Along the Thai-Burmese border, regional trade has increased as countries reduce taxes and trade barriers to encourage growth.
But the strategy of encouraging openness by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also means increased drug trafficking.
In Thailand alone, amphetamine seizures have quadrupled since 2008, according to the United Nations’ just released report on the global trade in synthetic drugs.
Those numbers worry Region Five Narcotics Control Board Director Suchip Kotcharin.
“In Thailand, we are concerned about the opening of the border because it will increase access for illegal labor and businesses, particularly drug trafficking will be a huge problem as drugs pass through en route to other countries in Southeast Asia,” said Suchip.
Drug trafficking is nothing new in the so-called “Golden Triangle,” where the production and transport of opium and amphetamines has thrived for decades in Burma’s lawless frontier, large parts of which are controlled by ethnic armies.
Some analysts, including author Bertil Lintner, think the recent spike in production is due in part to the push for control by the Burmese government.
“Since 2011, the government has tried to lure many of the rebel groups, various armed groups back into what they call the legal fold, essentially to neutralize them as a potential threat to the central government. But in order to do so, they must offer them something in return,” said Lintner.
Authorities hope that opening up the ethnic regions of Burma to trade will increase job opportunities. Many living there now have few employment options.
Shan Herald Agency News founder Kuensai Jaiyen, who fled his country in 1996, said the only way to reduce drug production will be to end the conflict and then deliver jobs.
“The biggest challenge of course is that we must have peace and rule of law first. And to achieve peace a political settlement must take place. However, we have to take into account that the peace must not be an enforced one,” said Kuensai.
As Burma’s ethnic regions continue negotiations with the government, the country and its neighbors face a growing problem as a destination for synthetic drugs.