Hurry with your business idea and capital to Myanmar! The Southeast Asian nation has extended an open invitation to foreign firms to join the "gold rush" as it undertakes rapid political and economic reform, but the government says it's also committed to ensuring that foreign investment is not only profitable for investors and the nation, but also broadly enhances the welfare of the Burmese people.
At a forum called “Responsible Investment in Myanmar’s Future,” hosted by the Asia Society in New York on Wednesday, Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin said his country is rich in natural resources and human capital. But in order to reduce its poverty rate from 26 percent to 16 percent by 2015 as outlined in the Millennium Development Goals, he said, Myanmar needs financial capital and technological knowhow along with human capital development to sustain economic growth. Foreign companies will play a key role in all of these areas.
Having for some time taken “handouts” from other nations and foreign entities in the form of aid, Myanmar is now prepared to instead take “handshakes” – a partnership that comes with knowledge of what is truly needed, an analogy touched upon by Josette Sheeran, the president of Asia Society and the moderator of the event. The help from outside Myanmar, whether investment or aid, should fit the nation’s current needs, she said.
Lwin named oil and gas, mining and minerals, electricity and fisheries as key sectors in the export-driven growth Myanmar is hoping to maintain at 7.7 percent for the next five years, and said opportunities exist in these and other sectors for foreign companies. Myanmar’s new foreign direct investment law ensures that any such investment will be beneficial to both parties.
Foreign firms must do their part to ensure responsible investing in addition to turning a profit, Lwin said – by striving for greater transparency, and taking into consideration the welfare of the Myanmar people. The government has suspended a few projects in the past – Chinese-backed Latpadaung copper mine, for example, signaling an official responsiveness to social and environmental activism.
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“[The government] wants to make reforms that attract investment, but also reforms that deliver results to the population,” said Zaw Oo, an economic adviser to President Thein Sein, speaking to the balancing act that is necessary for the nation to draw the kind of investment it needs. “We want to attract companies that create jobs without losing sight of responsible investment.”
But it’s important not to wait too long, as Myanmar is growing rapidly and each day it becomes a different country.
“I invite foreign firms to join the gold rush to Myanmar,” Lwin said, extending his welcome to investors. “Now is the time to do business in Myanmar.”