CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Myanmar’s ‘business for peace’ model, an initiative to support sustainable peace and development started last year, has been in progress, said economics professor Dr. Aung Tun Thet.
He said this at an international workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on May 19 aimed at promoting peacebuilding. The workshop was organized by Payap University’s Institute for Religion, Culture and Peace and the World Fair Trade Organization,Asia.
Dr. Aung Tun Thet, who is also the vice chairman of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council of Myanmar, explained in his keynote speech that the social enterprise model is what in Myanmar is called ‘business for peace.’
He told The Irrawaddy that the model is carrying on successfully, as signatories of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) are participating.
The government is also trying hard to bring in foreign investment. These investments would help with regional rehabilitation and building stable, strong and genuine peace in those areas, he said.
“Foreign investors are worried about safety in the ceasefire areas,” he said. “I have talked with many companies from Thailand and Singapore. There are opportunities in those regions if we can persuade them to invest.”
Despite government efforts, recent military tensions between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) in Papun, Karen State, have raised doubts about the peace process.
Meanwhile, clashes with Northern Alliance members: the Kachin Independence Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army, respectively in north, northeastern and western Myanmar, are ongoing and problems in restive Rakhine State remain unsettled. These issues contribute to the reluctance of possible investors.
Many observers see Myanmar’s peace process as failing but Dr. Aung Tu Thet disagrees and calls it “a work in progress.”
He explained that Myanmar’s approach to mega-development projects differs from in the past, in that consultations regarding possible effects are held with key stakeholders in the process.
“For example, in the Dawei Special Economic Zone, there have been discussions with civil society groups. They have many objections to the project and we try to understand where they are coming from,” he said.
Dr. Aung Tun Thet is also a member of the government Peace Commission. He said that business-related discussions have been held among the NCA signatories.
“We are now developing business opportunities for the Pa-O; in Tanintharyi with the Karen National Union and also in Karenni State (where the non-signatory armed group the KNPP is involved in peace negotiations).
The Payap University workshop incorporated several topics: the peace process, refugees and internally displaced persons situated along the Thailand-Myanmar border, public policy and social enterprise for peacebuilding, and fair trade practices.
Ma Mon Mon Myat, the moderator and a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace at Payap University, said the contributions were useful as many of the speakers had observed the peace process, worked on the border or initiated use of the business for peace model.
Roopa Mehta, a member of the WFTO Asia Board of Directors, said the keynote speakers made significant contributions on peacebuilding, social enterprise and decentralization.
The workshop also exhibited art and crafts of refugee women, supported by the Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment Foundation (WEAVE). WEAVE works with Myanmar refugee women along the Thailand border and is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization,Asia.
“Members of the WFTO Asia [including WEAVE] are creating opportunities for refugees. What they produce finds its way to wholesale and retail. And by buying these goods, people are supporting the refugee community,” said Roopa Mehta.
She said that fair trade practices in the region developed and expanded more than a decade ago and that they are contributing to development goals.
She added, “The larger agenda is of course sustainable livelihood for marginalized people to address issues of inequality, poverty, equal wages, gender equality, child labor, environment, and safe workspaces – but these are all linked.”