by RAHIMI YUNUS/ pic by RAZAK GHAZALI
THE cross-border connection between Malaysia and Thailand needs to be improved to further facilitate bilateral trade of the two countries.
Bumiputera Agenda Steering Unit chairman Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said the expansion of border linkages is required to support future traffic growth in the northern part of Malaysia and southern Thailand.
At present, Malaysia via Kelantan, and Thailand are connected by three points namely Pengkalan Kubor-Tak Bai, Rantau Panjang-Sungai Golok and Bukit Bunga- Buketa — all of which require an upgrade.
“We have to build for the future and plan now. The fact is that traffic is building up; there are more people-to-people connectivity and tourists between the countries,” he said at the CIMB Asean Research Institute (CARI) roundtable series on “Malaysia-Thailand: Towards Connectivity Beyond Borders” in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Mustapa said he hoped the government would seriously consider building the Bukit Bunga-Buketa “friendship bridge”, expand the existing Rantau Panjang-Sungai Golok bridge and proceed with the proposed Pengkalan Kubor-Tak Bai bridge.
CARI chairman Tan Sri Dr Mohd Munir Abdul Majid said both countries would “want a gateway, not a chokepoint” and thus relevant parties should start small and think big to ensure seamless connection at the borders.
As it is, the talks on the Pengkalan Kubor-Tak Bai bridge is set to be accelerated with commitments shown by both governments.
Thai Ambassador to Malaysia Narong Sasitorn said working groups of both sides are scheduled to meet next month to discuss the project.
The proposed bridge, which has been on the back burner in the past years, would link Tumpat in Kelantan and Narathiwat to benefit the locals socially and economically.
The movement of people and goods across the two provinces are currently supported by ferry services.
Previous media reports said the Pengkalan Kubor-Tak Bai bridge was expected to cost between RM70 million and RM80 million on Malaysia’s part.
Sasitorn said Malaysian companies could tap into the economic opportunities in Thailand as billions are expected to be spent to expand the country’s infrastructure network, particularly in rail.
He added that Malaysian companies shall also look beyond Thailand as the country can provide access to neighbouring growing markets such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, South China and Bangladesh.
Thailand has allocated about 80% of the national infrastructure budget for railways, according to its former Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith who also gave a presentation at the event yesterday.
Malaysia’s export to Thailand contracted by 2.2% to RM55.8 billion last year due to lower electrical and electronics exports, according to Malaysia External Trade Deve- lopment Corp.
The government agency said, however, exports of liquefied natural gas, machinery, equipment and parts, iron and steel products and transport equipment increased.
Total trade between Malaysia and Thailand stood at almost RM100 billion last year.