade between Burma and its eastern neighbor at a time when construction is ramping up on the Mae Sot Special Economic Zone.

“Border trade is increasing, and after the new bridge is finished between Myawaddy and Mae Sot, we expect an even bigger rise,” said Than Win, deputy director of the Ministry of Commerce.

Cross-border trade to and from Thailand along the recently opened Asia Highway 1 has been hampered by territorial disputes between the Burmese government and rival Karen ethnic armed groups. Truck drivers have resorted to using the old road connecting Mae Sot to Rangoon to avoid paying prohibitive tolls to various factions to have staked out control over stretches of the highway near Myawaddy.

The border crossing between Muse and China’s Yunnan province remains the Burma’s most active trade route, accounting for around 80 percent of total border trade at $2 billion for the first five months of the fiscal year, with the Thai border accounting for most other overland trade at $690 million.

The country’s trade deficit showed no signs of abating, with exports outstripping imports by nearly US$2 billion between April and the end of August on the back of a number of local infrastructure projects.

Burma’s international trade totaled $28 billion over the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to the Ministry of Commerce.