US, Japan Vow to Back ‘Responsible Investment’ in Myanmar

By Nan Lwin 20 August 2019

YANGON—Japan and the US stand with Myanmar to promote responsible, quality and ethical investment “for the benefit of the people of Myanmar” and “for the country’s economic development”, the two countries’ embassies said on Tuesday.

The announcement was made in a joint statement issued by the embassies following the opening ceremony of the Myanmar-Japan-U.S. Forum on Fostering Responsible Investment held Yangon on Tuesday.

“This was the key message from the Myanmar-Japan-U.S. Forum on Fostering Responsible Investment held on Aug. 20 in Yangon,” the statement reads.

Some 250 participants representing the governments and business communities of Myanmar, Japan and the US attended the forum. Among them were Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, US Ambassador Scott Marciel and Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Maruyama.

“We, Japan, together with the Unites States, like to see Myanmar achieving sustainable economic development. Therefore, we decided to have this forum today,” Ambassador Maruyama said.

Highlighting Myanmar’s strategic location in Southeast Asia, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the country’s economy has expanded, with GDP rising from US$8.9 billion (13.56 trillion kyats) in 2000 to $71 billion last year, adding that Myanmar is among “ASEAN’s fastest growing economies.”

Since taking office in 2016, the NLD government has implemented numerous reforms, including: introducing new investment laws and easing the Myanmar Companies Law to boost confidence among foreign investors; creating a new ministry devoted to investment and foreign economic relations; and drawing up the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan, a road map to promote equal development in social and economic sectors. Additionally, it has introduced an Investment Promotion Plan, established a Project Bank and a new online Land Bank to provide clarity on land ownership, and simplify investor access to land for industrial and commercial purposes. It has also set up an online registration system for both local and foreign companies, to remove red tape.

“We are confident that these and other reforms will prove fruitful in attracting increased foreign investment—particularly from Japan and the U.S,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.

She admitted that there have been challenges along with the progress.

“Clearly, there are still many daunting challenges. We seek your active support to overcome them,” she said.

Economic reforms are a key goal of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government as it looks to complete Myanmar’s democratic transition after almost six decades of isolation under military dictatorship.

The government has been implementing reforms in both the political and the economic sectors since the National League for Democracy took office in 2016. However, Myanmar has seen an economic slowdown and a decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) since the country’s image was badly tarnished by the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State.

At the forum, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi praised Japan as a steadfast ally, and a reliable and valued friend, due to its support in good times and bad.

Since Myanmar began to open its economy in 2010, Japan has been actively involved in development projects in the country, ranging from financial sector development to railway, road and energy networks. The Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a 2,342-hectare industrial area outside of Yangon, was the first Japan-Myanmar public-private initiative to be implemented here. As of June this year, Japan was the 10th-largest source of foreign investment in Myanmar, according to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration.

The State Counselor has often praised the Thilawa SEZ as a crowning success that highlights the benefits of positive partnership. As of April, a total of over $1.6 billion had flowed into the zone since its opening in 2015. As of June, a total of 108 companies from 19 countries had invested in the Thilawa SEZ.

Noting that the Thilawa SEZ is attractive to American businesses, U.S. Ambassador Marciel said US investors are responding to Myanmar’s reforms.

Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Su Kyi greets US Ambassador Scott Marciel (center) and Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Maruyama (left) at the forum. / US Embassy in Yangon

“US companies bring responsible investments: they hire and train the local workforce; they pay taxes, not bribes; and they follow laws and regulations to protect the environment and benefit local communities,” he said in the statement.

At the forum, the State Counselor said the US has long supported Myanmar’s development through technological solutions, especially in the form of investments in the energy sector by companies such as General Electric and Chevron.

“I would also like to welcome the US investor community,” she said.

Currently, she said, Ford Motor Company is creating new jobs and serving Myanmar’s expanding domestic car market. At the same time, the US government’s development finance institution, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), has committed over $250 million through Apollo Towers, one of Myanmar’s largest telecom tower companies, to finance the construction of over 1,800 towers.

Recently, OPIC greenlighted an $8-million investment in Proximity Finance to increase lending to entrepreneurs and smallholder farmers, many of whom are women.

“US investors are also showing a keen interest in other areas such as banking and finance, and education, and we very much look forward to welcoming them,” the State Counselor added.

As of June, the US was the 13th-largest source of FDI in Myanmar.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stressed at the forum that the presence of investment from both countries could provide balance and stability, just as the transfer of their technologies, skills and standards will help propel Myanmar forward.

Both ambassadors, according to the statement, reaffirmed the commitments of their governments to support Myanmar’s inclusive development and peaceful democratic transition.

Recently, the Myanmar government announced that approved FDI into the country stood at $2.3 billion in the first half of 2019, a 77 percent increase from the same period last year, when FDI was $1.3 billion.

However, the country failed to advance in the Ease of Doing Business Index this year, retaining the No. 171 spot it held last year, making it the least favorable country in ASEAN in which to do business. The government has formed task forces to achieve its goal of making it into the top 100 nations in the index by 2020.

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