Asia-Pacific News

Apr 8, 2008, 3:42 GMT

Yangon - Myanmar, which faces economic sanctions in the West because of its poor human rights record, earned 2.7 billion dollars from natural gas exports to Thailand last year, media reports disclosed Tuesday.

In 2007, Myanmar's total trade hit an historic peak of 8.7 billion dollars, split into 5.9 billion exports and 2.8 billion in imports, leaving the country with a trade surplus of 3.1 billion, said the Myanmar Times weekly, citing government officials.

Myanmar's exports last year were driven primarily by natural gas, which earned the impoverished country 2.7 billion dollars, or 45 per cent of its total exports.

'The major reason why Myanmar's trade volume is increasing is the massive contribution form the energy sector - the export of natural gas to Thailand,' said Maung Maung, an economist and researcher from Economic Studies and Research Institute, the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries (UMFCCI).

Natural gas exports have risen dramatically since 2002, when Myanmar first opened a pipeline to deliver gas from offshore reserves in the Gulf of Martaban to Thailand.

'As a result, Myanmar has enjoyed consecutive trade surplus since 2002,' said Myanmar's Commerce Minister Brigadier General Tin Naing Thein in a recent interview.

Besides natural gas, Myanmar's main export items last year included agricultural products, amounting to 572 million dollars in earnings, gems and jewellery to 561 million, and fishery products to 366 million.

The country's main imports were fuel, which cost 471 million, followed by textiles at 276 million, palm oil at 251 million, machinery parts at 243 million, and automobiles at 192 million.

Most multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, severed their programmes with Myanmar in 1988 following a brutal military crackdown on a pro-democracy movement that left more than 3,000 people dead.

The US forbid its private sector from investing in the country in the early 1990s, after the ruling junta refused to acknowledge the outcome of the 1990 general election, and the European Union has placed visa restrictions on the regime's rulers.

US and EU Sanctions were tightened after another crackdown on protesters in September, when a sudden doubling of fuel prices prompted demonstrators, led by Buddhist monks, to take to the street on Yangon.

The latest incident left at least 31 dead, according to official estimates.

N.Korea exporting rocket launchers to Myanmar

North Korea has reportedly been exporting multiple-tube rocket launchers to Myanmar, in violation of UN sanctions.

Diplomatic sources told NHK that the exports began last year after the 2 nations restored diplomatic ties, and have been carried out through a Singapore-based trading company.

North Korea and Myanmar cut diplomatic ties in 1983, when South Korea's former President Chun Doo Hwan was targeted in a terrorist bombing in Myanmar's capital.

Myanmar, then Burma, blamed the attack on North Korean agents. But the 2 nations normalized diplomatic ties a year ago for the first time in 24 years.

The rockets used with the launchers are said to measure 240 millimeters in diameter and about a meter in length, and have a range of about 65 kilometers.

North Korea is believed to have a number of such multiple-tube launchers deployed along the demilitarized border with South Korea.

The UN Security Council adopted a sanctions resolution against North Korea following its nuclear tests in October 2006. The resolution bans the country from exporting or importing nuclear material, ballistic missiles and other types of conventional weapons.

The reports of North Korean exports of weapons to Myanmar, a fellow military dictatorship, has raised concerns in the United States and South Korea.

North Korea has been cut off from international economic assistance due to a deadlock in the six-party talks on its nuclear disarmament.