A newly built Myanmar-Lao friendship bridge remains closed while authorities on both sides struggle to agree on where the border demarcation should lie.
The presidents of Myanmar and Laos opened the bridge, which connects Shan state’s Tachilek district to Long district in the Lao province of Luang Namtha, in May last year to boost commerce between the two nations and allow more direct trade with Thailand, Vietnam and China.
The bridge is symbolic because it will be the first time in recent years that the two countries have been connected by an official border trading point and Myint Oo, chair of the Tachilek Border Trade Chamber of Commerce, told the Myanmar Times that Myanmar officials are eagerly awaiting the start of trade.
But there have been delays in surveying and agreeing on the border line, and despite the bridge’s completion last year it is still not open to commerce, he said.
Shan state chief minister Linn Htut has been presented with the case for allowing trade flows across the bridge to begin as soon as possible, he added.
But the authority to agree on the border line lies with the Myanmar government, and a final agreement is likely to require a memorandum of understanding between the two countries.
While the immediate benefit of an open bridge would be greater trade with Laos, the bridge would also help join Myanmar with Vietnam, by creating a road link connecting the Kyaukphyu deepsea port and special economic zone in Myanmar’s Rakhine state with the Haiphong seaport in Vietnam. The zone is due to be developed by a consortium of Chinese companies, though progress has been slow.
Trade with China would also be simplified if the bridge was to open. At present, Chinese imports to Myanmar come through the Mong La border point, in a largely lawless city in a region controlled by the United Wa State Army and an affiliated group.
Imports and exports across this border point are hit with an additional tax, which Chinese importers are willing to pay but Myanmar exporters are not.
Instead, Myanmar exporters wanting to reach China transport their goods to the Khlong Toey port in Bangkok, where they are then shipped out of the Gulf of Thailand and across the South China Sea to their final destination.
If trade can pass over the friendship bridge this opens up a new overland route to China for Myanmar exporters.
“If they want to re-export Thai-made products or export Myanmar minerals, they can load them on trucks on their way to China after passing over the [friendship] bridge,” said Myint Oo.