Interview: Keiichiro Nakazawa
What are the comparative advantages Myanmar possesses in the manufacturing industry? How do you see them developing over time?
KEIICHIRO NAKAZAWA: Politically, when the government of U Thein Sein, former president of Myanmar, worked to make the economy more market-oriented, it opened up opportunities and the new government has been working to expand these. There was a survey conducted by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation with Japanese manufacturing companies that operate abroad, and the results were telling. Myanmar’s top attraction for companies is its large and untapped domestic consumer market, and the second is its cheap and decent labour. People look here and see a high-potential market, and one which has not seen much penetration of foreign products because of the closed economy and sanctions.
JICA has been assisting the new government to attract more responsible investments and to create decent jobs. Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is one example of this. We have assisted infrastructure for the SEZ as well as operations of its one-stop service centre, among other improvements. In order for Thilawa SEZ to compete with others in neighbouring countries, its brand image must be developed. This is very important for many foreign companies, particularly those that manufacture goods. Therefore, we work with the SEZ Management Committee and Myanmar Japan Thilawa Development to further encourage responsible investments.
I would say that manufacturing is a process that runs along the value chain, and all the basics are the same. The Japanese use the 5S methodology, which stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardise and sustain. This is an efficient and proven method for all manufacturing industries and pertains to every aspect down the value chain. These basics are common to both high-end manufacturing and low-valueadded, labour-intensive output. Workers, managers and craftsmen should all employ these solid principles while embarking upon low-value-added manufacturing. They should also employ kaizen, which is the adherence to a continuous cycle of improvements in working practices.
What priorities has JICA identified in terms of easing traffic congestion in Yangon?
NAKAZAWA: The government is conducting several projects based on the National Transport Master Plan. In Yangon there is a circular railway around the immediate central area of the city, which was constructed in the early 20th century by the British. Although old, I was very impressed with this railway because in former French colonies, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, similar railways are not very secure.
In some cities shop owners opened their businesses along railways because the frequency of railway services was minimal. But here in Yangon a wall around the railway stop people from living and working on the tracks. So, if the Myanmar government becomes serious about improving it, then it could be done. Currently, it takes three hours to make one circuit around the track, which can hopefully be reduced to about an hour and a half by working on a basic signalling system, track rehabilitation and new train cars.
We hope that in five years’ time, after some of the improvements are completed, approximately 400,000-600,000 passengers will be able to travel on this railway each day. The Yangon regional government is also working on improving bus services and integrating more than 300 current bus routes, which must be consolidated into public-private enterprises. Beyond this, there is a trial bus rapid transit line. When you connect bus services with the circular railway stations, you get a well-integrated intermodal transit system. The idea behind this is that you can walk from your house to a nearby bus stop, take the bus to the railway station, then take a train to your destination.
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