India trade dampens Burma sanctions

Burma’s trade with neighbouring India has seen a 26 percent increase in the past year while Singapore becomes a top destination for Burmese exports.

Statistics from both countries show that foreign interest in Burma’s economy is growing, despite sporadic attempts by the US and EU to pressure regional countries into boycotting the resource-rich pariah.

Trade with India reached US$1.19 billion in 2009-10, Xinhua news reported, but the country still lags behind Singapore, China and Thailand in trading partner rankings. Thailand currently provides the biggest crutch for the ruling junta, but China is rapidly becoming the main impediment to effective sanctions on Burma.

Naypyidaw and Beijing earlier this month inked a raft of new trade deals, including the controversial Monywa copper agreement, which will see Chinese weapons giant, Norinco, move in on one of Burma’s most lucrative mines.

Moreoever, the Shwe pipeline project which will carry oil and gas from western Burma to southern China is expected to net the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) up to US$30 billion over the next three decades.

Despite the US senate yesterday voting to extend an import ban on Burmese goods – a reaction to lack of progress by the junta on human rights abuses and drug trafficking – America’s interest in Burma remains controversial, with US oil giant Chevron able to continue its work in the Yadana oil fields.

The Yadana pipeline, which feeds energy-hungry Thailand, has been mired in controversy, and appears to require a 40-kilometer wide militarised security corridor through southeastern to protect the flow of gas.

Burma’s expansion of its natural energy sector has whetted the appetite of India, which is eyeing a US$5.6 billion investment in two major dam sites. Analysts have said the country is turning to Burma for its hydroelectric needs because of environmental and human rights concerns in India resulting from its own such projects.

The SPDC’s Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) notes that US$137 million worth of Indian capital had been invested in Burma’s oil and gas sector by September 2007; more recent figures show that India’s contracted investment in Burma in 2009-10 reached US$189 million.

China however remains the key funder of Burmese hydropower, and the drying of the Mekong river is partly blamed on Chinese dam construction. China’s reach into Burma is set to soar over the coming decade; already it has forced US policymakers to question the worth of sanctions in light of the rise of regional powerhouses who are willing to trade with the maligned regime.

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