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Chinese port reopening buoys Thai exporters

Guan Lei on the Mekong in Yunnan ready to serve cargo vessels after being closed since 2020

A Chinese boat sets out from Guan Lei port on the Mekong River in Yunnan to deliver goods to Thailand. (Bangkok Post File Photo)

The business community in northern Thailand is optimistic about a pickup in trading activity on the Mekong River with the reopening of Guan Lei Port in Yunnan province of China.

The port in Xishuangbanna prefecture had been closed since early 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Experts from the Department of Commerce in Yunnan, which borders Myanmar and Laos, inspected the port on Aug 16 in response to a request from Xishuangbanna authorities who had requested the reopening.

The Yunnan provincial government last week said the port had been cleared to operate cargo services but must follow strict safety standards and improve its customs procedures.

The port closure had hampered trade between Thailand and China, said Pakaimas Vierra, vice-president of the Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce.

Many business operators had shifted to land transport via Laos but the cost is significantly higher due to the mountainous nature of the routes. Moreover, cargo ships can accommodate much more volume than trucks, she said.

The reopening of Guan Lei bodes well for other river ports in Laos and Myanmar. Currently, cargo ships can only travel between Chiang Saen to cities in Myanmar, as most of the ports in Laos remain closed.

The value of trade handled by the Chiang Saen Customs House in Chiang Rai dropped 21% in 2020 and fell another 19% in 2021 due to the pandemic, officials said.

As of April this year, exports from Thailand were up by 3.9 billion baht while imports were up by 271 million. This compared to annual export growth of 15-18 billion baht in the last few years before Covid-19 struck.

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