Yangon Business Forum Spurs New Investment

By Nan Lwin 10 May 2019

YANGON—Seeking to spur new investment, the Myanmar government touted Yangon’s strategic location, infrastructure development and emerging workforce on Friday, when it showcased more than 80 projects to local and international investors.

“Yangon today is a premier investment location,” said Union Minister for Myanmar Investment and Foreign Economic Relations U Thaung Tun, during his opening speech at the Yangon Investment Forum 2019, held at Yangon’s Lotte Hotel.

Despite being the smallest among the 14 states and regions of Myanmar, Yangon Region receives more than 50 percent of all foreign investments and represents almost a quarter of Myanmar’s total GDP. The city is also home to every major Myanmar bank and financial institution.

Yangon, a major trade and logistics hub—with airports, rail, and seaports—accounts for 85 percent of the country’s exports, U Thaung Tun said.

“With the construction of new airports such as the Hanthawaddy Airport, we expect that this percent will only grow in the coming years,” he added.

The forum’s tagline, “Yangon Region is an ideal hub for doing business in Asia,” aims to attract both foreign and local investors, focusing particularly on infrastructure projects, industrial parks, new city development and city expansion, and housing. Value-added agriculture and tourism development are also at the top of the list.

The forum, itself part of a government effort to revive significantly declining foreign investment, saw about 1,200 foreign and local delegates in attendance, according to Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein.

Under the “Look East” policy, government officials have been touring Asia, beating the drum for the country’s economy, but, under the National League for Democracy government, foreign investment has been in decline for more than two years.

Approximately 8.2 million people call Yangon home, with a workforce participation rate of 63 percent of the total population. The city is expected to grow to over 10 million by 2030.

“The available workforce is more than enough to support the new investment,” U Phyo Min Thein said. “There are plenty of opportunities up for grabs in Yangon.”

He praised the city over the results of last year’s investment forum, which drew a number of foreign investors, particularly in public transportation, public housing and industrial park projects.

According to the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), Yangon received a total of more than $22 billion in foreign investment between the 2011-2012 and 2018-2019 fiscal years. The Yangon Regional Investment Commission has also approved $294 million in foreign direct investment and more than $60 billion in local investment between June 2017 and March of this year.

Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sent in a video message of her opening remarks in which she highlighted several reforms her government has accomplished, including the new Myanmar Companies Law, the online registration system and liberalizations in the financial, banking, insurance and trade sectors.

Apart from these reforms, the Ministry of Planning and Finance and the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER) have been developing a new Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) policy that aims to simplify the investment process and the granting of business-related approvals, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.

“The new land bank notification is expected to come out soon. This will pave the way to establishing a one-stop land information center that will expedite the process of assessing land for value investment,” she said.

Last year, the (MIC) launched the Myanmar Investment Promotion Plan (MIPP), which aims to attract more than $200 billion in investment from responsible businesses over the next 20 years.

The MIFER was just established in November to boost local and international investment and to make that investment socially and environmentally responsible. The new ministry said they’ve received $2.5 billion as of May of this year, after just five months in existence.

In late January, ten regions and states, including Yangon, joined the country’s first nation-wide investment summit, held in Naypyitaw; the summit showcased 120 projects worth $3 billion.

There, the Yangon government showcased planned international-standard industrial zones in 11 townships: Kungyangon, Kawhmu, Twantay, Thingyan, Kyauktan, Khayan, Thongwa, Taikkyi, Hmawbi, Hlegu and Htantabin. The government hopes these zones will boost development and job opportunities for the local population and reduce overcrowding and traffic congestion in the metropolitan area.

The Myanmar government has set a goal of reaching the World Bank ease of doing business index’s top 100 by 2020. However, Myanmar showed no improvement in its overall ranking in the index last year, remaining at No. 171—the least favorable ASEAN member country in which to conduct business. 

In the forum, U Thaung Tun promised that a taskforce is already working hard on improving the country’s ease of doing business index rankings.

“We must continue to lower the barriers to doing business, and we must continue to eliminate challenges faced by investors when seeking to enter the Myanmar market,” he said. “We recognize that government has a critical role to play, working together openly with all stakeholders in order to ensure Myanmar maintains a favorable, predictable, friendly investment climate.”

“We have done quite a lot,” he said, but stressed, “we still have a long way to go.”

“We will continue to listen closely and carefully to the business community and to the broader community in order to better understand their needs,” he said.

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