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Saturday, 20 December 2014

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The Myanmar Times

The geopolitical challenge for Myanmar’s energy sector

Technicians discuss onsite at a natural gas pipeline in southern Myanmar last year. (Kaung Htet / The Myanmar Times)Technicians discuss onsite at a natural gas pipeline in southern Myanmar last year. (Kaung Htet / The Myanmar Times)

International financial institutions state that Asia is fast becoming a leader in the world economy. The emergence of Asia as a global powerhouse is being led by China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. 

Asia’s contribution to global economic growth is stated to have risen from 11.3 percent from the early 1990s to an estimated 21.9 pc in 2011. By 2030, Asian GDP will exceed that of the G-7 and will account for 51 pc of global GDP by 2050. In parallel to its economic growth, Asia’s urbanisation rate is also growing rapidly.

And as population, economic development and urbanisation rates accelerate, the energy demands of the region mean access to secure reliable energy supplies will become central to national and foreign policy of the region’s countries.

With growing energy consumption increasingly exceeding domestic energy production and resource availability, energy security has thus become a central theme for enabling economic growth.

In this situation, Myanmar is well positioned, both geographically and in terms of available resources to help supply the region’s energy needs.

It is noteworthy that three of the region’s leading economies, in India, China and Thailand, happen to be neighbouring countries of Myanmar.

India in 2009 was the fourth largest energy consumer in the world after the USA, China and Russia. Petroleum demand in the transport sector is growing as vehicle ownership in India expands. While domestic energy resources base is substantial, India still depends on imports for its energy use.

India’s crude oil consumption is 3.2 million barrels of oil per day while producing 0.95 million barrels of oil per day. For its deficit, India has to import and in 2010, India became the fifth largest importer of crude oil, importing 70pc of consumption.

India has made major discoveries of natural gas in recent years and production is continually increasing. Yet consumption is continually increasing largely in the electric power sector. Natural gas is expected to be an increasingly important component in its pursuit of energy resources diversification policy and overall energy security policy.

India has been an importer of natural gas since 2004 and in 2010, India’s import of natural gas as LNG amounts to 429 billon cubic feet. As India’s natural gas import is expected to increase over the years, India aims to increase imports of natural gas through pipelines from neighbouring countries including several Central Asian countries and Myanmar. However, to date, a proposed gas pipeline from Myanmar has failed to materialise because of politico-economic issues with Bangladesh.

As Myanmar’s big neighbour to the west, India has implemented a ‘Look East Policy’ since the early nineties to build a strong relationship with ASEAN and enhance its political influence in the region. And yet connectivity between India and the ASEAN region has languished for many years. The delay results in the following: lower trade volume with ASEAN compared to China and Japan; lower investment in the ASEAN region; BIMSTEC not working at the expected levels; outreach over the Indian Ocean not at the expected level.

A major impediment is the absence of deep engagement with Myanmar, seen as a gateway for India to ASEAN and Indochina. This setback together with the fact that India failed to look further east beyond Bangladesh, leads India to miss out on its imminent opportunities to acquire Myanmar natural gas.

In light of increased investment by other Asian countries in recent years, the recent visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Myanmar, is seen as an effort to put Myanmar back on track in its “Look East Policy”.

Myanmar’s other large neighbour has achieved even greater economic growth over the past two decades, emerging as an influential power in the global economy. China is now the second largest economy in the world after the US. By 2020 it is projected to surpass the US to become the world’s biggest economy.

As a net exporter of crude oil until the early 1990s China went on to become the world’s second largest oil importer by 2009. China’s oil consumption accounts for a third of the world’s consumption growth in 2010. China has 30.6 billion barrels of proved oil reserves as of January 2011. They produced 4.3 million barrels of crude oil per day and consumed 9.2 million barrels in 2010. It is projected that for China to be able to keep up its economic growth, it will require more than 17 million barrels of oil per day by 2030.

China became a natural gas importer in 2007 with plans to expand the use of natural gas from the current 3 pc to 10 pc of total energy consumption by 2020. Gas requirement is expected to triple by 2035, growing by about 5 pc per year. To meet demand, China plans to import natural gas via LNG or a number of natural gas pipelines from neighbouring countries such as Myanmar and central Asian countries.

