Posted at Reuters on Tue Jan 31, 2012 2:13am EST
* Myanmar lacks skills, expertise on economy – president
* Looks at future trade in currencies, stocks
* ASEAN chief says Myanmar needs to work with ASEAN
* Thein Sein gives rare interview as reforms speed up (Adds comments from ASEAN secretary-general, paragraphs 13-15)
SINGAPORE, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Myanmar President Thein Sein said his government was committed to political reform and would put the stability of the country ahead of economic development, Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The president, in Singapore for a three-day official visit that began on Sunday, has overseen dramatic reforms over the past few months, including the freeing of hundreds of political prisoners, a loosening of media controls and engagement with Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the fight for democracy.
The government has also agreed to ceasefires with several ethnic rebel groups in the past three months and is holding talks with others, some of which have been fighting for autonomy for decades.
“The future of Myanmar lies in peace and stability, while economic development is a secondary priority for the country,” Thein Sein said in an interview with the newspaper.
“We are already on the chosen path to democracy and we will continue. We are nurturing the system to have a flourishing democracy in the country,” he said.
Thein Sein was part of the junta that stepped aside when a nominally civilian government took office last March. As the country has opened up to the outside world, ministers have started speaking more to the media.
The president indicated interest in developing trade in foreign currencies and stocks as part of economic reforms.
“At the moment we do not have the skills and expertise (in this area) and are seeking technical assistance from international financial institutions,” he said.
Japan’s Daiwa Securities is advising on how to develop the barely functioning stock exchange it helped set up in Myanmar in the 1990s. South Korean bourse operator Korea Exchange has held talks with the authorities on a separate bourse.
The International Monetary Fund is advising on currency reforms.
Singapore said on Monday it would help Myanmar train its people in areas such as economic planning and urban development.
The government has launched a number of initiatives to boost the economy, introducing tax breaks for foreign investors and announcing tax exemptions to help exports of commodities such as rice, beans, corn and rubber.
But the secretary-general of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, said on Tuesday that more needed to be done in order to enjoy the trade perks the grouping can offer.
“We make it clear Myanmar will not benefit from dynamism from ASEAN, all the connectivity with ASEAN and the rest of the world until Myanmar makes adjustment inside, make some changes, amendment in the law, in the foreign investment law, in the production system,” Surin Pitsuwan told a news conference in Tokyo.
“We do not just look for resources, we do not just look for manpower, cheap labour… We also would like to share with them our own experiences. They can emulate what is right, they can avoid what we have done wrong. But Myanmar has certainly ASEAN to rely on.” (Reporting by Harry Suhartono; Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo; Editing by Martin Petty)