Myanmar-Thailand Border Trade Almost at Halt as Junta Battles Karen Army

By The Irrawaddy 4 January 2023

Ongoing fighting along the Asian Highway between Kawkareik and Myawaddy townships in Karen State has almost brought Myanmar’s border trade with Thailand to a complete halt, according to merchants and cargo truck drivers.

Junta troops have been fighting Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA)-led resistance forces since last month, seriously disrupting trade via Karen State’s Myawaddy and Thailand’s Mae Sot, the major border trade route between Myanmar and Thailand.

Some cargo trucks are still taking the risk of transporting goods along the route, but prices have increased as a result.

Trucks are using forest paths, said a Yangon-Myawaddy cargo transportation service provider. “Travellers also have to use forest paths. It has been around 20 days since the road section was inaccessible. Freight charges have increased as a result.”

Three bridges on the Asian Highway suffered damage in clashes last month.

One merchant from a Myawaddy border town said: “Yes, there has been fighting and the road is inaccessible. Some smaller vehicles travel by the old road and forest paths.”

Border trade via Myawaddy is also suffering from tight junta security checks along the route and rules including that the value of imports and exports must be equal. The regime also demands that 65 percent of export revenues be converted to kyat at the official exchange rate of 2,100 kyats per dollar. The market exchange rate is around 2,830 kyats per dollar. Cargo transport operators are charging higher rates due to the risks.

“The situation is getting worse as the road is completely inaccessible now,” the merchant added.

Junta forces have been conducting air and artillery strikes near the Asian Highway. A junta airstrike on Kaw Nwe Village in Kawkareik in the last week of December forced thousands of residents to flee their homes.

Myanmar mainly exports rice, broken rice, rice powder, rubber and seasonal crops like pepper, while importing food, consumer goods, building materials, industrial raw materials, and machinery. Myawaddy border trade was worth US$1577.654 million from April 1 to December 23 last year, according to junta’s Ministry of Commerce.