Tuesday, 19 April 2011 19:20 Thomas Maung Shwe (Mizzima)
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Thai cabinet has approved a budget for hiring a team of expert planners to design a Special Economic Zone at Mae Sot on the northern Thai-Burma border, Thai media reported on Friday.
Mae Sot, in Tak Province, is home to a large Burmese refugee and migrant population many of whom work in the textile industry.
Thai Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot confirmed to reporters last week that the Mae Sot Special Economic Zone will comprise more than 5,600 rai (about 900 hectares) of land in Tha Sai Luad and Mae Pa sub-districts. A government sub-committee focusing on legal preparations for the Mae Sot Special Economic Zone has finalized a draft royal decree that will create a special entity to run the zone.
According to Alongkorn, the new measures will attract international investment and ensure that Mae Sot becomes ‘Thailand's West Gate’, opening the kingdom to India and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. Thai planners also aim to link the Mae Sot Special Economic Zone to a Deep Water Sea Port currently under construction by a Thai consortium on the Burmese coast at Tavoy.
Last October, the Thai cabinet approved construction plans for a second Thai-Burmese bridge which would be equipped to handle heavy truck traffic. Work on the Burmese side of the bridge has been stalled, however, by the Burmese regime, which, critics say, appears to be delaying the progress on the project in order to win concessions from Thailand.
Mae Sot is Thailand’s busiest trading center with Burma, with more than US $325 million in trade in 2010. However, cross border trade has been significantly reduced since last July when the Burmese regime arbitrarily closed the Mae Sot-Myawaddy Friendship Bridge ostensibly over a dispute regarding the border demarcation along the Moei River which divides the two nations.
While the bridge remains closed, both the movement of people and goods between Burma and Thailand in the area has been restricted to rickety boats and inner tubes.
In many respects, Mae Sot already acts as kind of special economic zone as undocumented workers from Burma can cross into the city from Burma with relative ease. Once in Mae Sot, however, undocumented Burmese seeking to head further into Thailand are prevented from leaving the city by a series of successive road blocks manned by Thai soldiers and police.