Ampol Chartchaiyaruek of the Tak Province Chamber of Commerce said the situation in Karen State, which lies opposite of Tak province, following the recent death of General Bo Mya may offer a renewed chance for successful negotiations.

“If both groups could reach an agreement on the problems of illegal immigrants then it would help the refugee problem,” he said. Any political breakthrough could also lead the Burmese government to place fewer restrictions on products from Thailand, he said.

Ampol cited a similar situation in Muse, opposite the border with China. He said the example in Muse, where Burmese and Chinese officials jointly worked to solve disputes with the Wa ethnic group, could offer a model on which to proceed. Trade in Muse has been transformed and returned to normal.

However, an agreement may not be possible, because Burmese officials do not want to give additional power to the KNU, the most hardcore ethnic resistance group which now administers affairs within its territory.

Last year, Burmese officials increased import restrictions because, they said, there was a need to try to balance the import and export trade. In addition, high profile corruption cases caused a reshuffle among Burmese custom officials.

Suchart Triratwattana, a trader in Mae Sot, said a breakthrough may be possible because of new KNU leaders who want to make a deal with the military government.

“Previously, the Burmese government worried that the Thai government and some local traders wanted to work with the KNU,” Suchart said. “But if they could end their disagreement, trading and coordination on many projects along the border with Karen State would be smoother.”

Recently, talks with Burmese officials were held by the commander of the KNU’s 7th Brigade, Brig-Gen Htain Maung, according to Col Ner Dah Mya, the tactical commander of the KNU’s general headquarters battalions. However, the talks were not approved by the KNU’s Central Committee and other KNU groups, Col Ner said on Friday.

According to the Mae Sot Custom Office, in 2006, the value of products imported from Burma to Thailand was 1,255 million baht (about US $35 million), an increase of 754 million baht (about US $21 million) over 2005.

In 2006, products exported from Thailand to Burma were valued at 11,683 million baht (US $325 million), down from 12,062 million baht (US $335 million) in 2005.

In 2004-05, Thailand was Burma’s largest trading partner with about US $1.9 billion in trade. Border trade accounted for about 70 percent that total.