Elite Business Community Welcomes Peace Conference

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 29 August 2016

RANGOON — Burmese business leaders have welcomed the “21st Century Panglong” peace conference, expecting that a successful peace settlement would increase foreign investment in Burma, open up border areas and tempt back migrant workers from abroad.

The five-day peace conference, beginning in Naypyidaw on Wednesday, will host 1,600 people on its opening day; thereafter, 750 delegates representing the government, the military, ethnic armed groups and political parties will engage in discussions covering the thematic areas of politics, security, economics, land, the environment and social issues. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be attending.

Earlier this month, at a meeting with ethnic armed groups, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that, without peace, economic performance in Burma would not be sustained in the long run.

U Chit Khine, the presumed billionaire and chairman of the Eden Group, one of Burma’s largest conglomerates, said the peace conference would bring “hope” for the Burmese business community that more foreign investment would come to the country.

“Foreign investors are waiting to see what will happen with the peace process here. They could bring many job opportunities and create a new business environment in border areas that are still far away from peace,” he said.

Much of Burma’s borderlands are controlled by non-state ethnic armed groups, who have often struck their own deals with foreign investors, and continue to control overland trade with neighboring countries, notably China, Thailand and India.

U Chit Khine said that, “if there is peace,” industrial zones could be developed along the Thai-Burma border, “creating job opportunities.”

He added that Burma’s Investment Commission had already invited investment in new industrial zones planned in Hpa-an and Myawaddy of Karen State, the latter on the border with Thailand. However, the projects have yet to move ahead because investors are still waiting for peace to be secured.

“There are huge populations in the border areas. If investors can build factories to produce value added products, trade will be bigger and regions will develop fast,” U Chit Khine said.

“There is a big potential market in the border areas if conflict ends,” he said.

U Khin Shwe, chairman of Zaykabar—one of Burma’s largest construction companies—said he hoped to see development in Mon and Karen states and Tenasserim Division if peace with ethnic armed groups is achieved.

“If the government can create business opportunities for them [ethnic armed groups], they will agree to peace. It would be of mutual interest. There will not be development without peace in those remote areas,” he said.

He pointed out that several million people from Burma are working in Thailand, due to a lack of job opportunities at home. If investment comes to their areas, they would be willing to come back.

U Khin Shwe cautioned that natural resources in current conflict areas would require “careful management” by the government.

“If there is no peace, there is no development,” he said.

U Nyo Myint, senior managing director of the Kanbawza (KBZ) Group of Companies, another of Burma’s biggest conglomerates, also welcomed the “Panglong” peace conference, which he believed could bring new opportunities to residents of “remote” areas of Burma suffering from “internal conflict” involving non-state armed groups.

“For example, the banking industry: we [KBZ] can’t open branches in some conflict areas. People can’t pursue business without banks, so how can business develop?” he said.

“As part of a new economic strategy, business should be developed not only in urban areas, but also in remote areas. That’s why we want peace, and welcome this conference,” he said.