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Shan businesses press for Mandalay-Muse route revamp

THE business community in northern Shan State urged the government to take measures concerning trade promotion and economic development, which includes upgrading the Mandalay-Muse highway, at a meeting with Vice President U Myint Swe.

The Mandalay-Muse highway is the main route for the country’s border trade, according to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. A significant proportion of Myanmar exports go through Muse to China.

One of the economic corridors under the Belt and Road Initiative, the China-IndoChina Peninsula corridor, covers Muse, Mandalay and Kunming as part of its Sino-ASEAN connectivity blueprint. Upgrading the transport network between Mandalay and Muse is therefore seen as the prerequisite for more trade and commerce to flourish between the two countries.

Demands from Shan businesses include repairing the Mandalay-Muse road for trade facilitation, the establishing of an industrial zone and the development of direct connection for international tourists to visit the area.

The meeting was led by the vice-president with the participation of union ministers, said U Zaw Zaw, vice chair of the Northern Shan State Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

Border trade frequently takes place at the Muse 105-mile camp and the Chin Shwe Haw camp. The two camps largely depend on the Mandalay-Lashio-Muse Union road – a major trade route for Myanmar to export goods to its populous neighbour.

According to the Ministry of Commerce’s figures, around 1,000 trucks pass through daily for a trade volume of US$9 to $10 million per day.

All too often, there are delays in trade flow due to landslides which damage the road, causing frequent car accidents and road blockage. Since it was affecting trade, repairs have been requested to the Union road, U Zaw Zaw explained.

The Yunnan Provincial General Chamber of Commerce (YPGCC) President Yu Ding Cheng also threw his weight behind upgrading the Mandalay-Ruili road at the recent China-Myanmar Economic Cooperation Forum.

If the route is upgraded, trade prospects – especially exports of marine products to China – will improve, he asserted.

There are many tourist locations in northern Shan State – which also include Chinese visitors. However, as they have to come via Mandalay, it takes a lot of time and there are also security issues, he said.

With improved tourism from Lashio and more road transport services from local hotels, foreign earnings will increase and the regional economy will develop, should Lashio airport upgrade to accommodate medium-sized jets for landings and with direct flights with China arranged, he added.

Although there are no industrial zones in northern Shan State, there are three state-owned factories, 130 private factories, 461 workshops and 565 cottage businesses. A plan to develop an industrial zone has already been submitted to the government, he said.

Likewise, if industrial training schools are then opened, there will be more job opportunities, available skilled labour, foreign jobs and a decline in unemployment. At present, farmers and merchants have been suffering damages due to price instability and discounted exported prices for rice, maize and other commercial crops.

Therefore, a request was submitted to produce import-substitute goods and to export processed goods, instead of raw crops, after establishing factories in the region, he commented.

U Aung Khin Myint, Myanmar International Freight Forwarders Association (MIFFA) chair and one of the joint-secretaries of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), told The Myanmar Times that, at present, it takes two to three days for vehicles to reach Muse from Mandalay. The two-lane road is being upgraded to a four-lane one.

“The road is being upgraded to four lanes. Now, the journey from Mandalay Muse takes two to three days.

Schedule and prepaid cards

In March last year, The Myanmar Times reported that a schedule was introduced for trucks and highway buses on the traffic-plagued Mandalay-Muse trade route in a bid to ease the road’s infamous backlogs and lethal accidents. While there were also plans to broaden the thoroughfare, traffic will be diverted to a one-way express route for set hours, according to the Nawngcho township supervisory committee for motor vehicles.

The new timetable allowed trucks headed from Mandalay to Lashio to depart at 6am until noon, and then from 6pm to midnight. The opposite direction, from Lashio to Mandalay, would operate from noon until 6pm, and then again from midnight until 6am.

Two stretches, in Nawngcho and Kutkai townships, are particularly treacherous and prone to accidents. Truck drivers say that part of the route is very narrow, yet many of the vehicles drive recklessly.

In Nawngcho, the route descends into the Gokteik gorge, while a section known as Shu Khin Thar, between Nam Hpat Kar and Kutkai, has a ravine on one side and a ridge on the other.

In June last year, a prepaid card system has been introduced to cut queues at toll gates along the main trading route between Myanmar and China, in the latest attempt to reduce severe traffic congestion and free up trade.

Oriental Highway Company, which operates the Mandalay-to-Muse road in Shan State, started accepting prepaid cards from the second week of June in 2016, according to company director Ko Ye Htut.

“We have installed machines between Kyauk Chaw village and Muse and have started selling cards,” he said.
Cards could be bought at toll gates in Kyauk Chaw, Kyaukme, Lashio and 105-mile trading zone in Muse township for a minimum of K10,000 per card, he said. Each card will carry details of the car type and number plate. The aim is to reduce traffic jams at toll gates, he said.

“It takes at least 50 seconds to pay with cash, but with a prepaid card, drivers do not need to wait for change or a receipt, so they can save time.” The dangerous two-lane trading route has grown increasingly congested over the past few years. A single accident or fallen tree along the mountainous road can cause traffic jams for days, while fruit and vegetables destined for China’s Yunnan province often rot before they arrive.

Source: Myanmar Times

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