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Thais see uphill battle for Burmese economy

A Burmese woman works in a garment factory in Mae Sot, on the Thai-Burmese border. (Photo: Reuters)

Burma’s first civilian administration will face the Herculean task of producing economic achievements as the country battles difficult reforms amid a lack of skilled labour, according to Thai academics.

Samarn Laodamrongchai, from Chulalongkorn University’s East Asian Studies Institute, said Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi will focus on the nation’s workforce to drive economic prosperity and benefit from the Asean Community over the next five years.

Business sectors in Thailand were likely to benefit from the change in Burma, including finance and banking, telecommunications, textiles and garments, hotel and tourism, construction, furniture, and agriculture and fisheries, he told a seminar Tuesday on “Who actually has the power in Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi or the military,” organised by the institute.

Burma’s minimum wage, set in August at 3,600 (US$3) per day, is still only a third of Thailand’s.

Yet Samarn noted many Thai investors have yet to be lured by Burma’s lower wages to invest in the country due to its lack of skilled labour and infrastructure.

“Thai business operators still have to check the reality on the ground, paying fees to the ethnic groups controlling different regions as they have done in the past five years,” said Samarn.

This comes despite reports that trade in Burma across the border from Thailand is bustling.

Nattapon Tantrakulsap, another researcher from the institute, said the former president, 71-year-old Thein Sein, had undertaken some impressive institutional reforms that resulted in economic growth.

“The mission for the new government is to eliminate inefficient mechanisms and old-style practices as well as outdated laws and regulations” from the bureaucracy in state enterprises, he said.