Business figures welcomed a visit by Thai and Myanmar leaders to Dawei yesterday, saying it has boosted confidence in the massive project despite concerns over finance and the lack of a clear development plan.
Somchet Thinaphong, managing director of Dawei Development Co (DDC), said the visit of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Myanmar President Thein Sein was the "blessing" for the Dawei project in eastern Myanmar.
Myanmar and Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in developing the area in 2008.
"It is the first time both sides had seen the boundary and clear development taking place at the site," said Mr Somchet, who accompanied Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) president Premchai Karnasuta during the visit. "They also adopted a timeline for Dawei."
DDC was founded by ITD, Thailand's largest contractor by market value, to be in charge of the Dawei project, for which ITD was granted a concession.
Kiwamu Honda, DDC's senior adviser to the chairman of the board, also said the visit of the leaders was an important step to boost investors' confidence after detailed development plans had not been clear to date.
Delays to the project have prompted the Japanese government and investors to shift focus to Thilawa, a special economic zone near Yangon, he admitted.
"Thilawa is the priority for the time being because it is close to the big market of Yangon while Dawei is a long-term project. Thilawa is for light industries but Dawei is for heavy industries," Mr Honda told the Bangkok Post.
"Japan has an interest in both Dawei and Thilawa, but it has to choose one for now."
Mr Honda also noted that the master plan for Dawei has been proposed and is awaiting endorsement by the Myanmar government.
"Construction of infrastructure should kick-start next year shortly after the plan is approved by the Myanmar government," he said.
International financial institutions including export credit agencies from Japan have expressed keen interest in jointly supporting the US$50-billion project, said Mr Honda.
Mr Somchet said executives of Thai banks including Bangkok Bank visiting Dawei yesterday have stated their intention to extend bridging loans to finance the project.
Tanit Sorat, vice-chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said that although Ms Yingluck's visit reaffirmed confidence that Dawei will proceed after delays, funding remains a concern.
"The private sector also would like to see the project's feasibility study so that we will know how much the cost is [for investing in Dawei]," he said.
Minoru Furusawa, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok, said Japanese investors are interested in both Dawei and Thilawa and would appreciate progress in the Dawei scheme.
Dawei will provide shorter access for Thailand to Europe and the Middle East. Many Japanese companies have invested in Thailand, so they would benefit from the project, he said.