YANGON — Myanmar and Thailand signed an agreement to jointly upgrade a highway linking the Thai-Myanmar border with the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a USD8 billion project that includes a deep seaport. The project in southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region is set to be Southeast Asia’s largest industrial complex.
Under the Record of Discussion (ROD) agreement inked on Thursday, the Ministry of Construction will allow Thailand’s Neighboring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency (NEDA) to conduct survey and design work in preparation for upgrading the two-lane highway. The route will connect the border crossing point at Htee Kee to the SEZ via Myittar.
Construction Minister U Han Zaw said Thailand would provide technical assistance on the survey and design of the highway. The project will take about eight months to complete.
U Han Zaw said he expects the highway project to boost economic development in Tanintharyi Region, in particular by allowing direct exports of fishery products to Thailand and by promoting travel between the two countries.
Fishing is one of the major industries on the Tanintharyi coast, with most of the seafood products being exported to Thailand.
NEDA will accelerate the survey and design period so that the highway upgrade can get going as soon as possible, said its president, Perames Vudthitornetiraks.
In March, the Union Parliament gave the Ministry of Construction permission to take a 4.5-billion-baht (approximately USD137 million, or 220.5 billion kyats) low-interest loan from NEDA. The ministry has been working with Thailand’s Department of Highways since 2015 on conducting measurements for the highway.
Vice Construction Minister U Kyaw Lynn said in Parliament in March that the highway upgrade would assist in the transportation of raw materials needed to complete the Dawei SEZ construction project.
In 2008, Myanmar granted Italian-Thai Development PCL (ITD) a 75-year concession to develop and attract investment for the SEZ. A 250-sq-km deep seaport would be a potential boon for firms relying on the transport of goods via the crowded Malacca Strait. The project includes high-tech industrial zones, information technology zones, export-processing zones, port area zones, transportation zones, service business zones and other infrastructure projects.
ITD withdrew from the agreement in 2013 due to financial constraints, but two years later Myanmar and Thailand revived the original agreement to allow ITD and related companies to begin working on the infrastructure project.
According to Dawei SEZ Management Committee chairman U Tun Naing, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is conducting a survey for the deep seaport project, including setting up an electrical grid, basic infrastructure and buildings.
By Nan Lwin – The Irrwaddy