Thailand’s Border Special Economic Zones and the Reconfiguration of Cross-Border Social, Labour and Commercial Relations

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This is the abstract (only 95 words for a 9,000 word paper) for the presentation at the InterAsian event at Seoul National University (http://www.ssrc.org/programs/child-component/interasia-program/interasian-connections-conference-series/interasian-connections-v-seoul-2016/):

Abstract

Border special economic zones have been announced as the next step of developing the Thai economy and making qualitative, structural changes to it. Yet it is not clear how such zones differ from the currently employed industrial estates, which have done sterling service in fueling rapid economic growth for several decades and continue to be important elements in the economy. This paper explains the issues behind this policy and the ways in which estate might hope to become a zone.

Keywords: border, industrial estate, middle income trap, special economic zone, Thailand

Managerial Challenges of Infrastructure Development Projects in the New Myanmar

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The full text of the paper I gave at the Penang conference (3rd ICM, 2013) has been published online (http://www.internationalconference.com.my/proceeding/3rdICM_proceeding/048_080_3rdICM2013_Proceeding_p659.pdf).

I will take this opportunity of posting the abstract again:

Abstract

As Myanmar has entered the international realm through embracing its own form of democracy, the country has almost immediately become one of the most powerful magnets for inward investment in all of Asia. The numerous mineral resources, the apparently compliant, low-wage labour force with English language ability and the strategic location between India and China all make siren calls to the world’s investors and many have taken early positions in important and newly-opened industries. Prominent among these opportunities are those related to infrastructure: roads, ports, energy transmission systems and special economic zones are all vital areas for developing the country’s domestic markets and resources and, for what will be more important to a number of potential and actual investors, creating the linkages that will enable them to extract resources and products from the country to international markets where profits will be superior. Many foreign investors have, therefore, found themselves active in joint ventures with local partners and other arrangements as part of the effort to create the desired infrastructure projects. Yet these partnerships have in many cases been fraught with managerial peril: mercurial local partners, uncertain legal norms, the need to negotiate the removal of villagers from the path of new projects and political machinations have all been problematic. This paper explores a variety of case studies of infrastructure development in Myanmar with a view to intensifying the different managerial challenges that have been encountered and aims to indicate the ways these challenges might be tackled.

Keywords: infrastructure, management, Myanmar, special economic zones

Managerial Challenges of Infrastructure Development Projects in the New Myanmar

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I am back from the 3rd International Conference on Management in Penang (http://www.internationalconference.com.my/icm/icm.htm), where I gave the eponymous paper. It went well, i thought. Here is the abstract:

Abstract

As Myanmar has entered the international realm through embracing its own form of democracy, the country has almost immediately become one of the most powerful magnets for inward investment in all of Asia. The numerous mineral resources, the apparently compliant, low-wage labour force with English language ability and the strategic location between India and China all make siren calls to the world’s investors and many have taken early positions in important and newly-opened industries. Prominent among these opportunities are those related to infrastructure: roads, ports, energy transmission systems and special economic zones are all vital areas for developing the country’s domestic markets and resources and, for what will be more important to a number of potential and actual investors, creating the linkages that will enable them to extract resources and products from the country to international markets where profits will be superior. Many foreign investors have, therefore, found themselves active in joint ventures with local partners and other arrangements as part of the effort to create the desired infrastructure projects. Yet these partnerships have in many cases been fraught with managerial peril: mercurial local partners, uncertain legal norms, the need to negotiate the removal of villagers from the path of new projects and political machinations have all been problematic. This paper explores a variety of case studies of infrastructure development in Myanmar with a view to intensifying the different managerial challenges that have been encountered and aims to indicate the ways these challenges might be tackled.

Keywords: infrastructure, management, Myanmar, special economic zones

The full paper appears on the proceedings CD; I’m not sure if the guys organising the conference will be interested in publishing it in one of their journals (http://www.globalresearch.com.my/journal/journal_management.htm). Let’s see how it goes; if not, I will tidy it up and submit it elsewhere.

Special Economic Zones and Infrastructure: Intensifying Uneven Development across the Mekong Region

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This is the third abstract for the panel on Uneven Development to be held at the 3rd ICIRD in November.

Special economic zones (SEZs) have been significant and successful in promoting rapid development across the Mekong Region. Low labour cost competitiveness in numerous factories with production mostly aimed at exporting has transformed the economy of Thailand, is transforming the economies of Vietnam and Yunnan Province of China, and is set to transform the economies of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Linkages between SEZs involve infrastructure in both its hard (transportation and utilities) and sort (managerial practices and development policies) aspects. Building and developing infrastructure to link SEZs, therefore, has a direct and positive impact on the economic development of a country and so it has become a priority for government agencies and for international funding agencies such as the Asian Development Bank, which is leading the creation of the Asian Highway Network. However, although SEZs can in theory be located anywhere within a country and thereby assist with regional development in the more deprived areas of the Mekong Region, they have very often been located near large urban areas or in border areas where advantage can be taken of cross-border complementarities, access to markets and hard infrastructure. This tends to reinforce the uneven development of the region, in which relatively well-developed urban areas benefit from existing and future economic growth while remote and rural areas are often left untouched. People can abridge this difference by migrating from the countryside to the SEZ site and many thousands have done so, with significant impacts on the households and communities involved. This paper takes a case study approach to SEZs across the region and examines the ways in which they contribute to uneven development and the impacts this has for community and household relations. Implications are drawn from this analysis for social and economic policy.

