Thailand and Myanmar yesterday proposed involving a third party - possibly Japan - in joint development of the Dawei Special Economic Zone, construction of which Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said was due to start in the first quarter of next year.
Yingluck led a Thai delegation to meet President Thein Sein and jointly inspected the site in Taninthayi region. The Thai premier and the delegation arrived in Dawei early yesterday, while the Myanmar president travelled via Mawlamyine.
It was the fourth meeting between the two leaders on the project this year. The last meeting was held in Phnom Penh on the sidelines of the Asean summit last month, when they agreed to complete the multi-billion project by 2015, coinciding with the birth of the Asean community.
A joint coordination committee is working on all details of the project including technical issues and financial arrangements. The JCC will conclude the study by February and submit it to high-level joint committee co-chaired by Thai Deputy Prime Minister Kittirat Na Ranong and Myanmar's Vice President Nyan Htun to draft a framework agreement by March next year.
Thailand and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop an industrial estate and deep seaport in Myanmar's southern Dawei district in 2008. The entire project is expected to cost US$80 billion (Bt2.47 trillion). Thailand's Italian-Thai Development has obtained a concession to build a special economic zone covering 250 square kilometres in the area.
The Yingluck government signed another MoU on comprehensive development in the Dawei Special Economic Zone and its related project areas in July to boost the idea. The Thai government wants Dawei to serve as a major gateway to the Indian Ocean, Europe and Africa via Myanmar – and it convinced leaders in Nay Pyi Taw the project would be a main channel for Myanmar to access mainland Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Third party important
Yingluck said the project would benefit all in the region so it was important to involve a third party – with both public and private sectors – such as Japan.
Conservationists say the project will cause social and environmental problems in both Myanmar and Thailand. Some 20 villages with a total population of 32,000 in surrounding areas would be affected, as well as people living along the road to the coast, they said.
A joint subcommittee, which met last week in Nay Pyi Taw, proposed a rehabilitation plan to compensate affected people who would be moved from the area. The Thai proponents have proposed technical assistance for training programmes to improve skills and livelihoods of affected local residents.
The Team Engineering Group, Environmental Research Group, and Panya Consultants from Thailand have been hired for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project, which is expected to come out early next year.
Industrial housing for the project should be ready by the start of 2014, while the finish date for the first phase is 2015.
The Dawei Special Economic Zone project includes an oil and gas refinery, petrochemical plant, steel plant, light and medium industries and a coal-fired power plant.
A four-lane road, which is under construction, will link Dawei and Kanchanaburi, west of Bangkok. The road, through an area “controlled” by Karen ethnic rebels, will take several years to build, provided there are no problems. Developers are hoping it will be open for use by 2016.
During the meeting between Yingluck and Thein Sein yesterday, Myanmar agreed to Thailand’s proposal to upgrade Prachuap Khiri Khan's Sing Khon checkpoint to a permanent border pass.
Thailand, in return, agreed to provide more help to upgrade the road from Myawaddy to Mawlamyine. Thailand will also extend national verification for migrant workers, including those from Myanmar for more than three months, after the December 14 deadline.