Sharing 2185 kilometres of common border to the east, launched its own ‘Go West Campaign’ in 2000, primarily to bridge the gap between the economies along it’s eastern coastal regions and its western provinces.

In the early 1990s, Yunnan Province was just one of many poor provinces in western China. But Yunnan is now positioning itself as a regional logistics hub.

Through Kunming, it has direct linkages with major cities in China and exit routes to Vietnam, Thailand via Laos, Myanmar and Bangladesh via Myanmar. By 2007, about 1500 km of highway and 1300 km of railway leading to bordering countries were added in Yunnan. Moving westward, China has made headway in strengthening connectivity to Myanmar, with the Kyaukkphyu-Kunming Railway and highway link together with the Myanmar-China crude oil and natural gas pipelines.

The “Go West Policy” has allowed Yunnan to become a major trading partner for Mekong River Basin Countries, and regional trade has increased significantly from 2000 to 2009, according to statistics of Department of Commerce, Yunnan Province.

This very fact has been instrumental in realising the acquisition of Myanmar gas by China, the construction of Myanmar-China oil and gas pipeline and the planning of a Myanmar-China railway and highway link. The crude oil will be used as feedstock for a new refinery in Kunming and Myanmar natural gas will be used for industries in Yunnan Province and beyond. These transportation links will continue to be a crucial part of AFTA and bridging East and West Asia.

In fact, the Myanmar-China gas pipeline connecting the Shwe gas field can accommodate 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas per day, far more than the current export capacity of 500 million cubic feet a day.

Although Myanmar’s closest ASEAN neighbour, Thailand, is a growing producer of crude oil and natural gas, the country remains a net importer of oil and natural gas, taking a significant amount from Myanmar.

Thailand produced around 330,000 barrels of crude oil per day and has proven reserves of 400 million barrels of crude oil in 2010. The country also holds 11.0 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves and produces 3.51 billion cubic feet a day of gas.

However, Thailand imports 70 pc of its total oil consumption and 30 pc of its gas to meet demand. And the country is planning to increase energy imports of natural gas and electricity from neighbouring countries.

Myanmar currently exports to Thailand around 1.1 billion cubic feet of gas a day amounting to 27-30 pc of Thailand’s gas consumption.

From Myanmar, Zawtika gas field is scheduled to export 300 million cubic feet a day by the end of 2013 in addition to current exports from Yadana and Yetagun gas fields in southern Myanmar. There are also plans to import electricity from Myanmar through several hydropower projects.

Myanmar lags behind most countries in the region, and faces many challenges in order to catch up. But with energy hungry neighbours, and considerable energy resources yet to be exploited, the country has a golden opportunity to make good its development task.

Myanmar’s GDP per capita in 2010 was $592 compared to the ASEAN average of $3092, according to ASEAN statistics (2011). Thailand’s GDP per capita is $4735 while Malaysia and Vietnam are $8262 and $1238 respectively.

Selected basic ASEAN indicators (2011) showed that Myanmar exports in 2009 were $6.34 billion, a mere 0.78 pc of the ASEAN region, while trade volume is only 0.66pc of ASEAN’s $1.54 billion.

The immediate challenge facing Myanmar is how to balance its resource-based development. Myanmar requires managing its natural resources both to fuel its economy through exports while catering for its own development needs.

Myanmar’s consumption of petroleum is about 60,000 barrels of oil equivalence a day, compared to more than one million barrels of oil per day consumption of Thailand, According to released statistics in the state news paper. Myanmar’s natural gas consumption is 270 million cubic feet a day while Thailand is consuming 4.3 billion cubic feet a day in 2010.

Myanmar’s installed capacity of electric power generation is 3494 MW, generating around 9711 GWh annually and supplying electricity to 26 pc of the country. Thailand’s installed electric power generation capacity is 31,446.7 MW, generating more than 160,113 GWh annually. Thailand also plans to expand to 65,547 MW installed capacity by 2030.

The government needs to come to terms with how to effectively implement these competing aspects.

And finally, such exploitation of natural resources also means paying a price environmentally. We have to be mindful that the price we are paying is as minimal as possible.

Abundant natural resources gives Myanmar a chance to join Asia’s golden age. let’s make that chance a reality.

The author Soe Myint is a retired director- general of the Department of Energy Planning under the Ministry of Energy.

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