No Turning Back on Reforms, but Still a Long Way to Go: Burma Experts

By Lalit K Jha 27 February 2013

WASHINGTON — With economic reforms moving at a pace faster than expected by the international community, top US experts on Burma and those from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday praised the Burmese government for showing tremendous courage and commitment to laying a solid foundation to revive the country’s economic fortune, but noted that it still has a long way to go.

“It is going to be a long haul—two or three generations to get this in proper working order,” Priscilla Clapp, the former US mission chief to Burma, told a Washington audience on Tuesday at an event organized by the Brookings Institution and the IMF on the economic reforms in Burma.

Currently working on a variety of projects to help Burma in capacity building, Clapp said that the Burmese are looking for as much help as they can get, but in the end they actually want to do it themselves.

“I believe the international community needs to help them in institution and capacity building—show them best practices and experiences from other parts of the world, but they should not step and try it do it for them, because then they would not learn how to make it work,” said Clapp.

Assisting the country on key economic reform issues including the establishment of an independent central bank, the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department Director Anoop Singh said the sense he got when he visited Burma a few weeks ago was that these reforms are being supported by people across the spectrum.

“There is quite a consensus on the kind of reforms that are taking place. Over many decades Myanmar has been an economy that has segmented informal parallel markets,” Singh said, citing the unification of the exchange rate last year as part of the effort to create an more integrated economy.

“What has emerged is an effort in all of these reforms to try and reduce the scale of informal parallel black markets and increase formal markets in the great markets. This matters because, if an economy continues to rely on informal markets, you will not get the institutional development and therefore the progress the country needs,” Singh said.

“This is crucial because if the country is to develop quickly they need to this. And this is the focus of the reform. So I do believe that they are off to a very strong start—not in terms of the measures they have taken but in terms of the objective motivation,” he added.

Frances Zwenig, president of the US-Asean Business Council Institute, said the reform in Burma is a long-term process. “The president and his team want to show results. Their eyes is on 2015,” she said.

Responding to questions, Zwenig said there is also some uncertainty in Burma because the US has only suspended the sanctions, not removed them.

“I never thought that such a thing [reforms] would happen in Myanmar. I think the genie is out of the bottle and is not going back,” she said.