Fostering Economic Cross-Border Interactions in the Greater Mekong Subregion

Last week I also attended the International Convention of Asian Scholars (, also held at the International Convention Centre in Chiang Mai (


(Mr Eric Bediako, PhD candidate at Shinawatra University, prepares to give his paper.)

My paper was “Fostering Economic Cross-Border Interactions in the Greater Mekong Subregion”

The Thai governments plan to create a series of border special economic zones (SEZs) in provinces bordering Lao PDR, Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia has raised a number of questions. Among these is the issue of how the SEZs will actually stimulate the cross-border complementarity of resources that appears to be envisaged, as well as the secondary or indirect effects that this will have on individuals and organizations. Cross-border trading is increasing in nearly every part of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) but the nature of the trade can still involve basic commodities and non-value-added products. This contributes to the possibility of asymmetric trade that benefits one side more than the other, as has often been the case with cross-border contract farming, for example. In addition to trade, cross-border visits involve leisure, retail and health issues, as well as land speculation and real estate development. This paper takes a case study approach to several instances of cross-border interactions in the GMSR, including the proposed border SEZ at Nong Khai and the link with Vientiane, the Poipet-Aranyaprathet cross-border casino-real estate boom and the northern Myanmar-China series of interactions. It is argued that these interactions can function reasonably well without additional regulation but that their effects are complex and unpredictable. From a developmental perspective, one positive approach from states would be to assist in building necessary infrastructure as an enabling technology and then allowing people to make use of it.





Myanmar Migrant Workers

Rumours continue to emerge that the Myanmar government is becoming more strident over the treatment of its unregistered workers in Thailand – yet questions might still be asked about whether it is really doing enough to support its overseas workers.

The Thai government currently operates a scheme whereby foreign workers from the bordering countries of Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia can be registered as official for a fee – this, as can be imagined, appeals to some employers and deters others. However, according to this story from earthtimes:

“According the Thai Labour Ministry, 812,984 Burmese have registered under the programme, but only 80,435 have been approved by the Myanmar government. Thousands more have refused to apply for fear Myanmar authorities will extort money from their relatives at home.”

The story also deals with possible predation by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which is claiming tolls from workers who have been deported from Thailand but who wish to return since the potential wages available are much higher than would be available across the border.

One advantage that the Burmese workers in Thailand do have (in addition to the numerous problems of exploitation, threats of violence and abuse and so forth) is that since there are so many they have developed some social solidarity and established some institutions to support their lifestyle: for example, to send money across the border, it is possible to visit a trusted and known house in Thailand or Burma and deposit the money there; a mobile phone call is placed to the counterpart in the other country and the person to whom the money is being transferred can take the cash directly (no doubt there is a fee involved). This is only possible when trust has been established in the system.