Burma to build its first Special Economic Zone

By Shirong Chen and Myo Tha Htet
BBC World Service

Image caption,
Burmese military leader Than Shwe visited China's SEZ in Shenzhen in September

Burma has announced the setting-up of its first Special Economic Zone (SEZ), to be built in Dawei (Tavoy) township near the southern border with Thailand.

Burmese state media said the zone would be developed around a deep sea port in Dawei, covering up to 64,000 hectares.

Infrastructure development contracts were endorsed by the two governments to enable the construction of rail and road links with western Thailand.

Burma's SEZ may be similar to that of China, which has seen rapid growth.

The Dawei SEZ will also have a hydro-electricity power plant, petrochemical and refinery plants, and upstream steel mills.

The framework concession agreement on the project, signed between Italian-Thai Development (ITD) public company and the Burmese Port Authority, is worth Bt400bn ($13.4bn; £8.2bn).

It is expected to be completed in 10 years.

ITD will seek investment partners because the project is the largest in the company's history, according to its senior executives.

Many investors from South Korea, China and India have shown interest.

Tight political control

In September, the Burmese military leader, Gen Than Shwe, visited China's SEZ in Shenzhen, and said his country would learn from China's experience of economic reform and opening up.

If it works out, it would be a concrete example of adoption of China's development model, which encourages economic growth while maintaining tight political control.

The Burmese authorities reached a deal with the Thai government in October but published the news on Wednesday, four days before a general election - perhaps as part of an effort to promote their credentials.

In the country's last election 20 years ago, the military rulers refused to hand over power to the winning party, the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest.