Thai investors should seize the opportunity to invest in Myanmar within the next three years before the Asean Economic Community is formed in 2015, according to Thailand’s ambassador.
Pisanu Suvanajata said Myanmar was about to enter three golden years as it begins to take its place once more on the world stage after decades of isolation.
Next year, the country will host the SEA Games in Nay Pyi Daw, which will also be the first time it will open its new capital to the world.
In 2014, as the chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations, Myanmar will be the venue for numerous high-level ministerial and leaders’ meetings throughout the year. That will be followed, if all goes according to plan, by a general election in 2015.
All of these events are being closely watched by the member countries of Asean and by the world as a whole.
Mr Pisanu said the Thai government would support Myanmar as it takes a leadership role in these activities, the same way Thailand supported Laos when it staged the most recent SEA Games.
“The results of these two events (the SEA Games and the Asean meetings) will help the Myanmar government win the popular vote in the next general election. So the next three years will be the golden years for Thailand too,” he said.
“I’m confident that the relationship between Thailand and Myanmar will not be negative in the three years ahead.”
However, the ambassador cautioned that three years from now, Myanmar might not need to depend so heavily on Thailand and Asean as it did in the past.
Myamnar’s neighbours stood by it for years and insisted that their policy of engagement with the military regime was the best way to bring about change, despite widespread criticism from the international community that Asean wasn’t taking a tough enough stand.
Now Myanmar in the past year or so has become the darling of Asia with investments pouring into the country and a lot more projects waiting in the wings as sanctions imposed by major western powers wind down.
Myanmar President Thein Sein told Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during his visit to Bangkok last June, his first outside Myanmar in 10 years, that he saw Thailand as a model for development, said Mr Pisanu.
The Thai ambassador said he had observed many positive results in the brief time since Myanmar began its moves toward democratization, such as rising GDP numbers. Rising income levels and investments have all spurred the economic growth of the natural resource-rich country.
He urged Thai businessmen to seek good opportunities in Myanmar and to speed up their activities before other foreign investors arrive, causing more competition.
Makers of consumer products and other goods that are no longer viable to manufacture in Thailand should relocate to operate in Myanmar, said Mr Pisanu.
He admitted that many Thai investors had visited Myanmar but few had made commitments to do business there yet.
“They need Myanmar to be ready for investment but they have not seen the risk and high return. Myanmar might not be ready at the moment but its economy is turning around fast and its readiness will be evident soon,’’ said Mr Pisanu.
Thai investors, he said, should have a clear position and must be prepared to move quickly, and in this respect the Thai embassy can help them.
He added that various projects now under way, notably the Dawei deep-sea port and industrial megaproject, were likely to go ahead as planned. However, Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD), the Bangkok-based lead contractor, may have to accept a diminished role.
ITD has been struggling to raise funds amid concern that the new government of Myanmar is not as enthusiastic about Dawei as the former junta was. The Thai company may have to bring in equity investors to get the project moving, but Mr Pisanu affirmed it would go forward.
“I am confident that this project will move ahead as planned,” he stressed.
Mr Pisanu said there were many areas that Myanmar was looking to focus on, and that the country had developed trust that it could rely on Thai companies to undertake a lot of the work.
Among the areas the country needs to invest in is infrastructure such as roads, airports and power. Other priority areas include healthcare, power generation and supply, and education.
He added that other larger Thai companies such as industrial estate developers were keen to invest but he wanted more small and medium-sized industries to also look at Myanmar as the country still was competitive in many industries.
Interestingly, the number of Myanmar people entering Thailand has increased significantly during the past year, he said, adding that they tended to consume services in Bangkok, especially health and dental care and beauty services.
However, Mr Pisanu also warned the Myanmar and Thai governments to be aware of the drug problem as greater movement between the two countries starts to take place. Both sides, he said, need to seek serious cooperation as the problem will likely intensify after the road link between Dawei and the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand is completed.