Irrawaddy Business Roundup
By Nan Lwin 23 May 2020
YANGON—It was a busy week for lawmakers in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, with serious discussions on additional budgets and whether to take loans from intentional development organizations to help recover from the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the country’s major cities, garment factories, wholesale markets and some businesses have reopened as the government has eased some business restrictions. This week, a Chinese financial services group backed by the Alibaba Group announced that it will invest US$73.5 million in Myanmar’s largest mobile money company to upgrade its technical capabilities.
The World Bank Group also committed to help Myanmar recover from the COVID-19 pandemic over the next few years, particularly by supporting economic growth in the country. Mandalay, Myanmar’s second commercial hub, is set to reopen its largest wholesale markets as the region has not found any new cases of COVID-19 for several weeks.
Additionally, the COVID-19 economic impacts relief committee promised it will prioritize businesses across Myanmar’s states and regions rather than those in Yangon Region for its fourth batch of loan programs.
Operator of China’s Alipay to invest over US$73 million
China’s Ant Financial Services Group plans to invest US$73.5 million in Myanmar’s leading mobile money company, Wave Money. Owned by Alibaba Group, Hangzhou-based Ant is the operator of the online payment service Alipay.
Wave Money, a joint venture between Telenor Group and Yoma Strategic, runs a network of more than 57,000 agents across 295 out of 330 townships in Myanmar, covering approximately 89 percent of the country. Yoma Strategic said in a press release on Monday that the investment would promote access to financial services for people in Myanmar as well as upgrade the technological capabilities and security of the country’s mobile financial services.
More than 21 million people have used Wave Money’s services, including Wave Pay, for remittances, utility payments, airtime top-ups and digital payments, according to the company.
The press release said that as part of the strategic partnership, Wave Money will be able to take advantage of Ant Group’s experience building mobile payment platforms to enhance its digital competence, capabilities and services.
Last year, Wave Money’s transfer volume more than tripled, reaching 6.4 trillion kyats (US$4.5 billion) in the country, according to the company.
World Bank promises to help Myanmar’s economic growth
The World Bank said on Monday it will help Myanmar to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic by assisting with economic growth under a new country partnership framework (CPF) which lasts from 2020 to 2023.
The World Bank said it will assist economic growth with a “strong focus on social inclusion”, including conflict-affected areas by focusing on three themes: “building human capital and fostering peaceful communities”; “stimulating responsible private sector-led growth and inclusive economic opportunities”; and “enhancing the resilience of Myanmar to cope with natural disasters while ensuring that natural resources and the environment are managed sustainably.”
“Under the new partnership framework, we will support national reforms that are critical to the transition process, help build well-governed and capable institutions and target our support to benefit poor and underserved parts of the country, including those affected by conflict,” said Mariam Sherman, World Bank country director for Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR.
According to the World Bank’s latest indicators, Myanmar’s economic growth is expected to decline sharply from 6.3 percent in 2018-2019 percent to 2 percent in 2019-2020 with significant downside risks.
While the economy is expected to regain momentum next year if the global pandemic is brought under control and global trade resumes, serious risks remain which could delay the country’s recovery, the bank said.
“The economic impact of COVID-19 is expected to take a severe toll on Myanmar’s poor and vulnerable people who make up about half the workforce of the country’s garment and tourism industries and up to two-thirds of workers in the agricultural sector,” said Yuan Xu, country manager for Myanmar and Thailand at the International Finance Corporation, the private sector lending branch of the World Bank.
“With the impacts threatening people’s livelihoods, it’s all the more important to focus on responsible private sector-led growth to generate jobs and inclusive economic opportunities for all the people of Myanmar,” Yuan Xu said.
Under the new CPF, the bank aims to support Myanmar’s inclusive growth and job creation by working with the private sector to help meet development challenges in areas such as infrastructure, agriculture and tourism and by increasing people’s access to finance.
Fourth batch of COVID-19 loans will prioritize businesses in states and regions
The Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER) said on Wednesday it will prioritize businesses in states and regions other than Yangon Region for the government’s latest loans program.
Recently, business people have criticized the government for mostly choosing businesses in Yangon for the first three batches of loans for COVID-19 relief despite the businesses in other states and regions also being hit hard by the pandemic.
The government has dispersed loans in stages from a 100-billion-kyat (US$70.9 million) COVID-19 fund set up in March to help local businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises in the garment, manufacturing and hotel and tourism sectors, which have been badly hit by COVID-19. Last month, the government announced the fund size will increase to 200-500 billion kyats by the end of 2020, depending on the market response.
MIFER head U Thaung Tun said decisions for the fourth batch of loans were made during a recent meeting of the committee to address the economic impacts of COVID-19 and said that this time it will give chances to businesses in other states and regions.
Myanmar’s second commercial hub reopens major wholesale markets
Myanmar’s second commercial hub, Mandalay, announced that its seven major wholesale markets will reopen starting Friday, as the city has not seen a new case of COVID-19 for several weeks.
The Mandalay Municipal Committee said it has given permission to reopen to wholesale markets including Zaycho wholesale market, Man Myanmar Plaza, Zaycho Plaza, Yadanabon markets and Zaycho night market. The committee said major markets will open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. every day except some religious holidays.
The committee said customers will have to pass body temperature checks before entering the markets and must wear masks. Officials have added handwashing facilities in the markets and ordered sellers and buyers to strictly follow social distancng rules.
Sellers who do not follow COVID-19-related instructions will have to shut down their shops for three days, the committee said.
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