Informal and Illegal Movement in the Upper Greater Mekong Subregion

Informal and Illegal Movement in the Upper Greater Mekong Subregion


148 Pages


Myanmar, the second biggest country in terms of area in mainland South East Asia, borders five neighboring countries: China, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, and Lao PDR. Myanmar's longest borders are with China (approximately 1,357 miles) and Thailand (approximately 1,314 miles), and it shares coastal waters with Malaysia and Singapore. Informal activities and informal moment of goods and people have been quite significant due to many factors. Although various policy measures have been developed to mitigate these informal activities, there has not been any study regarding the sources of these informal activities, their costs and benefits, impacts and consequences of the existence and non-existence of these activities, or how these activities could be mitigated without having significant negative economic and social impacts on the local people and the economy as the whole. This paper attempts to identify factors behind causes and effects of informal flows in goods and persons across the borders between Myanmar and its neighboring countries, especially China and Thailand, and to address related issues and possible policy implications. This paper is a result of various surveys and studies in many places in Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, and China from 2005 to 2009 under several research projects.



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Informal and Illegal Movement in the Upper Greater Mekong Subregion Costs and Benefits of Informal Networks for Goods and People
Lynn Thiesmeyer
DOI: 10.4000/books.irasec.1094 Publisher: Institut de recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine Year of publication: 2010 Published on OpenEdition Books: 3 July 2018 Serie: Observatoire des trafics Electronic ISBN: 9782355960239
Printed version ISBN: 9786169028284 Number of pages: 148
Electronic reference THIESMEYER, Lynn.Informal and Illegal Movement in the Upper Greater Mekong Subregion: Costs and Benefits of Informal Networks for Goods and People.New edition [online]. Bangkok: Institut de recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine, 2010 (generated 05 juillet 2018). Available on the Internet: . ISBN: 9782355960239. DOI: 10.4000/books.irasec.1094.
This text was automatically generated on 5 July 2018.
© Institut de recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine, 2010 Terms of use:
Myanm ar, the second big g est country in term s of area in m ainland South East Asia, borders five neig hboring countries: China, Thailand, India, Bang ladesh, and Lao PDR. Myanm ar's long est borders are with China (approxim ately 1,357 m iles) and Thailand (approxim ately 1,314 m iles), and it shares coastal waters with Malaysia and Sing apore. Inform al activities and inform al m om ent of g oods and people have been quite sig nificant due to m any factors. Althoug h various policy m easures have been develope d to m itig ate these inform al activities, there has not been any study reg arding the sources of these inform al activities, their costs and benefits, im pacts and consequences of the existence and non-existence of these activities, or how these activities could be m itig ated without having sig nificant neg ative econom ic and social im pacts on the local p eople and the econom y as the whole. This paper attem pts to identify factors behind causes and effects of inform al flows in g oods and persons across the borders between Myanm ar and its neig hboring countries, especially China and Thailand, and to address related issues a nd possible policy im plications. This paper is a result of various surveys and studies in m any places in Myanm ar, Lao PDR, Thailand, and China from 2005 to 2009 under several research projects.
Dr. Lynn Thiesm eyer is Professor in the Faculty of Environm ent and Inform ation Studies at Keio University, Japan. She specializes in social theory and Southeast Asian developm ent. She received her Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1980. She works with g overnm ental, non-g overnm ental, academ ic and private sector org anisations in Thailand, Laos, China, Cam bodia, and Myanm ar. She has also been a Rapporteur for the United Nations’ Expert Group Meeting of the Division for the Advancem ent of Wom en. She has org anized and m oderated videoconferences for the World Bank, and the United Nations University on sustainable developm ent, g lobalization, and g ender. Lynn Thiesm eyer’s recent publications include two edited volum es,Discourse and Silencing (2004) andHuman Security in East Asia(2009) as well as articles on public health and the Millenium Developm ent Goals, and on landlessness in Southeast Asia.
Introduction Scope of the Project
Chapter 1. The Death of Sustainable Economies and the Birth of “Illegal” Economies 1 - Site 1: Lashio, Shan State, Myanmar 2 - Site 2: Kunming and Xishuang banna Reg ions, Yunnan Province, China 3 - Site 3: Northern Laos
Chapter 2. Informal Trade Areas, Borders, and Modern Economies 1 - Movers, Transporters, and Consumers 2 - Minorities and Border Dwellers in the Border Economy 3 - Objectives: Closing Gaps, Opening Channels 4 - Conceptualising Movement 5 - Networks of informal trade 6 - Socio-Economic Incentives for Border Trade 7 - Leg al Definitions of Cross-Border Goods: Traded and Leg al or Trafficked and Illeg al? 8 - Socio-Economic Chang es in the Border Area 9 - Physical Networks 10 - Illeg al Goods or Livelihood Resources?
