Myanmar’s new government has been grappling with its first economic management crisis, as a weeks-long traffic jam of cargo ships at the nation’s biggest port threatens to scare potential investors away and choke off nascent economic growth.
The bottleneck at the dilapidated port was caused by a spike in demand for goods, as the opening up of the economy accelerates following a historic election win by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in November.
“Because of the general growth of the economy, we are packed. The ships have nowhere to go,” said Ma Cherry Trivedi, managing director of Ayuroma International, an adviser to Myanmar Industrial Port, where congestion has been worst.
Myanmar boasts one of the world’s fastest growing economies, expanding at 7 to 8 percent in the years since the military relinquished direct control in 2011.
However, its main port has changed little since the end of British colonial rule about 70 years ago — emblematic of ramshackle infrastructure that could hold back the foreign investment Aung San Suu Kyi needs to live up to sky-high expectations and remake a country impoverished by decades of junta rule.
The number of ships docking in Yangon has doubled over the past decade and the number of containers has jumped fourfold, data show, clogging up inadequate storage space, overwhelming logistics systems and delaying deliveries.
“We bring in the steel, the cement, everything you can think of ... as infrastructure grows, which is the key aspect of any development in a country like Myanmar, you are going to see massive growth in imports,” Ma Cherry Trivedi said.
Western shipping lines are largely confined to a single creaking terminal within the port, because of reluctance to use other facilities operated by Asia World, whose majority owner Steven Law remains subject to US sanctions.
The tipping point into a crisis came when the port miscalculated the volume of incoming shipments before a three-week holiday in April, when the country largely shut down, shipping companies operating at the terminal said.
That meant up to 10 ships faced delays of as long as two weeks to have their cargo unloaded, causing the biggest jam the port had seen in modern times.
Industry sources said the holdup cost major shipping lines millions of dollars a week.
“There was no proper cooperation between shipping lines, container storage facilities and terminal operators. Chaos,” said Myanmar’s Chamber of Commerce secretary-general Aye Lwin, who was involved in efforts to resolve the jam.
Myanmar’s presidential office announced emergency measures in the middle of last month to tackle the congestion, including 24-hour port operation and customs clearance, and ordered daily reports from the ministers of commerce and transport.
Some of the biggest shipping companies, such as Denmark’s Maersk Line Ltd, dispatched their own specialists to help manage the situation.
By Thursday, the backlog had been largely cleared, Ma Cherry Trivedi said, although additional staff flown in by shipping lines remained in place, as did the emergency measures, to prevent cargoes piling up once more.
Tatsuya Ueki, managing director at shipping company MOL Myanmar, said the port infrastructure has not caught up with the economic development of the country.
“There’s no easy way out of this, but billions of dollars in the country’s development hinge on how aggressive the government is in solving the problem,” Ueki said.
The port jam underscores the challenges Aung San Suu Kyi’s government faces to keep growth going and attract investment to a country struggling to compete with neighbors in sectors such as garment exports, which rely on accurate and timely deliveries.
“Lead times are very important,” said Jacob Clere, who works on a EU-funded project to improve Myanmar’s garment industry.
“Taking a few days longer than those in the region, they [garment brands] will avoid Myanmar until the lead time is shortened,” he said.
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
‘LIKE A CASSANDRA’: Chinese residents of Prato went into self-imposed lockdown and warned their Italian neighbors about what was coming, but were ignored In the storm of infection and death sweeping Italy, one big community stands out to health officials as remarkably unscathed — the 50,000 ethnic Chinese who live in the town of Prato. Two months ago, the country’s Chinese residents were the target of what Amnesty International described as shameful discrimination, the butt of insults and violent attacks by people who feared that they would spread the coronavirus through Italy. However, in the Tuscan town of Prato, home to Italy’s single biggest Chinese community, the opposite has been true. Once scapegoats, they are now held up by authorities as a model for early,
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500