(c) 2013, The Yomiuri Shimbun.

(c) 2013, The Yomiuri Shimbun.

TOKYO Myanmar Finance Minister Win Shein says that his nation plans to seek Japan's support for its project to build a special economic zone.

"It is impossible for one nation to prepare necessary funds and technology for the project," he said during an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun.

For the ambitious Dawei industrial zone, sprawling over more than 200 square kilometers in southern Myanmar near the border with Thailand, Myanmar is considering building expressways and a deepwater port. If realized, the economic zone is expected to serve as a distribution hub in Southeast Asia.

"Foreign companies have pointed out [that building] roads and railways are issues that we have to take on," Win Shein said during the interview.

He also touched on the Thilawa special economic zone being jointly developed by Japan and Myanmar on the outskirts of the country's biggest city, Yangon, and scheduled to open in 2015.

"I am expecting the capacity of Myanmar people will be boosted by introducing [Japanese] technology," he said, indicating that a greater presence in the country by Japanese companies is essential if the two nations want to see success in the economic zone.

Win Shein had been invited to Japan by the Japan External Trade Organization.

Observers say Japan needs to use caution in deciding whether it should provide support to the Dawei special economic zone, which is still in the planning stages.

The ambitious concept calls for building a zone combining an industrial zone expected to be one of the biggest in Southeast Asia and a distribution hub. Under the plan, the production bases of a wide range of sectors as petrochemical and heavy industries would be combined.

Myanmar is eyeing to export products from the special zone to nations such as Thailand and Indonesia.

Behind Myanmar's plans are armed conflicts with some of its ethnic minorities, a factor destabilizing its domestic political situation. The government reportedly wants to ease dissatisfaction among ethnic minorities by boosting the economy and creating jobs through such large-scale projects.

The average wage in Myanmar in the manufacturing sector is lower than in other Southeast Asian nations and about one-sixth of China's. The zone could be an attractive target for Japanese investment, given the cheap labor and the proximity to other Southeast Asian nations, where populations are expected to grow, for exporting goods. In turn, Japan's investment would "create jobs and transfer technologies" to Myanmar, according to Win Shein.

But the plan remains on the drawing board as Myanmar has yet to secure the necessary funds somewhere around 1 trillion yen ($10 billion). It remains to be seen if the project is economically viable.

In addition, Myanmar has yet to develop regulations to protect intellectual property or set clear procedures for investments by foreign corporations. "It has become more difficult recently for small and medium-sized foreign companies to make investments," a Japanese business source said.

During the interview, however, Win Shein downplayed such concern, saying Myanmar was in the process of revising the foreign investment law to "bring benefits both to foreign companies and Myanmar."

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