Chapter 3. Access to Land and Livelihood Spaces 1 - The Border as Commons 2 - Networks versus National Territories 3 - Discussion of Finding s: Specialists versus Practitioners 4 - Indications from the Main Survey
Cross-border m ig ration and trafficking are, once ag ain, the focus of intense scrutiny in Southeast Asia. There is a very rapidly increasing num ber and frequency of inform ally and illeg ally m ig rating persons and the g oods they tran sport and consum e. The Greater Mekong Subreg ion (GMS), whose inter-country borders are alm ost entirely land or river boundaries, sees the daily crossing of tens or even hundreds of thousands of people and g oods, m ost of them for reasons of econom y and em pl oym ent. These people and their g oods were, until recently, part of long -standing u pland border com m unities and upland cultivation. The loss of sustainable ag ricultural l ivelihoods has been an im portant push factor resulting in their inform al and illeg al m ove m ent, and the m ovem ent of the g oods they transport. Equally im portant to this m obility are the pull factors of g rowing low-wag e em ploym ent in sm all-scale m anufacturing , construction, and transport of g oods. Further, this inform al m ovem ent is no long er in one directio n—from “poor” to “rich”—only, but com prises a circulation throug hout the Upper GMS bo rder areas of China, Myanm ar, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam . The area of the present research is currently known as the Quadrang le (Quadripartite) Econom ic Cooperation Zone, or the Golden Quadrang le . It has been targ eted as a special econom ic cooperation zone, com prising Yunnan Provin ce of China, Shan State of northern Myanm ar, Luang Nam Tha Province of northern Laos, and Chiang Rai Province of northern Thailand. The border territories of these four terr itories have traditionally been an area in flux. Historically, the area has witnessed chang es and m ovem ents of people, g oods, cultures, and life practises within a g eog raphical and political fram ework that could flexibly expand and contract, but was clearly defined in distinction from the spheres of Han China and of India. Long before the term “g lobalisa tion” was invented, the reciprocal influences, political contests, and econom ic activities of the reg ion were evident, and were driving forces of the hum an and political dynam ics of the reg ion. Further, the period from 2008 to the present has se en a sudden loss of access to m arkets, and increasing costs of delivering or accessing g oo ds and services, in the labour-intensive sectors of Southeast Asia. The conventional approach to achieving com parative advantag e, which relied upon capacity-building within financia l capital, hum an capital, and technolog ical capital, has seen a rapid loss of popularity with the collapse of world financial m arkets and the ensuing loss of em ploym ent and m ark et opportunities. For developing reg ions of Asia, particularly the Association of So utheast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, the freezing of m any of their export m arkets, alluded to by Haruhiko Kuroda at the autum n 2009 Asian Developm ent Bank (ADB) m eeting , has m ean t a sharp dive back into poverty, without social safety nets. For m ost developing nations, this has m eant an increase in the scale of outsourcing and the proliferation of de-ce ntralised production with lower standards. Econom ic survival has m eant the creation of cheaper products at sm aller locations for poorer, and fewer, m arkets.
The scope of this localisation of sm all-scale m anuf acturing and production, and of its log istics—cross-border inform al and illeg al transpo rt—is vast. The new m icro-econom y of the reg ion, however, due both to its transnational status and its perceived newness as an exploitable econom ic base, does not rest on either traditional or m odern leg al protections, nor on any sort of m ultilateral ag reem ent.1g oods surveyed in this research were The ag riculture products, including herbicides, fertilisers, and pesticides whose contents were unknown or clearly toxic beyond the reg ionally-ag reed standard; there is special reference to illeg al log g ing and tim ber trafficking from the sam e reg ions.
Pesticide with no indication of concentrations of ingredients on the label. Dichlorvos is known for its acute toxicity, especially when stored in warm and sunlit areas.
Herbicide made in Thailand and sold in Laos and elsewhere. Metsulfuron methyl is known to cause developmental disorders.
