Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein has plans to develop Myanmar’s commercial city as the country continues to throw off the shackles of the past under a more democratic and enlightened government.
In the wake of a meeting held on October 20 in Yangon to discuss the development of the Yangon Region hosted by EU Ambassador Mr Roland Kobia and EuroCham Myanmar, Mr Kobia replied to questions posed by Mizzima about the plans for Yangon and the EU’s role.
Mizzima: What do you think generally about the proposed development plans made by Yangon Chief Minister?
Mr Roland Kobia: Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein presented a plan for the future development of Yangon as an important commercial hub. The priorities set by the Yangon regional government comprise a number of key areas for sustainable urban development, including environmental protection, energy sector development, urban public transport as well as adequate infrastructure for trade and logistics. At the same time, Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein stressed the importance of the protection of the cultural and architectural heritage in Yangon’s “old town” – which is a treasure to be preserved. The European Union welcomes this balance between the future and the past.
The plan is ambitious and rightfully so as Myanmar has ambitions. It focuses on the right measures to bring the Yangon Region on track to become the next economic development pole in the Southeast Asia. The messages passed by the Chief Minister were very important to reassure that Yangon, and Myanmar, want to be a welcoming environment for foreign investments.
The European Union and its member states strongly support Myanmar in its development, including its economic recovery and the sustainable development of Myanmar’s urban centres. As recently as 21 October, France and the European Union, together with the Asian Development Bank, committed substantial financial support to the urban development of Mandalay, to help improve access to sustainable water and sanitation services. In addition, European companies are recognised worldwide as experts in the sectors identified as priorities by the Chief Minister. This is one of the major assets Europe can bring to Myanmar: high technologies, world-leading hardware but also the highest technical skills and know-how. We are confident that European companies would be highly interested in this business opportunity assisting the further development of Myanmar’s industries and services. Many are already operating in Myanmar, but there are many more to come.
How do you respond to the Chief Minister's invitation to European investors to invest in four major areas of the city’s development, including a deep sea port associated with a new international airport facing Yangon Sea?
We welcome the invitation of the Chief Minister for European companies and representatives of EU member states to invest in his economic vision for Yangon region. As you could see at the EU event, European investors are highly interested in opportunities to accompany Yangon Region in its development process.
The European Union is committed to supporting Myanmar’s democratic and economic development and will keep on encouraging European businesses to come and work in Myanmar. The bilateral chambers of commerce of EU Member States are competent to do this trade promotion. The imminent finalisation of an Investment Protection Agreement with the EU will likely encourage even more companies to start operating in Myanmar, with a very positive impact on the process of economic development; it would create more jobs, opportunities and trade for this region.
What do you think are the areas European companies and investors will be interested in?
This is difficult to predict. We are a free market economy and leave it to companies to decide what the best investments to make are. The public sphere does not interfere in their decisions. However, if there is more dialogue and exchange with companies, they will surely be more willing to explore concrete opportunities. The EuroCham Myanmar Advocacy Services are a good platform for public-private sector dialogue. They are working with government authorities in order to help them with ideas and recommendations on international standards and best practices for a more friendly business environment that attracts a bigger number of international companies to this market.
One major issue is financing for big projects such as the deep sea port and new city. Do you think the government will be able to get enough financing from EU or others?
Myanmar is one of the fastest growing economies in South East Asia, with very good potential in many different sectors, and hence its own potential. Nevertheless, this might not be sufficient to attract as much Foreign Direct Investment as these very good and ambitious projects may require. There are other complementary means to explore. On 18 October, the Investment Law was enacted by the parliament: this is a good start as reforms transforming Myanmar in a truly business-friendly country are of utmost importance, and we look forward to seeing the implementing measures of the new Law. Then the concrete implementation of the law will be key. There is also the potential for more public-private partnerships as well as support from entities like the European Investment Bank, which is a public development bank, the shareholders of which are the Member States of the EU.
What is the specific sector that European companies would be interested in most?
Again, in our free European system, the State is not steering our companies, they are in the economic driving seat. But I know that European companies can offer a wide range of expertise and are very eager to work on opportunities in port development and planning, sustainable urbanisation and the opportunities offered in Myanmar – in particular in sectors like energy, health, logistics and agri-food – are catching a lot of attention.
Is there anything you would like to add?
The new Yangon Government is showing concrete signs of dynamism and a result-oriented approach. The EU recognises and commends this new approach. There is also a nascent real dialogue, which should continue and increase. Companies have valuable advises to give. We believe European ‘know-how’ and the European values that our industry brings are in many aspects matching the ambition of the new Government, and are thus best positioned to assist the Chief Minister in maximising the potential of Yangon region – and in tackling the challenges it is facing. What is great about the economic relations between Myanmar and Europe is that there is no competition, just complementarity. It's a perfect match!