Authority wants to boost Ranong Port's potential


As it is not in the same league as the pending mega-investment in the Dawei deep-sea port project in Myanmar, Ranong Port will have no chance to pursue its dream of becoming Asia's pathway to the West without strong commitment by the government in collab

However, the Port Authority of Thailand (PAT) is taking advantage of the approaching Asean Economic Community in its quest to make Ranong Port a pathway to Myanmar and also the Bimstec group and the Middle East, or even to Europe.

Apart from Thailand, the Bimstec (the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) group includes Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal.

The port has a capacity of handling up to 40,000 containers (twenty-foot equivalent units) a year after being expanded in its second phase in 2006, but it has yet to be utilised at full capacity. It is considered a deep-sea port, serving Ranong province’s strategic plan to become a hub of sea transport on the Andaman coast.

Surapong Rongsirikul, deputy director-general of asset management and business development at PAT, tested the waters by asking 200 people engaged in imports and exports at a dinner talk on "Ranong Port, Pathway to Myanmar" last Wednesday night whether the port should be a "free zone".

PAT had commissioned Thammasat University to study the feasibility of developing a distribution centre on 15 rai (2.4 hectares) of land at Bangkok Port to help exporters and freight forwarders. The centre might include a dry port or duty-free zone or both. Those who wanted to ship products from Ranong Port could complete customs procedures at the dry port without needing to do so again at Ranong.

The point is that Myanmar, which is still a developing country whose exports enjoy tariff privileges under the European Union’s Generalised System of Privileges, has yet to use those rights to full capacity. Meanwhile, Thailand has recently been classified as an upper-middle-income country and will lose its GSP privileges by the end of this year.

Surapong said Ranong Port was still small, and strategically what it needed was to focus on niche markets. Target groups should be those conducting import and export transactions with Myanmar and those dealing in heavy products such as cement, sugar, steel and fertilisers.

"The weak point is that the port is pretty small and far away from production bases [mostly located in the Central region], but the strong point is that it’s near Myanmar."

He said a number of used cars were being imported from Japan into Laem Chabang Port in Chon Buri for re-export to Myanmar. If these vehicles were shipped from Ranong Port, it would save exporters about six days of shipping time, compared with Laem Chabang’s 10 days.

Furthermore, if Ranong Port were a "free zone", it could be a production base for Myanmar, especially in the seafood industry. Those finished products, which would be mostly made from raw materials imported from Myanmar, would be exported back to Myanmar for distribution to countries in the West. There are an estimated 20-30 frozen-seafood producers in Ranong province and its surrounding areas.

The port is already in the registration process for upgrading its 1,500-square-metre warehouse to a bonded (duty-free) warehouse.

Logistics experts said Ranong Port had high potential to achieve its goals.

"As one of the key drivers to its success, shipping-line operators could profit from mooring at the terminal," said Paiboon Ponsuwanna, adviser to the Thai National Shippers Council.

He noted that while Singapore and Hong Kong battled each other to be regional hubs of waterway transport, Malaysia was able to lure a number of the world’s top shipping lines to its Tanjung Pelepas Port.

Another factor is the Thai government’s policy on whether it only wants to use Ranong to export oil and import gas. If it wants more than that, the port’s next expansion phase should be completed, and the government should construct a four-lane highway from Bangkok to the port as well as proceed with railway double-tracking, he said.