Myanmar’s State Counselor, Thai PM Agree to Boost Cooperation on Trade, COVID-19

By Nan Lwin 6 November 2020

YANGON—Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday discussed ways to enhance cooperation on investment, border trade, migrant worker issues and the fight against COVID-19. 

During their telephone conversation, the Myanmar and Thai leaders agreed to boost economic collaboration, particularly in terms of trade and investment, once the COVID-19 situation improves, the Thai Prime Minister’s Office said. 

Thailand is Myanmar’s sixth-largest investor. 

According to an English-language statement issued by the State Counselor’s Office, the two leaders also agreed to open “a consular office in the province” with many migrant workers. It was unclear which Thai province or provinces the statement referred to.

Thailand is the main destination for Myanmar’s migrant workers, with over 1.15 million registered in the country as of August 2019, according to Thailand’s Department of Employment.

During the 20-minute conversation, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi asked Thailand to give more help to migrant workers and ensure they receive all necessary assistance amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar State Counselor’s Office said.

It said the two sides agreed to step up collaboration in the fight against the coronavirus. 

Moreover, they agreed to prioritize opening new border checkpoints to promote bilateral trade. Border trade has been badly hampered by pandemic restrictions in recent months.  

Myanmar and Thailand also agreed to implement regular videoconferencing between related officials to facilitate further discussions on the opening of checkpoints. 

Border trade between Myanmar and Thailand was suspended in late October for one week after two Myanmar truck drivers heading for Thailand tested positive for COVID-19. The No. 2 Myanmar-Thai Friendship Bridge closed temporarily after locals in Thailand’s Mae Sot protested twice, calling for the bridge to be shut due to concerns over the spread of the pandemic. 

Despite the border trade is resumed, the local traders said they have been facing loss and damages due to new instructions relating to the COVID-19 including exchanging goods from Myanmar vehicles to Thai vehicles on the border.  

Bilateral trade between Myanmar and Thailand stood at US$5 billion (7.7 trillion kyats) in fiscal 2017-2018, $4.3 billion in 2016-17, $4.8 billion in 2015-16, $5.7 billion in 2014-15, $5.6 billion in 2013-14, $4.7 billion in 2012-13 and $4.5 billion in 2011-12, according to the Myanmar Ministry of Commerce.

Thai Prime Minister’s Office spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri said the Myanmar leader thanked Thailand for its assistance on COVID-19 measures, including coordination of the movement of migrant workers.

Thailand has granted extensions of stay to Myanmar workers who are not able to return home during the pandemic.

The spokesperson said Prayut praised the Myanmar leader for the country’s progress on democracy, saying he noticed the large number of Myanmar nationals voting at consulates in Thailand.