- By Khin Yadana
In order to materialize a market-oriented economy, cooperation plays a vital role in the economic growth and overall development of a nation. With an aim for the emergence of a market-oriented economy and enhancing socio-economic life of the people, a round-table discussion by officials concerned from the Ministry of Commerce was held at MRTV in Nay Pyi Taw on August 9. Following are comments made by U Aung Htoo, Deputy Minister for Commerce, and U Aung Soe, Director General for Myanmar’s Trade Promotion Organization.
Q: Well, as far as I heard, the Central Committee for Myanmar Special Economic Zones (SEZs) held a coordination meeting recently. As the Director General for Myanmar’s Trade Promotion Organization, could you elaborate on the latest development of the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone?
U Aung Soe: In Myanmar, we have enacted the Special Economic Zone Law and the ministry has re-promulgated the Myanmar Special Zone Law, 2014. In order to implement the Special Economic Zones in accordance with policies laid down by the government, a SEZ management committee has been formed, chaired by Vice President-2 U Henry Van Thio. We have identified three Special Economic Zones, namely, the Thilawa SEZ in Yangon Region, Dawei SEZ in Taninthayi Region and Kyaukpyu SEZ in Rakhine State, respectively.
The Thilawa SEZ has executed the ‘run’ phase, and the other Dawei and Kyaukpyu SEZs are still in the stages of implementation.
We have received many contracts for the Dawei SEZ. There are plans are under way to initiate road paving from Dawei to the Thai border in Htee Kee. I am sure that both the Dawei SEZ and Taninthayi Region will enjoy regional development upon completion of the road construction project.
In our country, many special economic zones are being implemented aiming to boost the productivity and to promote industrial products that can contribute to the export-led growth of the economy. The Kyaukpyu SEZ is accessible to China, India and ASEAN corridors, and it has promising opportunities for the people and the region. We are making necessary arrangements and coordinating with local and international tender-winning companies to carry out the projects. As part of our efforts, a SEZ management committee has been formed with Deputy Minister U Set Aung as chairman and Dr. Soe Win as joint chairman. Cooperation is being made to proceed according to the framework agreement of the Kyaukpyu SEZ, with the aim of providing job opportunities for local nationals and conducting work systematically. Time is to be valued and progress is needed to achieve success in the shortest possible time. The Kyaukpyu SEZ consists of an industrial park and a deep-sea port. The framework agreement of the deep-sea port is nearly completed, and it is very crucial for the regional development process and creating employment opportunities for the people and the state. The Kyaukpyu SEZ has linked with One Belt, One Road and is expected to become a major economic center of the region.
The progress of economic zones is of great importance in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Job opportunities can be created in areas where the zones are set up. Hence, we need to ensure our projects are successful and enjoy a good socio-economic life. While setting up special economic zones in the country, concerns were raised over the Kyaukpyu Deep Seaport and over Myanmar being at risk of walking into a debt trap as a result of the seaport, included in the Kyaukpyu SEZ in Rakhine State. We are fully aware of the concerns expressed by observers and academics regarding the debt issue, or the ‘debt trap’. Myanmar is not walking into a debt trap. There are reasons for implementing it. This project is based on demand and not on supply. And the size of the project will be tailored according to Myanmar’s needs. That’s why the government will not borrow any funds and will not relinquish any of its sovereignty.
To implement the project, Myanmar is mindful of similar patterns from other countries and has taken lessons from them. The Kyaukpyu Deep Seaport project is part of the economic corridor of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the two countries will approach this in such a way to ensure it becomes a win-win situation for both. Regarding this, authorities concerned have made progress during negotiations over the Kyaukpyu Deep Seaport. Both sides have agreed to construct the port in stages and the construction would be carried out step by step, according to EIA and SIA standards, gradually expanding the project in phases.
Q: Another question I would like to raise concerns the current economic conditions in Myanmar. What is your opinion on measures needed to be taken in order to boost the economic development?
U Aung Htoo, Deputy Minister: The answer would be very controversial, based on different perspectives. It may also differ in approaches, suggested by social media and journals. The government has said that economic growth is on the rise, but some have argued that the situation of Myanmar’s economy is shrinking. In fact, the economy in Myanmar has been steadily increasing. According to the forecasts of the Asia Development Bank (ADB), Myanmar’s GDP is expected to grow by 6.8% in 2018 and by 7.3% in 2019. All these speculations are based on Capital Output Ratio and total investment volume in a year in Myanmar. Thus, this speculation is not different between the ADB and IMF, as far as I can see. Another intriguing point is that the Gross Domestic Product per capita in Myanmar is recorded at US$1400. We are in need of domestic and foreign direct investment flows, besides the OAD loans.
During the tenure of the incumbent government, more emphasis is being placed on economic stability, also known as macroeconomic stability. The government has been making relentless efforts to improve basic infrastructure services — clean water, sewages, roads, electricity, telecommunications, to name a few — to support the basic livelihood of citizens and businesses. A number of investments should be made in the market to boost the production, education and health care sectors, so that the citizens of the country can create better opportunities and higher socio-economic lives for their future.
Win Ko Ko Aung