Myanmar, S’pore Ink Investment Promotion and Protection Deal

By Nan Lwin 25 September 2019

YANGON—Myanmar inked an agreement with Singapore on Tuesday to promote and protect investment between the two countries, paving the way to boost trade relations.

As of February, Singapore is Myanmar’s largest source of foreign investment. The city-state has invested more than US$22 billion (33.6 trillion kyats), nearly 30 percent of total foreign investment in Myanmar, according to August 2019 data from Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA).

The agreement was signed by Ministry of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations (MIFER) head U Thaung Tun and Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing in Yangon at the 7th Joint Committee of Myanmar-Singapore Ministerial Meeting.

“The agreement aims to promote and protect investment for both Myanmar and Singapore,” MIFER Permanent Secretary U Aung Naing Oo told The Irrawaddy. “It offers a fair and level playing field for both countries, for Myanmar’s citizens and Singapore’s citizens.”

“If a Singaporean makes an investment in Myanmar, we have to give them all the same opportunities as a citizen,” he added. “The condition is the same when a Myanmar citizen makes an investment in Singapore.”

According to the agreement, both governments also pledged to assist investors to ensure that the process for transferring assets to their home countries is smooth and to settle disputes in accordance with international rules and regulations.

The joint ministerial meeting focused on cooperation around investment, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the aviation, agriculture, food, financial and legal sectors.

The groundwork for the new deal began in December 2016 after Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore.

U Thaung Tun visited Singapore last week to attend the Singapore Summit 2019. In his speech at the summit, he assured foreign investors that Myanmar ranked among ASEAN’s fastest-growing economies, with GDP rising from just US$8.9 billion in 2000 to over US$71 billion in 2018.

He explained Myanmar’s recent economic reforms: the launch of an online registration system to remove “red tape” for businesses, the creation of the ministry that he heads, devoted to investment and foreign economic relations, and the drafting of the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan, a roadmap to promote equal development across social and economic sectors. He also highlighted the Investment Promotion Plan, a new policy to open up the banking, insurance, education and retail and wholesale trading sectors to foreign investors.

He stressed that Myanmar is set to introduce more economic reforms that will make the country favorable for foreign investment.

“As part of pushing these plans, we continue to promote a more favorable, friendly and predictable investment-enabling environment, offering investors a fair and level playing field,” he said.

By adopting these reforms, he added, Myanmar will seek to attract the type of investment that creates jobs and opportunities for those who seek sustainable growth.

During his trip, U Thaung Tun met Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat to discuss economic cooperation and investment between the two countries, according to MIFER.

Trade between Myanmar and Singapore reached US$3.8 billion in fiscal 2017-18, up 28 percent compared with 2016-17.

Myanmar has signed bilateral agreements on the promotion and protection of investment with 11 countries including the US, Japan, China, India and South Korea.

Myanmar has discussed signing a similar agreement with the European Union since 2014. However, the EU suspended negotiations at the final stage over the violent conflict in Rakhine State and the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.

Myanmar is finalizing negotiations to sign a similar agreement with Hong Kong.