Posted at The Myanmar Times on February 13 – 19, 2012
ASIA’S business community has made clear its intentions to consider investing in Myanmar, with 30 representatives of major companies visiting Yangon to meet government officials and the premier trade organisation.
U Aye Lwin, co-general secretary of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), said the interest was unprecedented.
“We hope more top-line companies, which have never before been here, come to meet with us and inspect how the political and economic reforms are progressing,” he said.
However, he added that the government needed to take efforts to improve its transparency and be more flexible in policy formation if it wanted to attract investors and forge long-term relationships.
The latest delegation had about 30 members and included delegates from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, including the Tony Fernandes, the owner of AirAsia, as well as representatives of CIMB Bank and Northstar group, both of which are members of the ASEAN Business Club (ABC). A media team including reporters from Asia News Network from Thailand and Malaysia’s Sin Chew Daily newspaper also accompanied the delegation.
During its February 6-7 visit the delegation met Myanmar Investment Commission chairman and Minister for Industry U Soe Thein, as well as members of the UMFCCI and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Delegates discussed possible investment in hotels and tourism, financial and banking services, oil and gas, construction and infrastructure, media, entertainment and agriculture, one delegate said.
In January the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a press release saying that Myanmar’s government “faced an historic opportunity to jump-start the development process and lift living standards” if it changed some economic policies and eased restrictions on the financial sector.
Furthermore, the European Union eased sanctions on the entry of government ministers to the union on January 23.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told the ASEAN media team at her house on February 6 that the government is discussing an updated foreign investment law and people needed to wait to see what came of those talks.
“We [she and the ABC delegation] have been talking about the importance of sound investment laws and the importance of rule of law,” she said. “I think [businessmen] should wait and see a little, for their own good as well as that of the country.”
She said that she had discussed these concerns with the ABC delegation in an hour-long closed-door meeting at her home, and had expressed a keen interest in agriculture-related businesses among the many investment areas.
“I think it’s not just a matter of potential investments, but also a matter of the potential of the country to cope with the investments.
“This is an area of worry. We wonder how much potential there is to cope with the reforms we want. Of course, we can cope with them in the long run. But in the short run, how do we sequence these reforms so they can develop the right way as quickly as possible? We do need to think about speed because we’re behind the others. There is a need to catch up. We can’t say we will take our own sweet time. It doesn’t work that way.”