Newly appointed Bumiputera Agenda Steering Unit (Teraju) chairman Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said a number of challenges need to be addressed to facilitate cross-border connectivity under the 12th Malaysia Plan.
"One of the issues is the income level. The northern part of Peninsular Malaysia, especially Kelantan and Southern Thailand, are poor.
“To bridge the income gaps within Malaysia and Thailand, the two governments need to demonstrate their commitment to enhance the socio-economic status of people at the border,” he said at the ASEAN Roundtable Series: Malaysia-Thailand Towards Connectivity Beyond Borders here today.
Mustapa said Malaysia has the East Coast Economic Region Development Council and Northern Corridor Implementation Authority which have been tasked to boost the socio-economic growth in the east coast and northern region.
Meanwhile, Thailand has the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre responsible for the socio-economic development of its southern region.
"Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur have to delegate more authority to the regional bodies," he added.
Mustapa also hoped that the government would seriously consider expanding the existing Rantau Panjang-Buketa bridge and proceed with the proposed Pengkalan Kubor-Tak Bai bridge.
Currently, he said, Malaysia and Thailand are connected via three entry points -- Rantau Panjang-Sungai Golok, Pengkalan Kubor-Tak Bai and Bukit Bunga-Buketa -- which requires an upgrade.
Meanwhile, Thailand Ambassador to Malaysia Narong Sasitorn said Malaysian businesses could take full advantage of Thailand's infrastructure and logistics for immediate access to the growing markets in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, South China and Bangladesh.
“But before you get access to those markets, we really need to fix the congestion issues along the borders as border connectivity is really important.
“Thailand and Malaysia are quite big in ASEAN in terms of economic sizes. If both countries get things going, it will have a lot of impact in terms of regional integration," he said, adding that the Thai government was in the midst of upgrading its infrastructure under the Thailand Transport Masterplan.