According to reports by several media, the Japanese government’s JICA recently released a Southeast Myanmar Development Report. Japan plans a joint venture with Myanmar and Thailand to build the Dawei SEZ in southeastern Myanmar, an area bordering Thailand. The plan has been severely criticized by the local NGO Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN).

According to KESAN, Japan’s development plan for the Dawei SEZ does not include protection for local vulnerable groups, especially women. The project will occupy farm land, which will harm local farmers. According to local people, the coal-fired power plant and petrochemical projects planned for the Dawei SEZ will affect local people’s health and cause environmental damage.

In addition, environmentalists in Myanmar commented recently that the development of Dawei SEZ is conducive to the political and economic development of Myanmar, but the petrochemical industries will challenge local society and environment, therefore deserves further planning.  The deep-water port and railway projects will run into conflict with ecological protection. Therefore, a balance must be found between environmental protection and development.  Treatment of pollution and environmental protection should be prioritized. In addition, the resettlement plan needs to consider the water supply, the regional living condition, and sustainable development for the future three generations.

The Dawei SEZ is located in the Tanintharyi Region in southern Myanmar, bordering the Andaman Sea and Thailand. The Myanmar Bureau of Port Management reached a framework agreement with Thai companies on November 2, 2010. In the agreement, the total area of the Dawei SEZ would be 196 square kilometers with the first phase including Myanmar-Thai roads, a deep-water port and industrial zones to be completed before 2015. Upon the completion of the port, the distance between Dawei and Thailand will be shortened to 300 kms.

However, because of its magnitude and funding shortages, the project was suspended. On September 27, 2013, Myanmar, Thailand and Japan hosted a trilateral meeting in Yangon to discuss Japan’s inclusion as a strategic partner in the Dawei SEZ. On December 2, 2013, the chairman of the construction committee of the Dawei SEZ announced that infrastructure development would hopefully begin in May 2014.

To attract foreign investment, Myanmar released its revised SEZ Law on January 23, 2013. So far, other than Dawei SEZ, the government is also pursuing Thilawa SEZ and Kyaukpyu SEZ. Thilawa SEZ is located in Yangon Division. Myanmar and Japanese companies reached agreement for Thilawa development on October 29, 2013 in Tokyo and the first phase of infrastructure construction has begun with the goal of commencing operations in 2015. Kyaukpyu SEZ is located in Rakhine state in western Myanmar and is now in the bidding process for advisory working groups and development consulting companies.  The results are expected soon, following bidding by a number of international investors.