Myanmar Port DevelopmentBurma Port Development
One missing element in Myanmar's development plan: deepwater port
Myanmar, often referred to as Asia's last border, has the capacity to develop rapidly through integration with its neighbours. However, the effectiveness of this exercise depends to a large extent on the assumption of a consistent and appropriate set of policies for economic and industry development. This should be done on the basis of a thorough assessment of the possibilities and pressures available to the state.
Two potentially significant industrialization ventures are currently in the pipeline: the development of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and the expansion of the East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) roads in Myanmar. The Thilawa SEZ is situated at the estuary of the Yangon Riviera, 20 kilometers southwards of Yangon, Myanmar's trade and industry center.
The EWEC traverses the key areas of four ASEAN nations, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, connecting the South China Sea and the Andaman Sea by road with metrics and three crossings (see map 1). Although these are encouraging but not enough to meet the needs of all sectors and areas of the state.
A bottleneck in production development in Myanmar is the absence of a deepwater port, which serves as an important logistic gate to Yangon. Unfortunately, Yangon has no seaport and the rapid development and localization will profit strongly from such an installation. All over the globe, it is seen that the best development of the processing industry is when it is close to a large deep-sea port.
An undersea port is particularly important for the processing industry, as such a port is necessary to ease the flow of goods both for sale and for deliveries used for exports and imports. Deepwater harbours are able to carry large and heavy laden vessels due to their shallow waters.
There are two deepwater harbours along Myanmar's north-western coastline, but far from the centre of Myanmar (and the EWEC) (Map 2). Aside from the necessary modernization of their plants and capacity, their tasks in production are likely to be restricted to their function as logistic centres for special development goals (e.g. gateway to and capital expenditure targets for South Asia and China).
There are a number of possibilities for the development of further submarine harbours. While all this is valuable and should be followed up in due course, it should also give precedence to those trends that are best suited to the needs of the processing industry with links to finance.
It is planned to create a SEZ along the south coast of Dawei, which will involve the development of a deep-sea port. Strongly backed by Thailand, this scheme is aimed at developing large-scale supply infrastructures and diverse industry clustering, which could supplement the well-developed industry cluster in the core and east coast of Thailand, as well as heavily industrialised areas.
The port of Dawei, however, is about 700 km from Yangon and 300 km from the west centre of the East-West economic corridor. While Dawei Port has a geographical edge in terms of accessing Thailand, Myanmar's most important trading associate, it is far removed from Myanmar's established industry complex.
Besides the three progressive development schemes for submarine harbours, two further deepwater port development schemes are envisaged near Yangon, in Pathein and on the island of Kalargote. Pathein's layout was recently suggested and comprises a new seaport as well as some SEZ' around Pathein and motorway and rail connections between Yangon and Pathein.
Pathein's deep-sea port is 200 km from Yangon and can expand the EWEC to the northwest. Kalargote Island, on the other side, has been repeatedly regarded by various authorities over the last three centuries as a potentially deep-sea port area.
In 2013, the latest suggestion by a Thai investors to turn the port into a deep-sea port that will be used for the industry cluster along the East-West economic corridor and neighbouring countries. It envisages the islands becoming not only a gate for imports and exports in current and proposed industry areas, but also for Thai-Myanmarian frontier trading and production across the three-pagoda frontier and the other EWEC SPC.
Kalargote Island has clear benefits over other port development schemes, which include close links with Yangon, EWEC, the new industry areas and Thailand, Myanmar's most important markets. That development should be a matter of urgency in order to speed up the clear benefits it brings. An overall development policy for the Tilawa SEZ and EWEC, combined with the development of developed areas, other SEZ and seaports, should be a high level of ambition for the state.
The absence of such a political context, which must involve the development of a deep-sea port near Yangon, is a great barrier to improving Myanmar's chances for further economic development. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the United Nations or Myanmar Business Today.