The Czech delegation led by Mr Lubomir Zaoralek, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, visited Myanmar from February 24 to 28. On this visit, the Minister met the Czech businessmen, Myanmar businessmen and other civil society groups for expanding business opportunities and supporting society, including support for human rights issues and provision of aid.
In this interview with Mizzima Media, Director of Economic Diplomacy Department discussed the countries relations and investment opportunities.
In terms of investment and business cooperation, the Czech Republic will focus on the energy sector, defense materials and technical services, said Miloslav Stasek, the director of Economic Diplomacy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And they favour joint venture or JV in Myanmar.
In the following interview, Mr Stasek discusses these issues.
Mizzima: When I look at Myanmar Investment Commission and statistics on Czech trade and investment in Myanmar, I don’t find any. Why is that?
Miloslav Stasek: You are absolutely right. It means there is not any substantive investment at the moment from the Czech Republic or Czech companies in Myanmar. This is why such a huge delegation accompanied our Minister of Foreign Affairs came just to identify the opportunities for investment and doing business with your country. As you know, in the past history, Myanmar was our biggest trade partner in the 1980s in Southeast Asia. We opened a line of credit to your government in 1981, when we offered you 162 million US dollars to construct seven big factories, which are still working. And one of the areas we are looking at is the modernization of those factories and this time the factories for tractors, tires, factories for the pumps, power station, it means quite big projects, where we have the documentation, we have the technology to modernize those production facilities.
But also to open some new opportunities for businesses. There is huge opportunity in infrastructure because your country is opening up there is big interest from the people abroad to come to visit because you have beautiful nature, beautiful sea, spiritual and historical monuments, etc., it means infrastructure to digest them. There is a need for the necessary facilities like the airport, to buy the aircraft for better connectivity within your country, building new hotels and facilities and infrastructure. It means all those segments are represented within our trade delegation. Those are the rated companies within the Czech Republic, they are searching for new partners in your country as well.
What I see particularly important is area is energy because your country is still facing a shortage of energy. Your ambition to build an additional 20,000 megawatts capacity is very ambitious and we clearly want to participate in this plan, and link the hydropower, to offer our technology. But also the financing. That is why within the delegation we have also a representative of the Czech Export Bank, which is a government body, governmental bank, supporting and financing the Czech companies abroad and insurance companies to ensure the contracts that are signed.
In these days, Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek is visiting. What is the main mission?
As you may learn, of course, economic diplomacy which I am the director of our ministry is one of the very important pillars of our foreign policy, and promotion and business interests, business and corporations within the country, is definitely this time very, very important for our country. We are a country which is export based. It means we are producing historically quite competitive industrial technologies. We were always the industrial hub of Europe, still up until today. Of course, we are searching for some new markets and territories we can expand into and of course to have the cooperation.
Of course, for the time being our biggest partner is Europe, especially Germany. Almost 84 percent of our exports are moving to Europe. It means we would like to diversify our exports and to be related more to the countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, but also in the South and North America. So the visit is to open the doors to a new cooperation.
Especially Myanmar, we would like to do a reset in our relations and build stronger ties mainly in the field of economy, our economic cooperation. Our commitment is rather limited and we would like to see higher figures, more investment coming to Burma.
But I don’t only want to focus on the economic cooperation because we would like to focus on the very complex relation with Myanmar and open collaboration in the field of education. Our education system in the Czech Republic is very competitive, and we are offering many opportunities especially in the field of medicine, agriculture, etc. We, of course, start in cooperation in the field of healthcare, because in Myanmar almost two-thirds of the population are having some problems to access the proper healthcare. It means we stand with cooperation in this area and just recently our medivac just hospitalized three children from Myanmar to the Czech Republic. They undertake an operation. And this is definitely an area we would also like to assist you to have more change in the field of healthcare as well.
And I don’t want to forget the culture field because we are so rich in culture, we would like to have a quite intensive cultural exchange between both countries. Just today, at the business seminar, we signed a very important agreement between our chamber of commerce and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) which is creating a very important exchange between business missions between both countries, and I hope this relationship will intensify in the future.
How can we connect ASEAN trade to the Czech Republic and eastern European countries?
We are a landlocked country. It means we don’t have access to the sea this is why we have one of the highest density railway networks in the world. We have a precise system of controlling the movement of the trains and there are very high standards of security. It means the only we can import and export goods to and from our country are via road and railway. Our main port is Hamburg in Germany so this would be the main route for trading with ASEAN countries. ASEAN countries send their goods to European ports and then they are put on trucks or trains.
Myanmar and the Czech Republic have signed an agreement for investment, trade, and economic links. How is this process going, how is the implementation between Myanmar and the Czech Republic?
We would definitely like to use this platform for economic cooperation with your country. We are offering for instance construction of the airports [unclear] we can construct the airport probably within three or four [years} and move into another area where there is a need to have the airport including the runway. These unique high-technologies which we can offer to your government and your companies to be used. We also have some companies offering aircraft, specifically, the L410 which is the 19 seater aircraft which is ideal for the transportation of people within the country but also it could be modified as a cargo plane or ambulance you can use for emergency situation very easily. Those are thing we would definitely like to see in the future in you market. And of course in the field of direct communication. A major item for us to export is telecommunications technology this is something we like to export more and also energy, [for example] the turbines for you power stations so we would like to get some contracts in the power business as well.
If you going to invest in Myanmar which do you favour joint ventures or direct investment?
I would prefer a joint venture. Most of the Czech companies that are with us in Rangoon are searching for partners. Because of course to do business here is very difficult from the Czech Republic you need you need somebody [here] to help you, provide support, follow things. For us, it is much more practical to have a partner representing the interests of the company but also communicating and making the deal through a local partner.
What do you see in the future?
We hope we will see more investment from the Czech Republic in Myanmar. We, of course, have no ambition to compete with your big neighbours, with China and India. But of course, we would like to offer high-technologies, enhanced quality products in Myanmar and to create some new opportunities for employment for your people.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to prepare some more delegations to come to Myanmar in the near future. And our plan is, after the visit of our minister to identify the priority sectors we would like to be active in Myanmar and from those sectors to bring the companies to start the negotiations with your side. From the meeting with had with your chamber of commerce definitely infrastructure, transportation, civil aviation, energy, telecommunications, health sector, agriculture, these are the seven most interesting areas for collaboration in the future.
What about food products and the agriculture sector?
Well, food products and agricultural production are areas where the Czech Republic is very strong and, of course, we could offer modern technologies to you producers. Out of that, I also feel there is big potential in the tourism business because Myanmar is a very attractive country for our tourists. I expect better connectivity between both countries so that Czech tourists will come in a much bigger way than we see at the moment.