Interview: Serge Pun

What barriers do new entrants in the financial services sector face in Myanmar? How important is the development of the sector in drawing in foreign direct investment?

SERGE PUN: The promulgation of the revised financial institution law – particularly the advent of foreign banks in Myanmar and how they will interact with local banks – remains a major focal point at this moment. I think the entry of foreign financial institutions into our market will be a positive factor in fuelling our development and growth. It is also very sensitive and must be handled correctly and appropriately.

The one basic consideration that has been frequently discussed is the best way to ensure that local financial institutions or banks are not marginalised by the entry of foreign financial players. The word “marginalised” needs to be properly analysed and understood, and the danger is to conveniently brush it aside or even take it lightly without due consideration for the wider implications.

If inappropriately handled, the negative effects of the marginalisation of local financial institutions will create a bigger problem to the extent of actually disrupting what already exists here and has been growing positively over the last few years. So the burden of handling this actually falls on the regulatory authority, and I am hopeful that they will listen more to the voices of domestic financial institutions, as well as the general market.

How can Myanmar pursue economic growth and encourage trade with the US and the EU? What sectors do you believe can lead the way?

PUN: There are certain sectors that are already quite buoyant in terms of US and European interest, such as oil and gas and various other large infrastructure projects. But I think that broader engagement with the US and EU is much needed. I believe that the sector with the greatest potential for bilateral trade and commerce will continue to be manufacturing. If we could improve and develop manufacturing enough to ensure that a sizeable volume of goods produced in Myanmar reaches US and EU markets, the industry could obtain a much broader reach than only one or two specialised sectors.

We need to encourage the manufacture of all kinds of goods that have a market in the US and EU to move, invest, manufacture and export. To enable this we need the ingredients and prerequisites for manufacturing to be established in Myanmar.

In this regard, the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is leading the way, and we should establish more SEZs. There should also be a greater focus on attracting both companies and manufacturers that are serving US and EU markets.

What impact do you believe the upcoming elections will have on the appetite for international business ventures within Myanmar?

PUN: I think stability is always a top concern for investors. The election presents a question. Will it provide a continuation of the stability that we have achieved in the last four years of this administration? I think it will. In this regard I am optimistic.

My confidence is guided by my belief that whichever political party comes out on top will adhere to the same policies of reform, development and progress that we have been following thus far.

I do not believe that we are facing a faction that will advocate going back to the old days of totalitarianism and isolation. I do not see the situation heading that way today. So in that sense the political landscape involves everyone and, regardless of who wins, I do not think there is a question as to whether we will move forward or backward. There are bound to be businesses that withhold investments until they feel comfortable with stability and the rule of law. My optimism stems from the fact that, regardless of the outcome, I believe the winner will continue on the path that we are already on now.