Belt and Road project ten­ders open to non-chi­nese: com­merce min­is­ter

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Business - 6 CHAN MYA HTWE chan­myahtwe@mm­times.com

THE com­merce min­is­ter said in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies will be in­vited to take part in Belt and Road-re­lated projects and that the ten­der process will be trans­par­ent.

As frac­tures be­tween the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially Western coun­tries, and Myanmar widen, Myanmar should tap into the re­sources and con­nec­tiv­ity of­fered by China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (BRI), an­a­lysts said. But Myanmar’s par­tic­i­pa­tion must be based on re­spon­si­ble in­vest­ments and take into ac­count the risks.

This month, U Soe Win, Min­is­ter for Plan­ning and Fi­nance, signed an Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing re­gard­ing the China-myanmar Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CMEC), a key com­po­nent of the BRI. U Tun Tun Naing, per­ma­nent sec­re­tary for the Min­istry of Plan­ning and Fi­nance, told The Myanmar Times that the gov­ern­ment signed an “um­brella agree­ment”, while agree­ments on in­di­vid­ual projects will have to be ne­go­ti­ated by the min­istries from the two sides in the fu­ture.

CMEC is a key com­po­nent in BRI routes, cov­er­ing a high­way project from China’s Yun­nan Prov­ince to Kyauk­phyu via Man­dalay, as well as for the Man­dalay-yan­gon-mawlamyine route. Bei­jing is keen to speed up im­ple­men­ta­tion of the pro­posed high­ways but Myanmar has dif­fi­cul­ties to catch up with such ex­pec­ta­tions, given the coun­try’s slow­ing econ­omy and lack­lus­tre in­vest­ments from Europe and the US.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst U Ye Htut, a for­mer MP from Thibaw con­stituency, said that Nay Pyi Taw signed up to the deal quickly so as to se­cure Chi­nese in­vest­ments as well as Bei­jing’s sup­port for the peace process.

“China’s role in Rakhine af­fairs, peace mat­ters and in­vest­ment is im­por­tant for us. As we take part in the BRI de­vel­op­ment, we ac­cept that both sides will be fairly ben­e­fited. We will share the [fruits of] Chi­nese de­vel­op­ment,” U Than Myint, com­merce min­is­ter, said.

As Myanmar risks be­ing iso­lated by Western coun­tries ow­ing to the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in north­ern Rakhine, the coun­try can­not refuse to be part of the BRI frame­work. Join­ing the scheme is po­lit­i­cally in­evitable, an­a­lysts said.

The CMEC deal signed cov­ers bi­lat­eral col­lab­o­ra­tion in 15 sec­tors, in­clud­ing in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment, in­vest­ment, en­ergy, agri­cul­ture, tourism and ed­u­ca­tion. In­ter­na­tional in­vestors and de­vel­op­ment agen­cies across the world will be in­vited to take part in the im­ple­men­ta­tion process. While loans will be taken from China, call for ten­ders will in­vite in­ter­na­tional firms, ac­cord­ing to U Than Myint. There­fore, in­vest­ments will not only come from main­land China, but also Ja­pan, Thai­land, Hong Kong and South Korea. It will be a level-play­ing field and the ten­der process will be trans­par­ent, he said.

“As Myanmar can­not avoid to join the scheme, care­ful anal­y­sis must be done and plans which ben­e­fit the coun­try should be im­ple­mented. We need to make an ef­fort so our peo­ple can se­cure jobs and ex­per­tise and tech­no­log­i­cal know-how could be im­proved,” U Zaw Win Pe, eco­nomic ad­vi­sor of Pyi­daungsu Hlut­taw, said.

Sri Lanka and Kyauk­phyu “It is al­most cer­tain that it will be ad­van­ta­geous for the Chi­nese. We should not be pay­ing for those ex­pen­di­ture from our pock­ets, we must also know how to ne­go­ti­ate with them,” U Ye Tun added.

In June, Sean Tur­nell, eco­nomic ad­viser to State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, crit­i­cised the deep-sea port project. The prece­dent set by the $1 bil­lion Ham­ban­tota port in Sri Lanka, where the gov­ern­ment in Colombo bor­rowed heav­ily to con­struct the port, but couldn’t re­pay the loans and had to give China a 99-year lease for debt re­lief, is “the ex­am­ple that stands out, that has been re­ally taken no­tice of in Myanmar,” ac­cord­ing to the ad­viser.

How­ever, U Ye Tun said Kyauk­phyu’s case is dif­fer­ent and can reap ben­e­fits for both coun­tries. The in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing the port, will make it eas­ier for Myanmar to be a lo­gis­tics hub as well as to re­vive its tourism in­dus­try.

With more con­nec­tiv­ity, it will make Myanmar more com­pet­i­tive in the im­port and ex­port of good, ac­cord­ing to U Zaw Pe Win. Mean­while, bet­ter road con­di­tions will al­low more mo­bil­ity of peo­ple.

Do­mes­tic anal­y­sis said Myanmar should make use of BRI to at­tract man­u­fac­tur­ers to the coun­try, and be­ware that loans in China carry a higher in­ter­est rate than oth­ers. Some ex­pressed anx­i­ety over Myanmar los­ing part of its sovereignty if the coun­try couldn’t re­pay its Chi­nese debts.

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