Source: Global Times Published: 2017-5-17
As a platform to implement the Belt and Road initiative, the establishment of cross-border economic cooperation zones with neighboring countries can help promote economic prosperity in border regions and boost bilateral trade, experts said, noting that the zones are likely to play a crucial role in driving local economies by around 2020.
The comments came after the Ministry of Commerce of China (MOFCOM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the establishment of a China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone with the Ministry of Commerce of Myanmar on Tuesday in Beijing.
The signing of the MoU marks a milestone for the establishment of the economic cooperation zone between China and Myanmar, and the two countries will actively negotiate to push forward with it, according to a statement on the MOFCOM website.
The zone is likely to be established in the central and southern part of the China-Myanmar border, which is at a lower altitude and where the landscape is mostly flat, Zhou Rong, a senior research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
The zone is likely to link Houqiao port in Tengchong county, Southwest China`s Yunnan Province, and Kan Pike Tee port in Myanmar, he noted.
"The zone is of great importance for maintaining peace and stability in the border region as it can boost employment and improve local people`s income, while also helping strengthen trade contacts," Zhao Jianglin, an expert on Southeast Asia affairs at the National Institute of International Strategy under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Border trade between China and Myanmar has been on a downward trend in the past two years, partly due to conflicts in Myanmar, she said.
Border trade between the two countries dropped by $27.67 million from April 1, 2016 to January 27, 2017, Myanmar news portal the Global New Light of Myanmar reported in February, citing data from the Myanmar commerce ministry. Muse port, the largest border trading port between the two countries, posted a decline of nearly $300 million in bilateral trade, it said.
The zone also represents a way for China to aid developing countries, as the project will encourage domestic companies to invest in the fruit industry in the region and import bananas, bringing jobs and revenue for Myanmar, Zhou said.
Currently, mutual trade is widespread in the border region, but most of the players are private companies or individuals, so it contributes little to Myanmar`s overall economy, according to Zhou.
Unlike some economic and trade zones focused on trade and commodity circulation, the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone may strive to develop manufacturing industry, especially labor-intensive industries such as textiles, electronics and component manufacturing, as it is the fastest and most convenient way to boost the local economy and employment, Zhao said.
The deep processing industry may be another priority in the zone, considering the rich resources in Myanmar, she noted.
More zones established
In recent years, China and neighboring countries have established several border economic cooperation zones, such as the China-Kazakhstan Khorgos International Center of Boundary Cooperation and the China-Laos Mohan-Boten Economic Cooperation Zone.
With the functions of trade negotiation, commodity display and sales, warehousing and transportation as well as financial services, Khorgos International Center is expected to expand trade between China, Europe and East Asian countries, Zhou said.
And the China-Laos Mohan-Boten Economic Cooperation Zone aims to develop the tourism industry between China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, he added.
Since the Khorgos center came into operation in April 2012, more than 4,000 merchants have entered the center in China and the number of visitors to the center in 2016 has reached 5 million, up 36 percent year-on-year, domestic news portal chinanews.com reported in January.
Zhao forecast that economic zones are likely to play an important role to drive local economic development and employment by around 2020 as they are still in their early stages.
Zhou Rong is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of china.