Thailand explores trade, investment opportunities in Myanmar

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - The Board of Trade of Thailand and the Thai Chamber of Commerce (TCC) next week will lead a mission to seek new trade and investment opportunities in Myanmar.

The mission takes place amid the backdrop of fears of a serious impact on the business sector from the nationwide minimum-wage increase to 300 baht (US$9.7) per day in the new year.

Phongsak Assakul, who heads up both organisations, yesterday said many Thai enterprises were keen to invest or form joint ventures in Myanmar as it has the highest growth potential in Asean, with the capability of serving expanding manufacturing and service businesses while possessing a large market to serve domestic growth.

"Many leading businesses in the Kingdom will look for new opportunities in Myanmar as it has lower labour costs and high consumer demand. To invest and do businesses in Myanmar will increase the competitiveness of Thai businesses," he said.

About 20 leading enterprises will take part in the private-sector mission to Yangon from December 16-18. They include Saha Group, Mitr Phol, Thai Beverage and Kasikornbank. Business areas such as logistics, freight, cross-border trade, machinery, foods, jewellery, telecommunications, education, hospitals and hotels will be represented.

Representatives from the Board of Trade and the TCC will meet with enterprises from the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry to discuss the boosting of trade and investment between the countries.

Phongsak described Myanmar as one of the best destinations for Thai investors thanks to its proximity and much lower labour costs. The daily wage in the country ranges from 75 to 120 baht, while salaried workers earn only 3,000-6,000 baht per month.

Many Thai companies with labour-intensive operations are expected to set up in Myanmar or expand their businesses there, using the country as a production base for shipment to other regional markets, he said.

TCC vice chairman Somkiat Anuras said closer cooperation between Thai and Myanmar enterprises should help promote cross-border trade with the Kingdom's neighbours to 2 trillion baht in the next three years.

This year, however, overall cross-border trading is expected to miss the target of 1 trillion baht, coming in at 900 billion baht because of the impact of the global economic slowdown. Border trade was worth 759 billion baht in the first 10 months of the year.

With the policy of focusing more on Asean markets, cross-border trade should grow strongly to 2 trillion baht by 2015, Somkiat said.

Myanmar is Thailand's second-largest cross-border trading partner, after Malaysia. Bilateral trade with Myanmar grew by nearly 11 per cent to 145.88 billion baht during the first 10 months of the year.

Meanwhile, Bhumindr Harinsuth, vice chairman of the chamber, said members of the private sector would tomorrow finalise discussions on relief measures in connection with the impending minimum-wage increase, and would summarise their proposals to the government on December 14.

The proposed measures include the establishment of a fund to help small and medium-sized enterprises.

Phongsak said Thai gross domestic product was expected to expand by 4-5 per cent next year, boosted by ICT (information and communication technology) business expansion as a result of licensing for third-generation cellular service, plus growth in the construction, insurance and automobile industries.

However, the chamber projects that exports could grow by no more than 5 per cent next year on global economic concerns.

*US$1=30.6 baht

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