Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thai govt approves Mae Sot economic zone proposal

Wednesday, 23 January 2013 11:42 THE BANGKOK POST

Thailand’s cabinet has approved a proposal to develop Mae Sot district in Tak province into a special economic zone on the Thai-Burmese border.

The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) proposed the project to support the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 and to develop the country's East-West Economic Corridor.

A street scene from the Thai border town of Mae Sot. (Photo: Ron Raffety / Flickr)

The draft proposal was approved at a mobile cabinet meeting in Uttaradit yesterday. Under regulations for the project that the cabinet has endorsed, the special zone could consist of either a portion or the entire area of Mae Sot district, Thai government spokesman Tossaporn Serirak said.

A one-stop service system in compliance with the ASEAN Single Window—an initiative to link data and customs facilities to prepare for regional economic integration in 2015—will be set up at the zone, he said.

Thailand’s prime minister will chair a special economic zone policy committee that will be set up to implement the project.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said a potential special economic zone in Mae Sot had been discussed long before yesterday's [January 20] approval.

The Council of State will finalise the regulations governing the project. The zone will initially be set up in tambons Mae Pa and Tha Sai Luad, covering an area of more than 5,600 rai, next to the Moei River, which separates Thailand and Myanmar.

A second friendship bridge will be constructed on the river to ease congestion on the existing bridge.

An industrial estate will be set up and jointly operated by Tak provincial authority, the private sector, the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand and the Customs Department.

Transport infrastructure, shipment and distribution centres, duty-free areas, bonded warehouses, one-stop service facilities, single service inspection and customs checkpoints will be part of the special economic zone.

According to research by the Office of Industrial Economics, Mae Sot has strong potential for economic development as the area is a key location for Thai-Burmese border trade.

The study also found that a special economic zone would benefit labour-intensive trades such as textile and garments industries, vegetable and fruit canning factories, and timber processing and furniture-making businesses.

Mae Sot's border trade value was recorded at 30 billion baht (US $1 billion) last year, the highest in the northern region.

However, the government might need to revoke the protected forest status of some areas to allow development to go ahead, Mr Tossaporn said.

Tak governor Suriya Prasartbandit said the cabinet meeting also approved in principle other development projects in Mae Sot.

These include a tunnel, railways, a four-lane Tak-Mae Sot highway, an airport and industrial estates.

The Thai cabinet also approved 111 projects worth about 51 billion baht in the lower northern provinces of Sukhothai, Uttaradit, Tak, Phetchabun and Phitsanulok. Of these, 33 projects worth 617 million baht can be implemented immediately. The others were approved in principle, pending feasibility studies.

Transport Minister Chadchat Sittipunt said the cabinet also approved the Metropolitan Rapid Transit Authority's request for loans worth 16.21 billion baht to hire construction contractors for two electric railways.

The construction cost and consultant fee for the Hua Lamphong-Bang Khae and Bang Sue-Tha Phra sections of the Blue Line electric railway has been put at 11.4 billion baht. The fee for the Soi Bearing-Samut Prakan section of the Green Line is at 4.75 billion baht.

This article first appeared in The Bangkok Post on January 21, 2013.
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