Calls grow to turn Tak into proper SEZ 

By Assawin Pinitwong/Bangkok Post
03 April 2019
Calls grow to turn Tak into proper SEZ 
Mae Sot, Thailand. Photo: Panoramio

An ambitious plan to turn the border village of Kokko in Myanmar into a new Chinatown has sparked calls for the Thai government to speed up making Tak a fully-fledged special economic zone (SEZ).

The huge investments from Chinese businessmen in Kokko, opposite Tak's Mae Sot district, have already seen Thailand "lose plenty of [business] opportunities," Mae Sot mayor Thoetkiat Chinsaranan said on Monday,

He said that as a result, the authorities need to fast track development projects in Tak to catch up with the construction of a new city in neighbouring Myanmar. 

China-based Yatai International Holding Group is going ahead with its plan to give Kokko, located by the Moei River, a boost by making the riverside city a border trade centre and tourism destination replete with coveted residential areas.

Yatai Group has been granted a contract to lease land for a period of more than 50 years by the Border Guard Force, a Karen security force that overseas the village. 

With an airport, roads, a modern logistics system, an entertainment complex and an elegant housing estate, this is believed to be the largest mega-project in Southeast Asia -- and one that will draw Chinese people to form a new Chinatown there.

"Their numbers will be four times higher than those in Mae Sot," said Suchat Triratwatthana, an adviser to the Tak Chamber of Commerce. 

Kokko lies just 22 kilometres from the town of Myawaddy in southeastern Myanmar's Kayin state. 

Mr Suchat echoed Mr Thoetkiat's call for more active development in Tak. He said when the Kokko project is completed, which reports say could take up to a decade, it would affect Thai-Myanmar border trade in Mae Sot.

Local authorities and businessmen agree the government must throw considerable efforts behind its SEZ project in Tak, which covers Mae Sot, Phop Phra and Mae Ramat districts. 

Currently, the government has set 10 provinces, adjacent to Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, as SEZs to promote border trade and business activities with neighbouring countries. 

In 2016, border trade accounted for 10% of Thailand's total exports. The Thai government plans to draw foreign investors through a tax incentive programme and, expects 13 industries including agriculture and tourism will benefit from the SEZs.

Officials have organised trips overseas to gather ideas for how to develop SEZ models, "but since their study trips, things have fallen quiet", Mr Suchat said. 

Land prices in Tak spiked after the SEZ plan, but the excitement has since died down, he said, adding the government should send experts to rekindle interest. 

Courtesy of Bangkok Post