Keywords: Asian Highway Network, infrastructure, Mekong Region, special economic zones

John Walsh, Assistant Professor, School of Management, Shinawatra University

Infrastructure Development and the Repositioning of Power in Three Mekong Region Capital Cities

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Announcing: Walsh, John and Fuengfa Amponsitra, “Infrastructure Development and the Repositioning of Power in Three Mekong Region Capital Cities,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, early view, 10.1111/j.1468-2427.2013.01212.x, available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1468-2427/earlyview.

Abstract: Infrastructure — broadly defined to include road and rail networks, telecommunications, electricity and other utilities —  offers both direct and indirect benefits to economic growth. The direct effects include employment and contracts for local    firms, while its role as an enabling technology means that a multiplier effect is provided for the economy as a whole. Infrastructure also has a role to play in promoting the efficiency of governance and social cohesion. The relative importance of these factors varies according to the specific conditions applying within a geographical location. The Burmese capital, Naypyidaw, for example, has a symbolic status as the seat of postcolonial Burmese power, while also offering a strategic location from which to govern the country. The role of infrastructure in this case is to promote efficiency of rule and create a network in which the city can form a node connected with economically important locations. In Phnom Penh and Vientiane, by contrast, infrastructure is being used to both promote economic activities and link up with cross‐border markets. In all cases, albeit in different ways, capital cities are being repositioned within actual and emerging power networks in order to control and take advantage   of processes of international capital accumulation.

This paper came about as a result of applying for a workshop held at NUS a couple of years ago. Our abstract was accepted and I went and presented it, then revised it a couple of times, submitted to the journal and it was accepted again, then more revisions and now finally out in early view form.

Managerial Challenges of Infrastructure Development Projects in the New Myanmar

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This is the abstract I have submitted for the 3rd International Conference on Management to be held in Penang in June (http://www.internationalconference.com.my/). The full paper is due on the 26th:

Managerial Challenges of Infrastructure Development Projects in the New Myanmar

Abstract

As Myanmar has entered the international realm through embracing its own form of democracy, the country has almost immediately become one of the most powerful magnets for inward investment in all of Asia. The numerous mineral resources, the apparently compliant, low-wage labour force with English language ability and the strategic location between India and China all make siren calls to the world’s investors and many have taken early positions in important and newly-opened industries. Prominent among these opportunities are those related to infrastructure: roads, ports, energy transmission systems and special economic zones are all vital areas for developing the country’s domestic markets and resources and, for what will be more important to a number of potential and actual investors, creating the linkages that will enable them to extract resources and products from the country to international markets where profits will be superior. Many foreign investors have, therefore, found themselves active in joint ventures with local partners and other arrangements as part of the effort to create the desired infrastructure projects. Yet these partnerships have in many cases been fraught with managerial peril: mercurial local partners, uncertain legal norms, the need to negotiate the removal of villagers from the path of new projects and political machinations have all been problematic. This paper explores a variety of case studies of infrastructure development in Myanmar with a view to intensifying the different managerial challenges that have been encountered and aims to indicate the ways these challenges might be tackled.

Keywords: infrastructure, management, Myanmar, special economic zones

Transportation Infrastructure, Special Economic Zones and Labour Migration in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region

I am thinking of attending a workshop at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang in December: my abstract has been accepted. Here it is:

Transportation Infrastructure, Special Economic Zones and Labour Migration in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region

Abstract

Principal causes of change in economic development within the Greater Mekong Sub-Region include the construction of cross-border transportation infrastructure, of which the Asian Highway Network is prominent, and Special Economic Zones (SEZs) which provide opportunities for both inward investment and for labour migration on domestic and international bases. As an enabling technology, transportation infrastructure helps spread Schumpeterian creative destruction across what was largely, until recently, a pre-capitalist region undergoing changes similar to Polanyi’s description of the ‘great transformation.’ Capital formation is taking place at a rapid pace and often beyond the effective scrutiny of government agencies. Processes similar to ‘cowboy capitalism’ have been described in northern regions of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, where the technical capacity of government institutions may be limited and individuals compromised in areas where cash-based industries predominate. Within areas of uncontrolled capitalist development, SEZs can act as islands of apparently peaceful progress, even if the relaxation of regulations that constitutes the ‘special’ part of the description consistently benefits the investors rather than the workers whose labour keeps the factories going. In such conditions, what impacts have there been on the working people of the region, their family members and dependents? To what extent have they been required to adapt not just to changing working and living conditions but also to changes in gender and familial relations? Although Mekong region countries have all consistently implemented policy regimes aimed at promoting nationalist sentiments, they have only to a limited extent followed these through by protecting their citizens when they venture into areas of economic and social transformation or else when such areas encroach on the communities and regions where they had been living. This paper uses a series of case studies focusing on change in the Mekong region brought about by infrastructure and SEZ development to explore the impacts on people involved and their relationships with each other, with the employers and with the state. It is shown that the benefits of development are unevenly and inequitably distributed and that concepts of place and identity have changed as capitalist development has begun to transform all relations.

It seems like it will be a good and focused group with promising publication chances – well, I have to write the paper before I get there, of course.