Myanmar (Burma) has 2,000 kilometers of coastline, and 5,000 kilometers of navigable waterways in the country’s interior. More than just appealing waterfront real estate, the ports are the future for a land ready to dive into mainstream global commerce.
The northern-most port and zone at Kyaukphyu will become a key link to the Bay of Bengal for northern Myanmar and China. The Chinese already have made the city the railhead for an 800-kilometer railroad and a highway that crosses Myanmar and enters southern China. A deep seaport with wharves capable of berthing 300,000-ton tankers now is being built on Maday Island just east of Kyaukphyu.
Downstream from Yangon, whose port has served southern Myanmar for centuries, is a second port near the mouth of the Yangon River at Thilawa. This deep-sea entrance is where cruise ships dock and passengers disembark. Now a special economic zone and a second port for container ships will be spliced into the 2,400-hectare (6,000-acre) complex. Japanese interests are helping fund and design this port-zone.
The third new port-special economic zone project is in Dawei, some 650 kilometers south of Yangon on Myanmar’s skinny coastline against the Andaman Sea. Dawei is just 350 kilometers west of Bangkok, Thailand, which is why Thai interests are pouring billions of dollars into the project. A new 8-lane highway and high-speed railway will cross the border into Thailand, giving that country an Indian Ocean outlet and inlet.
The special economic zones were conceived and enacted in 2011, with three other zones situated inland. To induce participation by global corporate partners, the zones offer tax breaks and operating ease to companies working within them and building traffic into and out of the ports. The infrastructure and facilities are being built to a scale that allows for long-term growth and operation.
The enacting legislation stipulated an allotment of jobs for local labor so that the economic impact of the special zones will extend into the domestic work force. The first phase of the Thilawa port expansion, for example, was expected to create as many as 45,000 jobs. That many local pay checks will help take a bite out of the unemployment situation!