Burma is Open for Business, Says Minister

By Roberto Tofani 12 March 2013

HANOI — As the National League for Democracy concluded its first ever congress by confirming Aung San Suu Kyi as its leader, Dr Kan Zaw, the minster for national planning and economic development, said Burma’s “doors are open” for business.

Kan Zaw made the comments at a meeting of business leaders last weekend in Vietnam hosted by the Vietnamese and Brunei governments, which was endorsed by the European Union.

“Myanmar is now on the path towards democratization as well as developing our country, to transform Myanmar into an industrialized nation. Our doors are open,” Kan Zaw told The Irrawaddy.

At the event, Burma was presented as the “last frontier” in Asia and a “rising star,” by Alain Cany, the co-chairman of the Vietnam Business Forum and head of Jardine Matheson Ltd Vietnam.

Moe Kyaw, managing director of Myanmar Marketing Research & Development Co, said the dangers of investing in Burma, which he called the “gateway to Asean,” were overblown.

“The political situation is very stable and at the moment there is no fear like in the past,” Moe Kyaw said.

“Our doors are open. We would like to work with all investors and development partners. That’s why we held a very successful Myanmar Development Cooperation Forum at the beginning of January,” Kan Zaw told the audience.

After having passed a new foreign investment law last November, the government announced it would release a “national development plan” comprising four five-year plans leading up to 2031.

The National Comprehensive Development Plan will form the second stage of the government’s reform program, it said, which will “enhance economic development and raise the living standard” of people in Burma.

At the Hanoi conference, the government announced it would establish three special economic zones and called for European investments and transfers of technology.

But despite the optimism of investors and the Burmese government, discussions at the conference centered around challenges and barriers to investment for businesses.

“The extremely high cost of land and property—one of the highest in the Asean region—and the over hype” could be negative aspects for potential investors, Moe Kyaw pointed out, referring to anticipation of Burma’s economic liberalization.

According to Kan Zaw, the key issue holding back investment is a lack of trust.

“That’s why we are trying to make our information available … in order to give more chance for good assessments and decision making,” the minister concluded.

No one at the meeting broached the divisive issues still plaguing Burma—such as the ongoing conflict in Kachin State and other ethnic areas, environmental concerns and a host of other issues that are the legacy of almost 60 years of military rule and mismanagement.

Instead, Alain Cany of the Vietnam Business Forum asked how the government was planning to bring in skilled and educated workers.

“We have to be patient and wait for students who are now studying in the UK, Malaysia, Singapore and other Asian countries to return,” said Moe Kyaw.