Gov’t Seeks Investors for Economic Zones on Chinese Border

By Nan Lwin 4 October 2018

YANGON—The Ministry of Commerce will invite local investors to back “economic cooperation zones” on the China-Myanmar border in Shan and Kachin states as part of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

“The invitation to local investors will be done in a transparent manner,” the ministry’s assistant secretary, U Khin Maung Lwin, told The Irrawaddy.

“We expect to conclude our final discussions with China regarding the exact locations very soon. After that we will invite local investors,” U Khin Maung Lwin said.

According to Kachin State Chief Minister U Khet Aung, Myanmar in July approved three economic cooperation zones on the Myanmar-China border. The zones are in Kanpiketi town, in Kachin State’s Special Region 1 (currently under the control of the New Democratic Army-Kachin militia, a border guard force allied with the Myanmar military; Chinshwehaw, in Shan State’s Laukkai Township (part of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone); and in Shan State’s Muse Township.

U Khin Maung Lwin said the discussions are ongoing and that China has the right to give final approval for the locations.

Each economic cooperation zone will include a taxation center, trade procedure office and currency exchange center, he added.

The two countries plan to construct industrial zones near the economic cooperation zones. The industrial zones will house trade and processing areas, small and medium-sized industrial facilities, a trade logistics center and a quality packing center, according to the ministry.

According to Union Minister of Commerce U Than Myint, the government also plans to build a repackaging factory for agricultural products bound for export to China.

The zones would create local jobs, boost small and medium-sized businesses and support the peace process by promoting stability, he said.

China and Myanmar have signed five memorandums of understanding (MoUs) since 2017, agreeing among other things to build the economic cooperation zones on the border. The plan to build the zones was agreed by the two countries’ respective commerce ministries during a visit by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to Beijing to attend a forum on the BRI.

In July, after U Than Myint returned from a trip to China, the ministry convened the first meeting of the Economic Cooperation Zones Central Committee in Naypyitaw. Myanmar’s team was headed by U Than Myint, with the chief ministers of Kachin and Shan states and the president of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone serving as his deputies. During the meeting, the minister pushed team members to start the projects as soon as possible.

During the minister’s trip to China, Chinese officials said the zones would not only boost border trade, but also help bring “peace and stability” to Myanmar’s restive regions.

Last month, Beijing and Naypyitaw signed an MoU on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a part of the BRI. The corridor will reach from Yunnan Province to Mandalay in central Myanmar, from where it will stretch south to Yangon and west to the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone in Rakhine State.

Launched in 2013, the BRI is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy project. It aims to build and expand roads, rail lines and shipping lanes linking at least 70 countries from China to Europe through central Asia, the Middle East and Russia to boost trade and investment.

Under the MoUs, the two governments have agreed to collaborate in many sectors including infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, finance, human resource development, telecommunications, and research and science.