Suvarn cautions against business rush to Myanmar

Businesses should not rush to invest in Myanmar, as it will take two or three decades for the country to develop, warns former deputy commerce minister Suvarn Valaisathien.

Speaking yesterday, he said Laos is a more suitable investment destination for small and medium-sized enterprises due to that country's lower labour costs and adequate infrastructure.

Electricity in Laos is cheap, as the country has many dams and a small number of industries.

"Many people are excited about prospects in Myanmar, but I wouldn't rush into it, as the infrastructure is still 10 times less advanced than in Thailand," said Mr Suvarn.

Referring to the special economic zone and deep-sea port planned in Myanmar, he said: "People like to compare Dawei with Thailand's Laem Chabang port, but it took 50-60 years to develop Laem Chabang. I think it would take Dawei at least 20-30 years to set up its infrastructure. Our country does not have a lot of funds, and investing in infrastructure there might lead to debts or low returns."

Dr Suvarn made the comments at a seminar on opportunities for Thai businesses to invest abroad, hosted by the Board of Investment (BoI).

But the BoI encouraged Thai businesses to consider investing in Myanmar.

Vasana Mututanont, a BoI deputy secretary-general, said Myanmar has high demand in the agriculture, processed food, manufacturing and construction sectors.

She thinks Thai businesses should invest abroad without waiting for BoI incentives.

"Businesses may have a misconception that the government needs to waive taxes [to enable investment abroad], but in fact this is already done by the government in countries where they invest," said Ms Vasana.

For instance, foreign businesses investing in Thailand receive a waiver on import taxes on machinery and raw materials as well as taxes on profits for a certain period of time.

The BoI plans to offer services such as business matching and providing information.

It is hiring Thai law firms to assist businesses with laws in Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The three countries will be the focus of BoI foreign investment policies over the next 3-5 years, said Mrs Vasana.

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Writer: Nanchanok Wongsamuth
Position: News Reporter