The supply chain of em ploym ent, production, and transport in the reg ion orig inates, at the top, with foreig n direct investm ent (FDI) by Asian investors. It proceeds down the chain to local em ployers, workshop owners, and recruiters. The upper levels of the chain have been well-researched by econom ists and finance specialists, but the com plexity and diversity of de-centralised, inform al workplaces and trade on th e lower end of the chain have prevented them from being adequately researched. Th is sort of em ploym ent supply chain assum es and relies upon a hig hly m obile workforce. Developm ent projects such as those funded by the ADB, by the Germ an Developm ent Founda tion (GDZ), and other form s of overseas developm ent assistance (ODA) that are contracted out to corporations, norm ally bring in workers from other places; also, m obile la bour is expected to com e from neig hbouring areas on its own and, sig nificantly, t o be clever enoug h to m ove back and forth across borders frequently to transport g oods. The new phenom enon here is that all of these show a return to extrem ely labour-intensive and low-technolog y kinds of production and transport, including hum an carriers who transpo rt illeg al g oods by hand-carrying them . Because g lobal m arkets and investors from both inside and outside the reg ion are m ore urg ently seeking to lower their cost burdens, there has been a corresponding rapid g rowth in these low-tech, low-skilled, and low-wag e jobs as well as low-cost, hazardous g oods.
For these countries, the earlier infrastructure-cen tred policies, which m eant that technolog y transfer, including the building of the Asian Hig hway network, was the prim ary targ et of developm ent, have not, in the current econom ic downturn, fulfilled their prom ise. Nor were they able, in the rural areas of the GMS, to enable g reater resilience to shocks such as the current one. With econom ic choices havi ng been narrowed or rem oved, leg al
transactions or trade has becom e less viable. Concurrently, the eng ag em ent of local border dwellers in the reg ion in inform al and illeg al trad e has becom e a substitute for rural subsistence. Mainly m ountain and rem ote rural dwell ers, these are the reg ion’s m ost vulnerable populations. The research undertaken during 2009 shows that the recent financial initiatives and stim ulus packag es in Asia, lacking a social developm ent perspective, cannot be relied upon by these m ost vulnerable populations. Nor, perhaps, are such financial m easures as effective in the short term as the initiatives that tradition al m obility networks for labour m ig ration and border trade m ake possible for those seeking livelihoods. Thus, in order to understand the socio-econom ic drivers of the increasing border trafficking , we identified existing system s and patterns of networks within the g eog rap hic space of the Golden Quadrang le that houses these vulnerable com m unities; then iden tified the new border livelihood potentials that are accessed to replace lost econom ic opportunities; and finally evaluated these local trade-trafficking activities on the basis of their value, apart from leg ality, to their m em bers and users within the com m unities.
Scope of the Project
The research team consisted of five individuals: th e present author, an environm ental chem ist from Japan, one environm ental chem ist from Taiwan, a social scientist from Taiwan, and an econom ist from Myanm ar. We used the conceptual fram ework of critiques of cu rrent econom ic g rowth-oriented developm ent. Thoug h g eog raphically and culturally d istant from the rural Upper GMS in orig in, both econom ic g lobalisation and internation al developm ent policies are vast and potent forces in the m ovem ents of people and g oods in this reg ion, particularly at tim es such as the present when g lobal financial crises af fect the border people’s livelihoods, which are directly or indirectly linked to export production. In this context, increased labour m ig ration and g oo ds trafficking has becom e nearly inevitable. There are also im pacts on the kinds of hum an trafficking that have long existed. Hum an sm ug g ling and brokering , illeg al cross-border m ovem ent and overstaying for em ploym ent, and trafficking for the purposes of bon ded labour, dom estic labour, and sex work, have long existed but have g reatly increased in scope and speed of m ovem ent within the last decade. They are paralleled by the vast in creases in available and traded g oods of both leg al and illeg al, and safe and harm ful, stand ards. While all the GMS countries have m anag ed to form alise leg islation outlawing illeg al m ig ration, hum an trafficking , and the im port of illeg al g oods, there has been a counterva iling upsurg e in the estim ated num ber and destinations for trafficking victim s, for illeg al m ig rants, and m ost of all, for inform al and illeg al g oods. This project, in obtaining both prim ary and secondary data relating to the enabling factors for such an upswing in the m ovem ent of hum ans and m aterials across both previously existing and new points of transit, focuses on the g oods and trade-trafficking activities that are now the m ost im portant com ponent of the m ovem en t itself. Patcharawalai Wong boonsin, who has focused on the rapid rise of h um an m ovem ent in the ASEAN reg ion and the related hum an-rig hts issues, has pointed out that even within the broadly ag reed ASEAN fram ework there are still few, if any, concre te m ulti-lateral ag reem ents on